Monday, March 12, 2012

Adventure touring on the White Rim

I had a struggle between doing the powder keg this year or bailing for a trip to the desert. I only had one close friend left doing the keg. The kicker, however, was that the spouse was leaving town for the week... I like to think of it as a free kitchen pass. So at the expense of the keg, I decided to head to the desert.

Based on the options available we decide to do the White Rim Trail in Island in the Ski, Canyon Lands National Park. But not the normal way, because that would be too boring. So we packed up our touring bikes and headed South in hopes of getting a permit. We planned to ride counter clockwise, in about 2 and 1/2 days self supported. That totals about 117 miles of rocks and sand doable in a high clearance 4x4 or 2x4 with some skill... Oh and did I mention lots of sand?

Day 1: about 35 miles from the parking lot down into the White Rim to our campsite next to the Green river. While we where getting our permit, we where talking to a ranger who got dubber 'olive oil' for the visible stress in her simple permit issuing position. Olive oil had told us that the only river access we would have would be at Potato Bottom camp, and it would be a bush wack at that. Turns out she was a little off. It was one of the last major water stops, but far from the first. So on day one we carried about 2 and 1/2 gallons of water each--or about 20 lbs of water. (Just to compare my Tarmac road bike weighs about 17 lbs). Needless to say it was a heavy day. All without much need. We decended mostly for the first 17 miles or so until we reached the green then it was a mix of flats and moderate climbs to the camp site. Reasonable bouldering was the evening activity along with a fancy meal of potato soup, with avocado and green peppers.

Day 2: Definitely the full featured day of 47ish miles through rolling hills and short steep climbs and technical decents (at least for a fully loaded touring bike). At the mid point we met the crux of the route: The Hogsback. A steep loose climbing that was relentless. However with much determination we where able to ride the climb, and a lot of motivation from our friends from ska brewing. (

Speaking of Ska brewing company, YES we where self supported on this trip, but after deliberations with one of the founders of Ska, a statewide beer advocate for Colorado brewing, and other very professional brewers of Colorado, we decided it was still considered 'self supported' if you accept generous offerings of brew during the post ride. And thanks to this group of excellent citizens, we where always greeted at the end of the day with an ice cold beverage or fine distilled selection for the cellar of Ska or associated companies. These professionals also provide more than enough entertainment for any night with endless humor and a selection of desert games such as bocce ball, moon light rides, and kite flying.

I almost forgot the rest of day 2! After the completion of the Hogsback, it of course should have only been a few miles to the camp site right? Well, hours later and a setting sun, we where not there yet. Turns out Team Ska had chosen a camp site 10 miles closer than we had. So we stopped by to say hello as the sun was setting before our final 10 miles of slow rocky desert riding. At this point we should also admit that we gave into their generous offer to share some of their large water stores... but to be clear we only took about 35 ounces each. Enough for tea and dish washing for the night and morning. We finished the last 10 miles in the dark with only a little navigation trouble due to the lack of visible landmarks. Thankfully I brought along my super dyno hub light that illuminated the trail well, even before the moon rise. We where spent, and ready for bed.

Day 3: We had to spend a little extra time in the morning repairing a broken pannier mount due to the continued pounding and high weight, but it only put us back about an hour. Day 3 turned out to be nice and actually pretty short. The ride to the trail split was about 18 miles. At the trail split we had to chose the Shafer Trail climb, or the ride out to pot ash, then continued ride up Longs canyon to the car. The Shafer trail is about 1700ft in about 5 miles, and the visual stimuli is amazing. The grade isn't too bad, and the road well cared for so it was really just a nice beautiful grind. The only problem was the road was closed due to 'covered in ice' as Olive oil had stated. But those of you familiar with the desert and how things go, would probably have a difficult time with the idea of it being covered in ice with very little snow visible around the park. After evaluating the likelihood of olive oil being wrong (very likely) and the fact that many bike tracks had passed through the trail since the last rain/snow event. We decide it was likely open to bikes by now anyway and took the risk.
made the right decision as it was an excellent climb with 1 or 2 unrideable snow sections, but by snow I mean like 3 inches of very walkable snow. You could see the bikes from above just rode through. After reaching the top we finished the 10 grueling miles back on the Asphalt to the car.

Great ride, excellent scenery, and good friends. I would recommend it to anyone who can get a reasonably big tire on your touring bike, and has some good MTB skills. Or if you don't have the skills, take the MTB bike and its easy, with just a lot of miles