White Rim Trail odyssey, part two

Credit: Doug Anderson/Active.com
Miss part one of this story?

Day Two:

Team No. 1 picked where they left off last night, brewing coffee and cooking up hearty breakfast burritos while the rest of us wiped off the first layer of Utah redness that had formed on our bikes and lubed up for the days ride.

More sunblock was applied, camp was packed back into the trucks and we were ready to ride Day Two. Motorcycle Boy, who had cruised into camp at dusk last night, left before the main group as he planned to motor ahead and hike up a side canyon.

The ride this morning was again fairly easy to moderate terrain with spectacular vistas. Most of the White Rim, in fact, is terrain well suited for almost any level biker. There are only a few technical sections of trail, and even these can be handled relatively worry free by most intermediate bikers.

However, the ride can also be challenging and exciting for even the most seasoned mountain biker. Throughout the trail, technical slickrock sections, natural quarter pipes, and rock ledges loom on or just off the main trail providing numerous playgrounds for expert riders. In our group, experience levels ranged from intermediate to very expert, but the group always seemed to stay pretty close together and everyone rode with everyone else at one point or another.

We stopped for lunch at White Crack Campsite, which is accessed via a 1.5-mile spur road off the main trail. The big sandy hill right before White Crack forced everyone to walk their bikes, but the extra effort to get out there was definitely worth it.

White Crack has archaeological artifacts scattered throughout the site and is full of huge rock boulders and towers, which provide an ideal exploration environment. With just a little bit of hiking from White Crack, we were able to see the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. A beautiful lunch stop, White Crack also makes for an ideal campsite on the second night of a five-day White Rim trip.

After lunch, my mind kept thinking about one thing Murphys Hogback. One of the few infamous uphills on the White Rim, at about the 45-mile mark, Murphys is neither long (about a mile) nor extremely technical, but the sheer gradient of it makes it hard to clean even for the toughest riders.

The last time I rode the White Rim I made it to within about fifteen yards from the top of Murphys and then, with two friends watching from above, I toppled sideways onto a sharp rock, my exhausted body to tired to unclip or ready itself for the oncoming pain. The Hogback won that round, but I was intent on exacting my revenge this year.

My record at Murphys is now 0-2. In fact, only three members of the group rode the whole hill without touching.

Our camp was just a hundred yards ahead at Murphys C, which delivered views of the entire planet and a rim-side seat overlooking Soda Springs Basin.

"My favorite campsite was Murphys," said Sunshine Beth. "We dangled our feet over the edge of the world and watched an unbelievable sunset across the canyon. Gary played the drum and Josh started wrestling people and Paul got knocked out of his chair. In the morning, we woke up next to the rim, because thats where we happened to fall asleep, and there was a lovely sunrise and hot chocolate."

Is it any wonder why we call her Sunshine?

Day Three

A banana-chocolate chip pancake breakfast from Team Two got the day underway. It was yet another gorgeous sunny day and our ride began with the most fun downhill of the trip. Right from camp, we dropped into Soda Springs Basin and for miles traveled gravity-assisted through Gods country, needing only a handful of pedal strokes and a few bunny hops to keep cruising along.

We rode on mostly downhill and rolling terrain for about 12 miles before stopping for lunch at the Wilhite Trailhead (although three riders heedlessly rode past this intersection and Motorcycle Boy had to bring emergency rations to them later in the afternoon).

The Wilhite Trail is a hiking trail that heads north back up to the Island in the Sky, but directly across from the trailhead, on the other side of the main White Rim Road, is a classic Utah slot canyon. Water flow and erosion for thousands of years have carved this drainage into a magical mini canyon. Steep walls and large mud pits make this hike appealing only to those riders confidant with their friction climbing skills and willing to get dirty.

There are actually terrific hiking trails throughout the White Rim, and it is nice to plan to do one or two on a trip. The trails get you to beautiful, seldom seen places and most people relish a little time off their bike and saddle-sore butt.

The afternoon began with some gentler downhill. Within an hour and a half from our lunch stop, we were at the banks of the Green River.

We spent a little time by the river (washing off Wilhite Slot Canyon mud) and then pushed on to camp. Hardscrabble Camp, our next home, was just four miles away, but to get to it we would have to go up and over Hardscrabble Hill, on obstacle often taken for granted after Murphys. While Hardscrabble is not as steep as Murphys, it is still a formidable uphill, particularly at the end of the day. I grunted up Hardscrabble (Im 2-0 versus this hill) and then it was a nice cruising downhill to camp, which returned us to the bank of the Green.

Day Four

The ride for the first eight miles followed the river and was flat with many sandy sections. This is probably the least fun section of riding, but a group of five or six of us decided to really go for it and it was fun working hard and grinding out miles together as a team.

At mile 79 we came to the junction with Horsethief Trail and the beginning of our ascension back to civilization. For a mile and a half, I grunted up Horsethief Canyon, gaining over 2,000 feet of elevation. Its actually not a brutal climb; its long and very slow but the gradient never gets too outrageous. "It was the type of climb where you have to keep your head up," said Bukowski. "Slow and meticulous. No rush. Recite poems, sing songs, think about life."

We still had 11 miles of wash-boarded dirt road and another 10 miles of pavement to ride to complete our loop and end at the Island in the Sky visitors center, but for the most part our White Rim adventure was over.

I rode the pavement section with Sunshine Beth. We rode in silence most of the way, and then just a couple of miles before the visitors center she pulled up next to me and said, "You know, when you look out over the canyons, its amazing, but when youre down inside, its like youre in another world. At the top of Horsethief, when we were finally out, I just wanted to turn around and go back down!"

Yeah, me too Sunshine. Theres just something about The White Rim.

Register for a tour of Canyonlands and White Rim Trail online.

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