Sunday, October 30, 2016

White Rim Trail In A Day

Riding Musselman Arch

My best friend Mark Oveson has had a very tough year, physically. He got a severe infection in his ankle and wasn't able to walk for a couple of months and then only able to limp. He was on antibiotics for over six months. He can walk fine now, usually, and even can run a bit, though that will cause him two days of limping and increased pain. A two-time Hard Rock finisher and a top-30 finish, this was tough on him. He turned to mountain biking for some solace. We usually do a few big adventures together a year and I didn't want this one to pass empty. I suggested we ride the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands. This is a very famous, very popular, 100-mile mountain bike ride on a 4WD road. The scenery is spectacular on this ride.. Doing this ride over three days and camping is probably the ideal way to do it, but time-consuming and getting camping reservations, in season, are extremely difficult. The solution is to ride it in one day.

Now 100 miles is a long way to go on a mountain bike. Besides the distance, the biggest problem is water. There is none available on this ride. The ideal solution is to have someone drive a sag vehicle. Then the ride isn't very committing and you have supplies galore. Of course the problem is finding someone to drive 100 miles of 10 mph road. Rotating drivers is a common solution. Another way is to go unsupported. That's a much more difficult task.

Nowadays you even need a permit to ride the trail in one day. They don't cost anything and no one checked us for a permit, but the idea is to limit the number of people out there. We saw a number of other people but it never felt crowded and nearly the entire time we were alone.

Mark invited his good friend Dan to join us and he headed out a day early. Having two cars gave us a significant advantage, as we stashed one vehicle 18 miles into our ride. With a cool shortcut that Mark found using Google Maps, our ride was 96 miles. Hence, we only had to ride 78 miles unsupported. To handle this distance on a day forecasted to get into the high 70's we carried 150 ounces of fluid each. That's a load.
Starting out at 6 a.m.
Which way to ride the loop is the first question. I'd previously ridden the White Rim Trail four times, including unsupported, in a day, both directions. For this ride, we chose what is maybe the easiest way to do it, though it does involve riding into the wind. We started from the river on the Mineral Bottom Road. This allowed us to do by far the biggest climb of the ride first thing in the morning. This climb goes from the lowest point on the ride to the highest in one 14-mile climb of about 2100 feet. Doing this climb early in the morning when it is cold is also nice. First, you aren't getting cold while coasting downhill to the White Rim. Second, you get the climb out of the way when you are at your freshest and while it isn't hot. The drawback is that you have to drive 15 miles down to this position and then have to drive out, but it's probably worth it. I know others who have taken this approach and stashed their water at the top of the Schafer descent when they only had one vehicle.

By the time we met Dan, stashed the vehicle, and got down to our campsite it was midnight. Dan tested out his bike and promptly endo-ed when his front tired dropped into a foot-deep ditch. He was shaken up and went to sleep with a stiff neck. Our plan was to be riding by 6 a.m. via headlamps and we snuggled into our sleeping bags. My phone was buried in the pocket of my jacket and I didn't heard my alarm. Dan was sleeping fifty feet away and he did. I didn't wake up until I heard the other two getting their gear together.

We turned the pedals right on schedule. I had a $10 Target headlamp and clustered around the two so that I could see. Mark's light was as bright as a car's high beams. The climb up to the plateau is only a mile and a half and went by relatively easily, steep though. Then we rolled along for nine more miles, climbing gradually, until we came to our shortcut. It was light at this point and we turned off our lights. The shortcut road is much more fun to ride and more representative of the rest of the ride. It's highly recommended.

We took two hours to get to Dan's car, where we took a 20-minute break to refuel, shed our warm clothes, and take on our full load of food and water. Then we dropped in...

The White Rim Trail is so named because it follows the rim of the plateau that is a thousand feet above the Colorado and Green Rivers, and 1500 below the Island-in--the-Sky plateau where the paved road is. The trail is mostly level, with some rolls, except for two significant climbs: Murphy's Hogback and Hardscrabble, not counting the giant climb out, which we'd already done.
Dropping down the Shafer Trail
The descent of the Shafer Trail was really fun and really fast. We caught and passed a vehicle here. Every vehicle we encountered was super cool about moving off to the side and stopping whenever we approached. It was great seeing that courtesy towards us riders.

We stopped, briefly, at Musselman Arch because it is so cool and such fun to ride across, as it looks spectacular, though not hard to do. Dan took the photos because once his wife saw a photo of him riding it, she banned him from ever doing it again.

We cruised around, catching other riders and chatting them up a bit before moving on by them. Forty miles into the ride, Dan went through a rough patch where he was bonking a bit. With more than half the ride to go, this caused him some concern. We slowed down a bit and he hung tough. Dan had ridden the White Rim in a day a half dozen before, so he knew about rough patches and how to get through them.

Five miles before Murphy's Mark and I were having some fun riding fast and rolling through descents and short rises. I got pumped up a bit, spotted some riders ahead, and gave chase. Why? Just for fun. I caught and passed a couple of riders and then set my sights on a fit, fast guy ahead. He appeared to look back at me a couple of times, which only increased my motivation. When I caught him, I eased up and rode along next to him. We were still moving plenty fast enough. He was part of a 7-rider group doing the trail in a day, with a support vehicle. We'd seen the support vehicle earlier, when we passed it. In it were two chicks, one a young, leggy blonde. We nicknamed them the PYT group, after the Michael Jackson song.
The White Rim is very sharply defined
I rode with the rider I caught, he was from Salt Lake, until Murphy's and then climbed up it with him and another in his group that we caught on the climb. These guys were both fit, good riders and they cleaned this climb. I did as well, but was absolutely at my limit. A number of times, I thought I wouldn't be able to continue, but barely pushed on through. At the top I was hyperventilating for a couple minutes.

I ate my sandwich, drank 24 ounces of Gatorade and waited for Mark and Dan. These two wisely saved their strength, not burning any matches, and pushed their bikes to the top. We rested for a bit. Dan hydrated and downed a 5-hour energy drink that he found, yes, found, on the shortcut road four hours earlier. This stuff apparently works, as Dan was a new man after this climb, riding off the front of Mark and I for most of the next twenty miles.
The team at the top of Murphy's Hogback
From Murphy we only had 32 miles to go and only Hardscrabble to get over, but we were all feeling the affects. I trained by riding five days in a row, starting eight days before our ride. My longest ride was less than 30 miles. Mark had ridden a lot more, but probably nothing over 40 miles. Dan had the most miles in his legs, but the White Rim wore us down. My butt and the bottom of my feet were really sore and my energy was fading fast. The ride was ten miles too long...

We stopped in the shade of the final outhouse at the foot of the Hardscrabble climb. We had only ten miles to go, but we were fading fast. After some hydrating and food, we mounted for the final push. Almost immediately, Mark bonked, though we didn't know it at the time. The rejuvenated Dan led me up the climb, while Mark faded. I barely made it up the first steep section, working hard in no small part because Dan was cleaning it in front of me. The crux section is the steepest and loosest of the entire ride. Dan made a valiant effort, but no dice. He dismounted. I didn't make it either, but instead of dismounting, I tipped over. Mountain biking is not my forte.
Views on this ride are pretty amazing...
I pushed ten feet up to where the trail flattened out before final steep section, mounted, and rode the rest of the way to the top. I think Murphy's is a much tougher test of stamina, but Hardscrabble is tougher to clean because the steepest part is so loose. I waited on top and soon Dan arrived. We waited a bit more and when Mark didn't appear, I walked down to check on him. I found him two switchback down, sitting by his bike. I asked if he was okay and he shook his head, "My heart is racing. I'm completely bonked and any movement causes my heart to race. I've already sat down four or five times." I offered to push his bike up for him, but he wouldn't have it. Though he'd ridden most of the White Rim in a day twice before, he'd never closed the loop. Dan hadn't closed the loop either. Many White-Rim-in-a-day riders don't close the loop if they have support at the rim. Mark knew he had less than ten miles to go and he didn't want to give up now, despite his heart trouble.

I stayed with him and we made it to the top of the climb together with just one more rest. There Mark got a lot more liquid down. This would help immensely, but would take awhile to get into his system. For the next thirty minutes Mark had to push his bike up any rise in the trail. Once we started the descent from Hardscrabble for good, though, Mark was able to ride all the rollers. He was still tired and certainly not fully recovered, but he did fine finishing the ride.
Dan atop Hardscrabble
After 96 miles, we arrived back at Mark's truck, just under twelve hours after leaving it. It was a great adventure not despite the challenges, but because of them. We were lucky to have no mechanical problems and we had just about perfect weather, though we did fight some headwinds. We changed, piled in the bikes and drove up to the top. Back at Dan's car, we said goodbye and Mark and I headed home, arriving at 12:40 a.m.

And Mark and I got in our big adventure for 2016... Hopefully we do more in 2017.


Gayla Wright said...

You fellows love a challenge!!!! Sounds like and looks like an incredible venture!! Congrats to all three of you. Love reading all your write-ups, Bill. Feel like I am part of your ventures. Thanks so much for taking me along. The NaƱa.

Charlie said...

Nice! I love the WR. Such a cool adventure and awesome to cover so much ground.