In 2008, two buddies and I attempted to ride the white rim in a day (WRIAD) on mountain bikes. For me, it was really hard. In fact, I nearly crawled to the finish after 11 hours of rolling and 13.5 hours total. I said right after, "I will never do that again."
This was my story last time (WRIAD 2008)
After ignoring my bike and reflecting on the ride, three days later, I realized, I really did want to do it again. My justification was to enjoy it a different way and suffer less by correcting my previous mistakes.
We targeted doing it every fall since. But for me, I had work trips trump plans...until this year.
Finally, 2012, No work trips.
We got four people on board including Me and Rob from 2008--and two friends Matt and Markus.
The lessons I learned on the last ride were the following:
--Training is still important. You need saddle time. You don't have to do 100 mile rides to train, but 20 miles rides won't cut it. I did a lot of 40 mile rides and one two weeks out oat 71 miles with 6000 ft of climbing. I trained a lot last time but not quite enough climbing miles. A lot of miles also tests your pack feel, your saddle feel and other subtle "feels" that are not related to fitness.
--Eating is critical. Last time I didn't eat enough even though I thought I was eating a lot. I trained this time to eat constantly and find foods that work. For me that is gels, jello blocks, chocolate milk, a light energy drink and burritos. Last time, chocolate milk worked for me. This time I added energy drink in one bladder. I found on some training rides, I would not be able to swallow some foods such as bars.
--Go fast but go slow. That means don't go slow when you are on flats, but keep the heart rate down on the climbs, going slow and not attacking them. Minimize the stopping. Time in the sun is energy wasted not moving forward but allowing fatigue to set in and calories wasted being alive.
--Lighten the load--especially on the back. I put two bottles on my bike, tools under the saddle and a bag on the handlebar with gels and other snacks. I also didn't carry my heavy DSLR camera like last time and I built up a bike that was five pounds lighter than my 2008 bike. Last time, my shoulders hurt from a weird fitting tight pack and too much load in it.I missed the nice camera though.
--Definitely taper. I think in 2008 I sorta tapered but I did too much riding right before the ride without increasing my eating. Tapering allows the muscles to heal and pack in the glycogen. I starting eating low fat and lots of carbs three days before the ride and not just the night before.
The 2008 plan:
In 2008, we set up a cache near the junction of the main road in Canyonlands National Park and the top of the Shafer trail. The cache contained most of our water and food--and a place to stash our lights and any other trash or jackets we didn't think we needed.
After setting up the cache, we drove Mineral road down past Mineral bottom and camped a couple miles before the entrance to the park by the Green river then we rode in the dark at 6:30 am up Mineral bottom, along Mineral bottom road to our cache where we filled our packs and dumped our big lights.
This worked well but was a big waste of time both in setting it up the night before, during the ride while we did the switch and in the end retrieving our stuff.
The 2012 plan:
No cache this time. This time we carried it all. Plus, we started at the top and rode Counter-Clockwise with the climb of Shafer near the end. It was kind of bold doing the climb at the end, but we figured if we were tired, walking it was not all that different than climbing it.
In a bold and somewhat risky difference his time, we used a lesser known cut-off, saving Five miles---only to have it backfire in the end. The saying goes, "there is no such think as a short cut!" And why I call it a cut-off.To give us credit, it backfired only because of other soon-to-be-revealed logistics and not because it was a bad idea.
We pre-rode the cut off and marked the entrance with a large stone. It was fairly clear but we wanted to make sure. After dinner in Moab, we camped at Horsethief campground. It's a mile north of the Mineral Bottom road, making it super convenient. We prepped our bikes, had a beer, enjoyed a small fire and went to sleep early.
We awoke at 4:45 AM. I made coffee and heated a breakfast burrito while I packed my tent and things. I also drank some apple juice. Markus made this funky curry rice meal that he claimed he had never eaten before. It didn’t look very good but he chomped it down with confidence. I wound up eating 850 calories for breakfast and didn’t feel bloated. The strong coffee helped with the prior day purge process.
At 5:45 AM Rob, wanting the extra miles, headed out on this bike to meet us at the cut-off three miles away on Mineral Bottom. Soon after we all met him at the cut-off. We proceeded to ride at 6:15 AM, lights ablaze. It was cold (low 30s F) and we were moving at more than 20 mph. This would continue for 10 miles. I think everyone had frozen fingers and toes at the point where we were going to descend into the canyon. This part of the plan wasn’t the best.
Once we made the descent, it was slightly uphill, and sandy. There was enough twilight to kill the lights and we warmed up spinning in sand and the slight climb. It was pleasant and we shared good conversation about the surroundings and what to expect ahead and the sun started chipping away the darkness with spectacular shadows revealing the dramatic color and texture of the canyon walls above the Green River.
Soon, we hit the first campsite (Labyrinth) where some of us used the facility, ate a snack (I ate a snack every chance I had) and conversed with the lucky folks doing this ride in a multi-day adventure. The air was crisp and dry. It was so perfect.
After the short stop, we proceeded with our first climb: Hardscrabble. It's not a fun climb to ride. It's not just steep, it’s sandy. Rob and Markus hit it hard, riding a lot of it. As soon as I got bogged and saw my heart rate jump, I jumped off and walked. It was a great walk. My light bike floated on the sand and my heart rate drifted down. The sand ended fairly quickly and I was thankful.
Once at the top, the Hardscrabble descent might have been the best part of the whole day. The temperature was perfect and the early light was showing spectacular color on the calm Green River for the backdrop and the plumes of orange talcum dust created by our crew made it a dreamy ride. This is when I wish I had my big camera.
Finally past Potato Bottom, we shed most of the worst sand and started our slow climb to Murphy's Hogback. It's a scenic, very red area. Kinda like one might imagine riding on Mars. We stopped a few times to take photos and snack on more calorie laden treats, but once we hit the climb to the Hogback, it was hunker down--spin or walk. The grade is steep, especially at the end.
At the top of Murphy's hogback, we ate lunch fixed a flat tire on Matt’s bike and relaxed for a good 45 minutes. Longer than I wanted but it was necessary. This was mile 45.
We were nearly half way! And, we were rewarded with a lot of slight descending for the next 30 miles.
Oh so nice. I felt great, and the next few miles were scenic and fast. There was a little more sand than I remember as we approached the White Crack turnoff, but I managed.
Once we passed White Crack and got on the firm ground, I was in 'the zone' I felt the ride was coasting and I was lost in the scenery. It was like a dream. I didn't want it to end. I didn't think about the climb up Shafer ahead. Maybe because my state of mind didn't see it as hard. Nothing seemed hard at this point.
There was a point where Rob and I got really far ahead of Matt and Markus and only stopped because a park ranger was on a motorcycle looking for a group with a possible problem. We did see someone fixing a tire or something but it seemed like the group he was looking for must have fixed their problem. Markus rolled up at one point, started eating, claiming fatigue was setting in.
We continued. Eventually we reached Little Bridge canyon about 30 miles from our truck where we stopped to admire the features.
A few minutes later, to our surprise, Markus rolled up, threw down his bike, sat down and claimed he was done. He needed us to go get the truck and come get him.
I was shocked at the sudden dramatic surrender.
I hesitated and said, "Okay. eat, rest and take your time. You will get your second wind." I gave him my extra water bottle and we started heading for the truck with the plan that Markus stays on course.
This was Markus’ first time on this trail so we went over the map making sure he understood not to make a wrong turn on Potash road and to make sure he took the cutoff. This was the big mistake in assumptions. We should have said. If you somehow get to the top, wait at the road.
We also should have left someone with him. The amazing virtue of hindsight is that you don't realize it when it seems so obvious at the time.
I figured as bad as Markus looked, at best he would get to the top of Shafer at dusk. I really didn’t want to drive down Shafer at night.
The ride from leaving Markus, took well over two hours--we stopped looking at watches. Rob and I got to the truck and took a long time packing it, with me hoping Markus made some headway and saved me a drive down Shafer. We killed some time talking and debating when Matt might arrive.
After no sign of Matt, we started backtracking on the cutoff. About a mile in, we ran into Matt. We loaded him up and proceeded. It was a more technical drive on the cutoff than I expected and it was dark. I really didn’t want to drive on the cut-off due to the rough nature but we decided anyway. I was finally excited to reach the highway and start heading on pavement I was hoping, and confident, we would run into Markus before we drove down Shafer after wasted a lot of time driving that cutoff. We got to Shafer.We didn’t find him.
In fact, we drove down Shafer to the Potash turnoff and never found him. This is when things started feeling really bad. I think I resigned having a celebratory margarita way back when I said to Rob on the climb up Shafer “it’s going to be a long night!” Now, I’m wondering if I am even going to sleep tonight.
We got out the phones, powered them up, looking for service and messages as we headed on the White Rim in the direction we came up on our bikes. Thoughts of him crashing, falling asleep on the trailside were all valid. We never passed any other vehicles coming up so the concern was amplified.
We continued to drive and eventually found we got a phone call from a Colorado number--but no message. Calling it back got no answer.
I called my wife looking for Markus’ phone number. She didn’t have it but her voice definitely shifted with a tone of concern when I explained what was going on.
Finally, after a long technical drive we reached the spot where we left him. Nobody!
This is when we discussed what we needed to do. Go to Moab, check the hotel, check the hospital, alert the authorities and get gas. The question is, did he take Potash road and should we go that way?
That was answered when we got a delayed message from him saying he got a second wind, missed the cut-off turn off and didn’t realize it till he hit the campground. He then tried to go back to no avail and then turned around again finding someone at the campground with a phone where he made the call saying he was going to wait at the campground turn-off and hwy 313.
Great news. We felt relief. But we still had a long drive ahead.
We drove up Shafer, down the highway to the campground to not find him. The worry returned. However, at least we know we have to go to Moab. We did a little cruise through the campground to find another message of him saying he was cold and couldn’t wait so he coasted toward Moab.
Given it took nearly four hours to search for him, it’s not a shocker to realize that Markus actually made it to Moab. He stopped at the Holiday inn and left us another message that he was there that we got around the time we arrived at hwy 191 which is almost at Moab.. That bonking sucker logged 125 miles when it was over. We were happy it was over and everyone was warm and safe.
The celebration plan of Margaritas at Baja grill shifted to a Grand Slam Breakfast at Denny’s as the hour approached midnight.
These are the rides that you always remember.
I had a totally different experience than in 2008. The ride was so much easier both logistically and effort-wise even though I think the sand was worse this year and much of it was on a slight climb (which can be harder than coasting downhill). I also think doing a climb up front is better because it’s cold out and it’s easy to keep warm. Going on long speedy descent in the cold morning is a misuse of effort and uncomfortable.
I think two key things worked for me. Eating constantly and keeping my heart rate down. I violated the heart rate rule on the Murphy Hogback climb but it was only for a few minutes and it didn’t seem to cost me in the end--But I shouldn't have done it anyway.
I felt so good after this, the drive back was enjoyable, and I went on a ride that afternoon instead of ignoring my bike for three days.
Everyone had a blast.
Markus was the happiest guy. He got the most miles and had the most epic time.