Some days in your life that are just your favorites. My first time on the White Rim trail outside of Moab was one of these days. The White Rim has beaten me on two occasions, but on this particular day, I'd like to think I won.
It was early October of 2014, and I had been mountain biking for almost a year. I had just purchased a new cross bike and was itching to ride it in some event, so I decided to try it out in The Tour of the Moon, a 60-ish mile road ride that travels through Colorado National Monument. It was a perfect brisk Saturday morning as I finished the route, not quite aware of what was ahead of me for the following day.
"You're going to ride with Ben and I tomorrow, right?"
This is Doug, who is somewhat of a chronic instigator and almost never accepts no for an answer. My husband, Ben, had mentioned the White Rim to me on previous occasions, so I was somewhat aware of its demands. I had even rented a bike from my local bike shop, Kokopelli Bike and Board, just in case we decided to go ahead with the plan. It was a Surly Krampus; a rigid bike with 29 inch wheels equipped with the fatter three inch tires. The Krampus was, according to the guys at the shop, the perfect machine for the White Rim.
"Of course." What else could I say? I couldn’t let them go on an adventure without me. Now, let me be clear, we were in no way prepared for this adventure. Both of the boys were on full suspension, smaller wheel sized bikes, the type of bicycle that is great for technical downhill terrain but not exactly great for cross country. We had no plans for food and water, which is typically something a rider should have dialed on a 100 mile back country desert ride. And, at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday night, we were still debating on where to start the route.
Despite the lack of preparation, we decided to go for it and we ran to Wal-Mart for supplies. Hydration was one of the biggest concerns, so extra water bottles and a large jug of Gatorade went in the cart. To accommodate the extra Gatorade jug, Doug bought a bike rack which he jury-rigged to the back of his seat post, duct tapping the Gatorade on. With piles of nut, jerky and junk food in tow, we returned to Doug's to finalize the plan.
We left Grand Junction that Sunday morning around 4:00 a.m., and parked our car at the edge of HWY 313 at Mineral Bottom road, a decision that would prove, in the end to be a mistake. Just before 6 a.m., we started riding on the highway towards Canyon Lands National Park. I remember feeling like a big kid on my Krampus thrilled by the buzzing of oversized tires on the pavement.
Passing the entrance to the park, and beginning the Shafer descent, the sun's rays popped over the horizon, highlighting the spectacular views in Canyon Lands. Sunrise in the red-rock desert has a one-of-a-kind feeling that I’ll never get tired of. At this point, we all felt great and there was a buzz of excitement. The morning was filled with bawdy talk, laughter and just plain goofing off; an ambiance that would continue throughout the journey.
Without a concern to time, we took the short detour to experience Musselman arch, which is technically a bridge and worth the time to explore. Naturally, Ben and I posed as muscle men on the bridge and Doug, ever the adventurer, rode his bike across.
The day continued enjoyably, and again unworried about the time, we stopped to sit for lunch. It wasn't until about 60 miles in that I noticed our pace beginning to slow, and it dawned on me that we might not be finishing this before dark.
With every mile, we got slower. I still felt great, perhaps because I happened to be riding a bike fit for our chosen adventure. At one point, possibly 75 miles in, Doug turned to me and asked if I thought Ben might be bonking. Basically, 'bonking' means running out of energy making the athletic task at hand virtually impossible (when you’ve bonked hard enough, holding your mouth shut feels like a serious effort). I tried to keep a positive attitude and responded by telling Doug that Ben was just pacing himself. I think I knew the truth though, Ben was bonking. Possibly due to his genetic anemia, or because of the fact that he had not ridden his bike for this long in a years, but either way we had to finish. There was no turning back.
Finally, we reached Mineral Bottom Road and stared up at the switchbacks—the sun was already hiding behind the canyon rim a thousand feet above us. I remember thinking that I just wanted to get the climb out of the way, so I asked the guys if they would mind if I went ahead. I gave them my water since they were out and said they needed more. I figured that there was no way they would drink it all by the time they met me at the top.
I made it to the top feeling strong and proud of myself. I was glad to be feeling so good after such a long day. Then, I waited. The sun was low in the sky and about to set, but I remember Ben saying it was only about five miles to the car, from the top of the Mineral road climb. I continued to wait with little worry. We were almost done, and amazingly we had finished close to sun set.
Finally, Doug came pedaling around the corner and we waited for Ben. After he arrived, I asked for my water. They drank it all! Doug told me I shouldn't have given it to them if I wanted some more. The only thought going through my mind: “some gentlemen, these two.” At least we were almost done, or so I thought.
If anyone reading this has completed the White Rim, they will know that it is not only five miles from the top of Mineral to the highway. No, it is more like ten to fifteen miles of a gradual, sandy hill climb. This was our mistake, and we paid dearly for it.
Doug and I continued for several miles until I got nervous about Ben. I told Doug I needed to wait for him, and Doug admitted he was too tired and if he stopped, he wasn’t sure he could get going again. He continued, and I waited, by this time in the dark. I could hear him before I saw him, loud shallow breaths coming out of the darkness. He stopped and immediately sat on the ground as he approached me. I let him rest a bit, then we continued....about a quarter of a mile. He sat down again. This went on for about twenty minutes. Ben was determined to finish. Finally, he stopped again and all I heard was a quiet, raspy voice saying; "get the car."
That was all I needed. Still feeling good I jumped on the bike and rode as fast as I could to get Doug. After about four miles, I saw truck lights—Doug was on his way. I jumped in and we went to get Ben, who to my surprise, was back on the bike still trying to finish. He finally climbed in the car one mile short of the parking area.
The car ride home was quiet. Our mission, to ride the White Rim in a day, had been accomplished. I remember one thought flowing through my mind: I need to race. In all honesty, it almost felt like a calling that I had to answer. I made a vow to myself to get over my fears of competing and start racing. This amazing day, riding with two of my best friends, will always stand out for me, as much for the fun that we had as for the clarity it brought.
As the men slept and I continued the drive back to Grand Junction, I felt confident with my decision. Then, like a corpse busting out of a grave, Ben shot up and threw up an enormous amounts of grape Gatorade all over the side of the car. But by the next morning, I knew he’d be willing to try it again.