With snow beginning to fly and temperatures plunging, our cycling season in southwest Colorado is coming to an end. Of course, there is still riding to be done by the lunatics that get out in the snow on their fat bikes and the hard men and women who suffer through frigid temps on the their cyclocross bikes, but the rest of us are packing away the bike gear and dusting off the skis or snowboards. As a Colorado native, I have been through this annual ritual plenty of times, as have most of my Osprey co-workers. This year it was a little harder to let go so we decided to celebrate a terrific year of biking by going out with a bang. The “bang” being a company-sponsored three-day journey around the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park. The White Rim is an iconic ride that circles the Island in the Sky on a mesa above the Colorado and Green rivers in southeastern Utah. Overall distance for the loop is a bit over 100 miles and with the exception of a few relatively short, hard climbs, elevation change is minimal. The lure of riding the White Rim for us was as much about the scenery, camping and camaraderie as it was the actual riding. One person in our group compared the ride to a river trip for cyclists, which is a perfect correlation.
The Osprey trip started on Thursday night where we all convened for dinner at the Moab Brewery and then headed to a campsite near our ride start point. There was definitely some nervous anticipation among those who were on their maiden White Rim voyage. Those of us who are veterans of the trip were constantly bombarded with questions of, “How far is it again?” and “How hard is the trail?” Our team consisted of a mixed crew of riders ranging from experienced riders, to bike commuters who hadn’t spent much time on the trails, but we had confidence that all would come out the other side with flying colors.
After a quick breakfast and some gear shuffling on Friday morning, we started the ride. A few miles of rolling pavement on the highway served as a perfect warmup. Conditions were stellar when we finally turned onto the dirt road and approached the steep Schafer switchbacks dropping off of the Island. The route we would be riding could be seen for miles in the distance and hundreds of feet below us. The thrill of standing atop the mesa at Schafer and seeing the trail drop down the canyon walls, knowing that you will be down there in a matter of minutes, was pretty special. Once everyone was safely down the descent, we naturally settled into smaller groups and rolled on our way, stopping occasionally to soak in the postcard views.
Each day would be a repeat of riding the rolling terrain while straining to maintain a focus on the route without becoming too distracted by the amazing rock formations, towering cliffs, distant mesas and snow-covered LaSal mountains. Multiple stops along the way for sightseeing and adventure broke up the riding segments. Landmarks such as Musselman Arch, White Crack, Murphy’s Hogback and the Holman Slot Canyon were not be missed and we made sure to spend some time enjoying the spectacular landscapes of this region. An exploration down the Holman Slot Canyon resulted in non-stop laughter as we struggled to climb back out of the slickrock canyon. The group up top had a rope and gear to get us out if needed so we were never in real danger, but instead we took on the challenge of an unaided egress.
Afternoons and evenings were a highlight as everyone reconvened at camp. We settled in to celebrate the day’s ride with cold beers, hot food and great story telling. It is amazing how good everything tastes when you have been on the bike all day! Everyone got to learn a little bit more about the people they work beside every day without the distractions of ringing phones, email and text messages. The skies remained perfectly clear making the stars and moon so bright, we barely even needed headlamps.
After three days of riding and two nights of camping, we ascended our way back off of the White Rim and up the intimidating Mineral Bottom switchbacks. Looking up these switchbacks from the bottom was as awe-inspiring as looking down the Schafer switchbacks the first day. The difference is we had to claw our way up these instead of joyfully speeding down. Eventually, each rider celebrated his and her own personal success and reached the upper rim to the cheers of those ahead of them. We laid out one last, well deserved spread of food and basked in the joyous feeling of a mission completed. Even though it was late on Sunday and we all had to drive for a few hours to make it back for work on Monday, it was obvious that no one was really in a hurry to leave. Our legs were tired and we hadn’t showered for days, but I am almost sure that given the opportunity to keep riding and do the whole thing over again, every person would have jumped on their bike and ridden off into the sunset for another lap.