In 1995, the year after we got our Gen 2 Toyota 4Runner, we did the famous White Rim Trail in summer. It was brutally hot and we spent a lot of the day time hanging out in the shade, limiting travel to early morning and evening. So when Jack suggested this bike ride for April we signed up immediately to see the place in cooler conditions. Well, it was cooler, really cold actually, and we got another weather extreme for day 1 of the ride since it was raining all day long. The idea was for 5 of us to ride mountain bikes along the whole length of the 100 mile long trail and to have 3 support vehicles with all our gear and supplies.
On day 1 we woke up to snow flurries and freezing temperatures. These adverse conditions delayed our start a bit. When we finally got on the bicycles it was snowing and the snow tried to stick to the trees and accumulate on the ground. No big deal, precipitation was supposed to stop early afternoon. We started in good spirit and rode along the paved road from Horsethief campground outside the Canyonlands NP to the start of Shafer Trail. There we hit the dirt. It was snowing when we started our decent of this steep, winding dirt road. Initially the road kind of contours along the canyon wall. Just before the steeper switchbacks I heard on the radio that our support crew had some issues getting the vehicles ready (there were some unexplained warning signs when switching into 4×4 low). Jack and I stopped to hear if they needed assistance. This took a while and it started to rain hard, we got soaked. The other 3 riders had made it to the bottom of the climb and found refuge in a little restroom avoiding some of the heavier rain. Jack and I finally continued, by this time water started to flow on the road. This is not a good thing on this kind of road. The dirt quickly gets very slick and conditions turn tricky even for 4×4’s with good tires. We were a little concerned about our drivers since Dorie and Srisuda did not have much driving experience in the trucks, let alone in 4×4 and the present conditions. We were glad to know that they had Keith with them to advise and coach them. We waited in the restroom until we heard on the radio that vehicles had made it down.
Now it was time to get back on our bikes. It was still raining, as it would for the rest of the day. Around dinner the rain slowed down to a drizzle, but it never completely cleared up. We just kept on fighting our way through the mud, wind, rain, cold. It felt like we were dragging anchors. It became a mental challenge as much as a physical one.
When we reached the “Airport” camp site we huddled up in the restroom there. We were hungry and out of food. We needed access to the support vehicles. It took quite a while for the trucks to catch up. The road can be negotiated much faster by bike then by truck. During our wait another group of riders showed up and joined us in the tiny building. They had started at our goal for the day “Murphy” camp and told us that there was no way we would make it there given the time of day and road conditions. So we decided to push just to “Gooseberry” camp and hope that one of the 2 camp sites there wasn’t taken. When we got there we talked to a group camped there and they were willing to share their site. Later rangers showed up and were not all to happy about the arrangement, but also understood that the conditions were severe. The rangers had the other site reserved.
We all were cold and soaking wet. Jack showed some signs of hypothermia. We set up camp quickly and prepared some hot food. The weather cooperated and we only had to deal with light drizzle. While some of the camp setup and cooking was going on Jim and I cleaned the bike drive trains in one of the numerous puddles. We all had so much mud in there that none of us could shift regularly any more. After dinner we crawled into our sleeping bags hoping for a better day tomorrow. Through the night I heard it rain, not good. At sunrise the sky was still covered, but it was not raining and the clouds quickly opened up.
After a warm breakfast and some more bike cleaning we got read to ride and see if we could make it up the Hogback road to Murphy. That road really can only be negotiated safely when it’s dry. Just before leaving John and I discovered that we each had a broken spoke. We decided that we could continue if we rode carefully. We had a great ride to Murphy, the sky was mostly clear, there was sun, Hogback was dry, things were looking good. We checked in with the trucks and they were still way behind. So we waited. The weather decided to turn on us during that time and by the time the trucks arrived we had snow flurries again. It did not take us long to make the tough decision to turn around. We knew what the roads in that direction were like, but we did not know what conditions ahead of us were. After the trip we learned that it was the correct decision as parts of the road ahead were impassable during the time we would have needed them.
We loaded up the bikes, made some room for passengers in the vehicles and started our drive back. But not before Keith road up the steep Hogback road for fun. Along the way we met the rangers again and they advised us that we had a good chance to find an empty camping spot at “Airport”. The drive there took a long time, it’s a slow road in a 4×4. We enjoyed the views that we did not get to see the day before. Once at camp we setup and for the first time on this trip had a chance to sit in our chairs, sip beers and tell stories while having great food.
The next morning started clear and we only had a few showers. At the bottom of Shafer Trail Jim, John and Greg got on their bikes. I had a second broken spoke at this point and was out. We all went to the visitor center close to the trail head and aired up the trucks while waiting for Susana to come to pick up John. Then we went to Moab, took showers and met with some other friends in town who had rented a house for a little after ride pizza party. We called it pretty early still tired from 3 exhausting days.
The weather did not allow a ride as expected, but we all agreed that it was a great experience with unforgettable memories.
Stats from Jim’s Garmin: 63 miles, 5111 ft elevation gain, 8.1 h butt time.
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