A couple months ago I mentioned to Brayden, one of our Graphic Designers, that I was thinking of biking the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park. I figured that doing it in two days was probably the most realistic option, but quickly saw that most of the campsites along the trail were booked out months in advance. Brayden optimistically said “why don’t you just ride it in a day” and was soon committed to attempting the feat with me.
Opting for more mental training (aka laziness) than physical in the weeks leading up to the ride, I told myself that I’d be able to push through it and finish the loop. A little more time on the bike would have definitely been helpful. The White Rim is a 100 mile loop that goes around the Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands. It is almost all double track dirt road except for a few miles of paved highway riding that must be traveled in order to complete the loop. There really aren’t many technical aspects to the ride (unless you’re not comfortable riding through sand, in which case you’re in for a treat) and more than anything it’s a test of endurance.
|Our 6:00am start provided the full sunrise experience|
|Looking down the Shafer Switchbacks|
After reading a few blog posts and speaking with friends who have ridden the trail, we decided to start riding from the top of Mineral Bottom. This way we would start with a gradual 10ish mile climb to keep warm before the sun came up and then not have any more “major” climbs until the final two miles of the day. We started riding at 6:00 am and were on pace for our 10 hour goal and feeling pretty good for about the first 75 miles.
The trail winds through some incredible desert scenery with formations different from those seen anywhere else in the area. We debated whether the ride should be done on a gravel bike, but were definitely happy to have some suspension after miles and miles of rocky, bumpy riding. Also, we don’t have gravel bikes. We did see one guy on a wide tire gravel bike, probably a quicker option if your body can handle the beating.
|Maybe why it's called the White Rim? Also, Corn Nuts!|
While the White Rim is a popular tourist destination, only a limited number of permits are given out each day for both overnight and day use riders. This gives a feeling of remoteness although you will almost certainly pass (or be passed by) other riders and their support vehicles. Even so, it’s best to be prepared with plenty of food, water, and tools/parts for any necessary repairs. Luckily we planned our food and water almost perfectly and had zero bike issues other than a clunky, sandy chain by the end of the ride. I took about 6 liters of water, 3 in a camelback reservoir in my backpack, 2.5 in a handlebar pack, and a water bottle on my bike frame that I filled with Gatorade powder. Foodwise I went with delicious, high calorie options, i.e. Honey Stinger waffles, Probar Bolt chews, Duke’s meat sticks, Corn Nuts, Pop-Tarts, nut butters, etc. Next time I would definitely bring something a bit more “mealy” as it’d be nice to load up on calories 50 or 60 miles in. I would also highly recommend some sort of frame, handlebar, or seat pack so as not to ride with a fully loaded backpack.
Around mile 80 the trail rides alongside the Green River, creating an explosion of (you guessed it) green erupting from the otherwise red and rocky landscapes experienced for the majority of the ride. At this point we were starting to get pretty tired and a big climb at 90ish miles didn’t help much. After the climb, the trail drops back down and rides alongside the river for another 5-6 miles. Starting above the mineral bottom switchbacks provides the “opportunity” to finish the ride with a grueling climb from river level up to the top of the canyon in just a couple miles. By that point we were worn out to say the least and inched our way up the final climb, eagerly anticipating a big dinner and the chance to sit and relax during the 3 1/2 hour drive home. Total car to car time was about 11 1/2 hours. Longer than we had hoped, but not terrible considering our lack of time spent on a bike this summer.
Overall it was an awesome experience. We had perfect weather, enjoyed incredible scenery, and ate at Arby’s on the way home. Arby’s is really pretty good. I’m fairly certain that both Brayden and I will be back for another go at the loop soon, hopefully much faster now that we have the beta worked out and understand that you should be in decently good shape for this one.
Tyler Jones is a mediocre climber, terrible runner, self proclaimed campfire cook, advocate of playing outside, and Communications Specialist (whatever that means) at Liberty Mountain.
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