Thursday, April 5, 2007

White Rim in a day

Another sweat-crusted jersey hits the laundry basket. My celebration of rims, ledges, red sand, sandstone slabs, long multicolored views and warm, dry breezes has completed with a bang and a wimper.

This ride was brought to you by Hammer Products, Red Bull, and SPAM.

I got up to the Mineral Bottom Road around 9pm on Tuesday night after viciously flogging the T100 all afternoon and evening across the State of Utah. Tired and goofy, I drove up highway 313 looking to park, set up, and sleep at the intersection with Mineral Bottom. Just after seeing the sign for Mineral Bottom a road took off in the same direction labeled “Mineral Bottom Campground”. I drove about 100 yards down that road before I realized that it wasn’t the right place. I couldn’t find a place to pivot the POD so I started backing her out of there. It did not go terribly well. I had a hard time doing it in the dark, with the T100 backup lights simply lighting up the front of the POD. A jeep dude with some of those superbright Hela lights came up and at first I was annoyed, but then he came along side and offered to light my way for me. Nice, it helped me a bunch.

So 5 minutes later I got the POD parked tolerably well and started the process of filling my pack for the ride. I was too jacked up to sleep for a while, and I actually wasn’t planning for a big sleeping night. I intended to get myself up at 3 or 4 and get started with lights so that I could be maybe halfway done before the heat of the day came on.

I filled my 100oz bladder as full as I could get it with water, then filled the 70oz as fill as it would go and dropped it in there. Then I filled a water bottle with HEED and jammed it in there. Tight. I jettisoned the shock pump I usually carry. I put one Red Bull into each side pocket then a can of SPAM into the front pocket. Hmmm, no camera (the pictures here are from my trip on the rim last September). Better bring the small sunglasses so I won’t need to pack the Oakley football case for the M-Frames. I wedged the smallest sunglasses case I have in with my sunglasses.

I go outside and look at the sky to make a judgment call about the rain jacket. Not bringing it invokes Murphy’s Law—if you have it there will be no rain. But I just really don’t have room for it, and the pack already weighs about 20 lbs. The weather has been so nice too! Oh, look at the moon. That’s right, the full moon was just last night. It’s still big as a house. Maybe skip bringing the big light? Nah, I like lots of light.

I set my alarm for 4am and finally crawl into the bag at around quarter to 11. It’s gotten so late, I decide I better give myself 5 hours of sleep if I want it. Just as I’m starting to drift off I hear somebody drive up and park. Damn, it’s late for somebody to just be getting here. I wonder what they’re up to? I listen for breaking glass and hear somebody tinkering around, opening and closing their car door. Maybe it’s somebody else staging a Rim circuit? After a while I hear a conclusive door close. Then silence.

I laid awake for what seemed like quite a while, then woke up with a full bladder. I hit the light on my watch and see that it’s 3:30. I cancel the alarm, make tinky and then grab the day’s first Red Bull from the fridge. Ah, nothing says “let’s do something crazy” like chugging a Red Bull in the middle of the night.

I get the bike out of the truck, mount my lights, go through a checklist I’ve made the night before, eat some cold cereal for breakfast, etc. It takes me nearly 90 minutes to be really ready to go. The big white moon shines silently through a nearly clear sky.

I pedal south down highway 313 toward the park entry. I am doing a clockwise circuit for a number of reasons. One is that this is the first way I ever saw the White Rim, another is that there is a section from Murphy’s Hogback down to Potato Bottom that I have almost always had to drive when doing the Rim traditionally, yet another is that I don’t want to finish with the long slog up the Schaefer Trail. But the single most important reason is that I feel quite certain that there will not be a government employee sitting in the entry booth looking to squeeze currency out of me at 5:30am. Just in case, I’m practicing my line: “Ontree fee? Me no speaky good eengleesh, wäht ees üntree fee?”

My legs complain a fair bit as I warm up pedaling the paved highway. I add up the miles I’ve done since Saturday. Let’s see, 25, then 80, then 58, then, uh, 25—nearly 190 miles in the last four days. Yeah, you take your time warming up, legs.

I get to the booth at a bit before 5:30 and it’s dark and deserted. I grin with the elation of the cheap bastard. Covert Op, baby! I swing a wide turn left into the Schaefer Trail entry and my tires hit that federal government gravel and down I go, down below the red rim for the real start of my journey.

The switchbacks of Schaefer have seen some work recently. I just climbed these last September on a wet morning about a month before the road got closed in mid-October. Huge rainstorms hit and all the people on trips below the rim got stranded down there. The Park Service had to rescue everyone down there and there were private trucks and jeeps stuck down there for more than a month while the road was fixed. I can see that lots of dirt has been moved.

The moon is huge behind me, but as I start into the steep park I pass into a deep black shadow. I am hauling ass, but can’t imagine going half as fast without my HID light. I’ve often heard about people doing the White Rim on full moon nights with no light. Always seemed a little crazy to me. What if it gets cloudy? What about shadows?

I zoom down and down. What a blast! Nothing like riding fast behind a good headlight with a belly full of Red Bull!

In no time I hit the first bottom and begin climbing. There is a fresh pee spot right in the middle of the road. I yell out “Piss in the road!” with an Italian accent, as is my custom.

After a few of these climb/descent cycles I’m descending fast with a head full of exuberance when I see that the end is near. The road takes a sharp off-camber left which comes up on me too fast and I see that I’m not going to make it. In quick semi-panic I lock up the rear and start sliding toward an offroad encounter. I slide to a stop inches away from a big red rock. OK mister, let’s just reel it in a little. Nothing wrong with having fun, but you are a long way from the emergency room and there aren’t any ambulance drivers handy.

I shake it off and get back into motion. Almost immediately I see another piss spot. Wasn’t the last one just like a mile ago? “Piss in the road!

As I emerge from Schaefer Canyon onto I sense that headlights are coming up behind me. It look back and it’s the moon. I’ve just emerged from the shadow. It’s after 6am, and the sky in the east is just starting to get a little light. My headlamp is still pretty handy, even though I’m out of the moon’s shadow.

I start the classic White Rim boogie, climb out and around a promontory, then descend back toward a canyon head, cross a wash. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The Musselman Arch parking lot goes by on my left. I’m not stopping at any of the attractions this time. I’ve seen Musselman Arch 30 times, in daylight, with people walking across it and talking about how it looks like it should fall… Not today. Today is all business. Pedaling, rolling, pedaling.

Piss in the road!” Weird, it’s like I’m following a piss machine.

The light in the east is now outlining the La Sals, which are capped with clouds, a small patch of orangy-pink shows just to the north of them. But the moon is much brighter, and the wash of my HID is brighter still.

As pre-dawn twilight starts to make my light unnecessary I approach a fairly significant promontory. I think I can see a rider climbing it. Pretty far off, but I seem to be able to see someone, looking like he’s wearing a blue-green jersey. I quicken my pace to try to catch him, but by the time I get over the top he’s gone. Minutes later as I pass the Lathrop Canyon intersection, I see a rider wearing a blue-green jersey, and he’s peeing! I’m listening to music, and I probably can’t tell how loudly I talk, but I say “the Pisser!”

He looks up (I’m still perhaps 100 yards away) then finishes and gets on his bike and goes. I give chase, but never see him again. “That guy is hydrated!” I say to myself. After he rides away from me I can see that he’s no slouch on the bike. Could he be the guy that showed up at Mineral Bottom just before midnight? If so, how could I have caught him after sleeping for four hours? My theory: if it was him he was riding without a good light. Imagine how he would have had to pick his way down Schaefer without a light? That would explain the high concentration of piss spots—he wasn’t making good time because he couldn’t.

The sun makes its appearance as I near Gooseberry Canyon. Around this time I come up on a rider wearing a t-shirt and large backpack riding a 12-year-old Trek hardtail. I pass him on a fast downhill, then he passes me as I am stopped to put on sunglasses and slam the day’s second Red Bull. When I catch him again I ride alongside and talk with him. He’s a young dude from Flagstaff (Todd? Bill?) who has never been here before but is doing the whole ride. He has a bivvy sack in his pack in case he can’t make the whole circuit. Nice guy, riding steady without flash on an old bike. I wish him luck on roll onward.

Five minutes after I pass the Flagstaff dude I pinch flat slamming through a wash. He passes me as I fix the flat. I catch him maybe 20 minutes after I got started again. Then I stopped to strip off my leg warmers just as I got near the White Crack turnoff, and saw him coming up. I was moving again before he caught me, and I never saw him again.

I climb the series of climbs toward the big traverse up onto Murphy’s Hogback, and wheez during the grind on up onto Murphy’s. There’s a big Dreamride group staging for their day up at Murphy A. I wave and roll on by. I don’t even put a foot down, it’s time to pass the symbolic halfway point and keep it rolling. I raise clouds of fine dust descending the tight switchbacks off Murphy’s toward the Green River side. Yeah, baby! It’s all downhill from here! (yeah right).

The next 20 to 25 miles are probably the easiest of the whole ride. When my odometer hit 60 miles I came to a big ring area that was great. I flew through the next 10 miles, hitting about mile 70 as the white rim disappeared into the banks of the Green River near the base of Hardscrabble.

Ah, Hardscrabble, the beginning of the end. I’ve cleaned the climbs to the top of Hardscrabble many times, though it’s never been easy. This time it was hopeless. Some wheezing granny gear climbing, with the front wheel wandering to and fro, but much of the climb was done on foot, wheezing and pushing. Yep, I’m mortal. And goldarnit, it’s lunchtime!

I got to the top, sat down on a slab of sandstone, and hauled out my SPAM and a plastic spoon. SPAM is not fine cuisine, no sir, but you know it is kind of a miracle of good old American can-do know-how. Take the parts of the pig that would normally be made into dog food, add a liberal amount old-fashioned sodium-chloride, seal it all up in a can with a convenient pull-ring opener, and you’ve got yourself a meal. Zesty. Smelly. But I ate all of it, and it wasn’t hard. Then I washed it down with my last Red Bull.

Red Bull is another minor miracle. I think that, in addition to all the good solid nutrition delivered in the tiny can, Red Bull must have some kind of advanced dental cleanser. That baby wiped all the grease and odor off my teeth, and left my whole mouth feeling fresh and slick.

After I finished my noon meal I consolidated my pack, mixing up a new batch of HEED from the powder I had brought along out of the 70oz bladder, then poured the rest of that bladder into the pack’s 100oz bladder. I folded up the empty bladder and slipped it in next to the empty water bottle in there, smashed my SPAM can and my Red Bull can. When I put the pack back on it felt light as air. And I felt minty-fresh all over. I rolled down off Hardscrabble with a song in my heart and Ween in my headphones.

I cruised along the Green River smooth as baby poop. There were nearly 80 miles on my odometer. I was a perpetual motion machine, but my hands and butt were beginning to get a little worked. And the danged left knee—the IT band pain has become a constant companion during days when I ride way too far. Dangit!

Then came the time to climb up to Horsethief Bench, up and onto the red rim to the completion of the ride. Not as long or hard as Schaefer, but not short or easy either. You start out near the Green River at around 3900 feet and climb to nearly 4900 feet in just under 2 miles. I started around 1:30. It wasn’t as hot as it can be, but the sun was shining through a clear sky and it was over 70°F with no breeze.

I rode it clean, almost all the way to the top. A sheen of sweat was showing on my arms. Just as I rode into the last switchback, with the top of the rim visible out of the corner of my eye, something weird happened. I think I bumped a small rock embedded in the road and stalled. I didn’t have the reaction time to get my foot out of the pedal, and I keeled over onto my right side. Plumpf! As the dust settled, I think I said something like “that was unusual”. I got my right leg out from under the bike, and was about to stagger to my feet when I decided I might as well take a moment for a bit of refreshment. I was already seated and I was already dirty. I just sat on my butt in the middle of the dusty road and drank from my HEED bottle, washing down some sea salt crystals. I probably just sat there for two or three minutes before getting up and going on.

Oh, the Mineral Bottom Road, that damned sneaky, malevolent bastard. I’ve ridden that road many times, in either direction. I remember climbing it the first time I ever rode the White Rim, a one-night supported trip. It seemed long. “How long is it?” I asked myself. Gosh, eight miles? Maybe ten? I couldn't quite remember. My odometer was creeping toward 90, it had been 86 when I keeled over on Horsethief. I seemed to remember that the whole circuit was a little under a hundred.

Endless bastard. I glance off toward the La Sals, visible again for the first time since mid-morning. I drink HEED, I drink water, I eat hammergel. I grind along. More than 8 miles… I think there’s a dog-leg to the left just before you come to the highway. Ruthless bastard. More than 10 I guess…

I come to a dog-leg to the left. This is it! I climb the 100th climb of the damned Mineral Bottom Road --“I think the POD is just over this rise!” Then I get over the rise. Nope. More than 11…

Well children, it’s actually almost 13 and a quarter desolate, god-forsaken miles. I rolled up to the POD at about 3:15pm. GPS shows that I was stopped for a little under an hour, so my on the bike time was about 10:15.

Oh, the POD. Oh, the cold gatoraide that can be found in the POD’s fridge. Fire up the barbeque. Make the hamburger patties. Eat. EAT. Where’s that ice cream?


Dave said...

Nice report, thank you.

That's a hell of a few days of riding, serious stamina on your part.


FixieDave said...

Good stuff gotta love processed meat products!

Ed said...

Tom - great story but Spam, seriously. Ha-ha!

That's some great riding to be out there that long with less than one hour of stoppage.

I gotta quiz you on how to post bigger picture on a blog...