White Rim Ride, 10-12 April 2019 (by John)


The Canyonlands National Park White Rim 100 Mile Mountain Bike Ride

The abridged version: Adventurer, Jack DeFranco continues to plan and execute exotic adventures. Months of detailed planning went into setting up the White Rim Ride. Invitations were offered, reservations made, authorities contacted, permits obtained, checklists developed, and an operational risk management checklist covered. On the morning of 10 April 2019, a group of 5 riders and 3 support vehicles set off into driving winds and swirling snow. While the thermometer said 35 degrees, it felt like 20’s. The best laid plans could not overcome Mother Nature. She had other plans for us. She beat us and tortured us for 8 hours of riding and all through the night. The morning of the 2nd day, the weather cleared, road dried out and riding conditions were exceptional. At 1300, she decided we were having too much fun and set in to torment us with more snow. While the bikes were able to continue, the support vehicles could not safely negotiate a rough narrow muddy 35% incline two feet from the edge of a 500 foot drop off. More rain and snow in the forecast with more treacherous road conditions prompted us to turn around. Riders could not continue without support.

The unabridged version: Canyonlands is 527 square miles of pristine wilderness located in southeastern Utah near the Colorado border. Water and gravity have carved out hundreds of canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires. The Colorado and Green Rivers carved out two massive canyons. A national park was established in 1964 to preserve the beauty of this incredible land.

Jack & Dorie, Uwe & Srisuda, John & Susana, Keith & Greg, and Jim all converged on Horsethief Campground just outside of Canyonlands National Park. Each have a story to tell of their journey just to get there. Jim came from South Carolina to Salt Lake City, Keith & Greg drove in from Phoenix and the rest of us came from San Diego County. The ride started at an altitude of over 7,000 feet. We rode on pavement for the first ~9 miles then turned onto the Shafer Trail Road. The support vehicles needed to reduce tire pressure to improve traction. We descended a series of steep switchbacks for 1,500 feet into Shafer Canyon. Snow turned to rain and the dirt road became a muddy quagmire. Puddles of water formed and, even with rain gear, we were soaked within a short time. There were bathrooms at campgrounds and we huddled in them to get out of the elements and try to get warm. The plan for day 1 was to ride 45 miles to Murphy Campground at the top of Hogback. We made about 30 miles in 7 hours. Campgrounds require permits but the adverse weather kept other people with permits away so we were able to find campsites at Gooseberry Campground. Setting up camp in the wind and rain was challenging. The support crew was awesome in getting hot food prepared quickly. We didn’t hang around outside very long as the elements were not conducive to relaxation. The wind/rain continued until 0400.

At daylight Thursday 11 April, we arose to a beautiful morning. The road had dried out, sun was shining, and our spirits rose as we expected a productive day. First, we had to clean mud from the bikes as it was interfering with shifting and braking. Two bikes suffered broken spokes but were rideable. Our crew made an incredible breakfast and we launched our ride with smiles. Greg and John rode steadily, stopping only 3 times for photos and arrived at Murphy Campground. The climb up Hogback was not rideable so we pushed bikes up for 500-600 yards. By the time the other riders appeared, the weather had deteriorated. Our route ahead was awash with snow and rain storms. We knew the road conditions would be severe and possibly impassable in adverse weather so made the decision to turn back. Bikes can proceed much faster than 4×4 vehicles so the return trip was long and rough. We returned to Airport Campground for the night. The weather hadn’t caught up with us yet so we had wonderful camping conditions. Still cold, in the mid 40’s but dry. Evening meal, a couple beers, great conversations…just like it should be. Temps dropped into the high 20’s that night but the wind/rain held off.

Friday, 12 April we had another wonderful breakfast, broke camp and continued the slow vehicle trek back to our starting point. At a point maybe 5-6 miles from where we started, three of us decided to ride. The road was good with steep switchbacks and 1,500 foot climb to Island in the Sky visitor center. Once on top the mesa, it started to snow again. While we waited for John’s wife, Susana to pick him up, the support vehicles aired up their tires and we tried to get the appropriate gear into its assigned vehicle. By 1400 we were on our way to the hotel for a hot shower and clean clothes. Susana is not inclined to camp outdoors so she spent the 2.5 days in Moab and surrounding area. She visited Arches National Park and enjoyed the new snow on the rock formations. There is so much to do in the Moab area. We have committed to returning there to complete the ride and to hike some of the trails.

The adventure was capped off by a pizza/beer party at an Air BNB with other friends. Everyone was very tired so didn’t stay too late. Next morning some continued to Arches National Park for more sightseeing and some headed home. Our decision to turn back was validated when we received word from Moab after our return home that the 2nd half of our route was impassable during the duration of our permit. We will return to do it again and hope Mother Nature is more agreeable!

Thanks to Jack for all the work setting up this event. Thanks to Dorie, Srisuda, and Keith for their support driving, fixing meals, hauling gear, and making the riders as comfortable as possible. Thanks to the riders for the comradery and mutual support.

Where are we going next?

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