The White Rim Trail is a long 4x4 / moto / bike route in Canyonlands National Park near Moab UT. Depending on where you start and end it's anywhere from 90-105 miles. It's a classic mountain bike ride usually done over 3 to 4 days with camping and vehicle support, but also done as a single-day marathon adventure ride. Camping permits are very difficult to get (typically a year in advance) and guided tours are very expensive, so the single day option is good if you're fit enough. The route is quite remote with no water available, but you'll typically see some motorcycles, bike tour groups, and sometimes a park ranger.
- 102 miles (starting and ending at Horsethief BLM Campground, riding counter-clockwise)
- 7200 feet elevation gain
- 13h 30m total time
- 11h 8m moving time
- Sunny, lows in the mid 40s, highs in the upper 70s
- Many miles of horrible beach sand between Mineral Bottom and Murphy's Hogback
- Bike: 2019 Spot Mayhem 130 full suspension mountain bike, stock XTR build except for grips, saddle, tires (see below)
The topography around White Rim is complicated, so if you want to understand all the place names here, check out one of the many more detailed trip reports on YouTube or elsewhere.
This was my second day-loop on the White Rim Trail. My first time was in 2011, when I rode it on a 2009 Salsa Fargo rigid steel mountain bike. I did it about 2 hours faster then, but the conditions were much easier: I was much younger, there was very little dry sand on the route, and a friend who was driving the route met me every 20 miles for resupply, so I didn't need to carry much weight.
This time I was almost 54 years old, I was riding without support (but with a partner), I was riding a much more comfortable bike, and the sand was much worse -- so it's difficult to compare times.
We had originally planned to ride the route clockwise from the top of the Mineral Bottom switchbacks, with the thought that we would be going uphill for 20 miles while it was cold and finishing with a climb less punishing than the Shafer Trail at the end of the counterclockwise direction. But with low temperatures forecast in the mid-40s and not being sure what the camping situation would be like, we elected to go the "traditional" counterclockwise direction instead and avoid the extra driving. We camped at the Horsethief BLM campground about 1 mile from the start.
On my 2011 trip I did the entire Mineral Bottom Road downhill in the dark, so I didn't get to see much of this gorgeous, fast, smooth gravel road. This time we started at 0700 and got to see the sunrise as we rode, which was beautiful. Once we hit Mineral Bottom, the dry sand washes started and didn't let up for over 30 miles. They were almost all rideable, but they were extremely slow going and required a lot more energy than I'd anticipated. The trail had been damaged during earlier fall flash floods, so there'd been work done on it that made the sand particularly bad. My riding partner has done this ride almost every year for the last 15 years and said it was the worst he'd ever seen.
Going up Hardscrabble -- the first steep climb in this direction -- my rear tire started losing air quickly, which really surprised me: I had brand new Maxxis Rekon 2.4 EXO+ tires, which are extremely puncture resistant. Fortunately my tire sealant did the job and after a bit of fiddling and a bunch of pumping, we were moving again. We both needed to lube our chains multiple times during this ride as well, due to the sand and dust. Going down the other side of Hardscrabble we came upon a BMW touring motorcycle that had crashed off the side of a ledge on a loose switchback, but after carefully looking for any sign of the rider, we assumed they had been rescued and moved on. An off-road recovery company later made a video showing this.
The sand continued to be difficult up to the top of Murphy's Hogback, the second big climb and roughly the halfway point on the ride. The sand was ankle-deep at the top of the climb and it was difficult even to push the bike up the last hundred yards.
After Murphy's Hogback, the riding got a lot easier: lots of downhill and flat sections, without the sand and generally pretty fast on the mountain bike. With the unexpectedly slow first half, though, we knew we'd be racing sunset so we didn't stop much to enjoy the constant spectacular views. Somewhere near Gooseberry Mesa we got stopped by a friendly ranger who checked our permits, which fortunately we had purchased online the day before via the horrible recreation.gov UI. Day trip permits weren't required until a few years ago, but they are now, even if you have an annual National Parks pass.
The last big challenge is the Shafer Trail, an incredibly steep, 1500+ foot climb over just a few miles. We got there just as it got dark and pulled out our lights. I rode every bit of it in 2011, but this time I ended up walking much of it; even though I was feeling pretty good I couldn't ride that grade without my heart rate skyrocketing. After we finally got to the top, the last 8 miles of pavement in the dark were uneventful.
I trained consistently for several months prior to this ride, with steadily increasing jeep road and gravel rides over time. My longest training rides were a 60 mile high alpine jeep route with almost 8000 feet of climb and a 85 mile mixed pavement/gravel ride with 5000 feet of climb. October is the perfect time to do WRIAD, as the weather is usually good and the temperatures are tolerable.
I rode my 2019 Spot Mayhem 130 full suspension mountain bike with the mostly stock XTR build, modulo a few replacements and modifications:
- New Maxxis Rekon 2.4 EXO+ tires to combine flat resistance (and I still got a flat!) with good rolling capability. Other than the flat, they were great.
- Suspension tune from Diaz Suspension Design (a local company), which I highly recommend.
- My beloved, long discontinued WTB Devo saddle, which hasn't worn out yet.
- Ergon GS2 grips with bar ends, which were great for this ride. I don't love them for normal singletrack riding, so something else might go back on next.
My partner rode a circa 2014 Salsa 27.5+ full-suspension bike (not sure which model) with 2.8" Maxxis tires and a new SRAM 10-52 drivetrain.
I've seen a lot of trip reports lately about people doing WRIAD on gravel bikes, but having done it previously on a rigid first-gen steel Salsa Fargo, I'm sold on full suspension with wide tires for this route. The road is very rough in good conditions, and likely unrideable on narrow tires on the sandy sections during this ride. In good conditions it would certainly be doable on a gravel bike, but it would be hard on the body and you'd want to do it a few days after a good rain to pack down the sand. Most (all?) of the other mountain bikes we saw were on multi-day tours, and all of them were either full suspension or hardtails with wide tires.
There's no water available on the trail except at the Colorado River near Mineral Bottom, which is extremely silty and near the beginning/end depending on direction. Almost everyone carries all liquid needed. Even though I'm not a big guy (5'11" and about 155 pounds), I sweat a lot and prefer to drink most of my calories, so I carried over 200 ounces of fluid, distributed thus:
- Salomon running vest:
- 48 ounce Camelback bladder with Tailwind sports drink
- 2 x 16 ounce Salomon soft bottles with Tailwind
- Bike frame triangle:
- 24 ounce bottle with Tailwind
- Bike down tube:
- Soma Furthur 36 ounce bottle with Flow Formula sports drink
- Revelate Designs handlebar pouches:
- 2x Soma Furthur 36 ounce bottles with Flow Formula sports drink
I finished all of it, drinking the last bit at the top of the Shafer Trail. The only reason I used two different brands of drink mix was to have different flavors. My riding partner carried only around 150 ounces and still had bit left at the end. He is 30 pounds heavier than me, so obviously liquid consumption is highly variable between individuals.
I also carried a bunch of food but didn't eat most of it. Stuff I ate: half a turkey sandwich, a Payday candy bar, a Honey Stinger waffle, some Honey Stinger gel blocks, and almost all of a quart ziplock bag of crushed potato chips. Next time I'd probably skip the sandwich and a bunch of other stuff and bring more potato chips. My riding partner ate a lot more "normal" food, including PBJ sandwiches and an enormous bag of crackers. Go figure.
For repair gear I had all of the normal stuff for a long adventure ride. I lubed my chain at least 3 times and was worried I might run out of lube. I forgot to bring a small rag to wipe my chain. My new Silca Gravalero pump was amazing for the unexpected flat; vastly better than any other small pump I've had. I was really glad I'd brought extra sealant and tire plugs, even though I didn't use them. At the last minute before leaving I stuffed a little digital tire pressure gauge in a pocket and I'm glad I did; it made dealing with the puncture a lot easier to evaluate.
- Eliel El Capitan bib shorts. I used to have a lot of trouble with saddle sores until a colleague recommended these. The price tag is crazy, but I did 13.5 hours in comfort with no problems, so I'll gladly pay it.
- PedalED Odessey 6 pocket jersey and base layer. Definitely the best jersey I've ever owned. Why don't they all have 6 pockets???
- Boure leg warmers, which I wore the whole time.
- Smartwool arm warmers and Pearl Izumi sun sleeves; used them both.
- Pearl Izumi AlpX shoes
- Gloves (used them all): Troy Lee Designs MTB riding gloves for most of the day. In the cold: Patagonia liner gloves, Outdoor Research Windstopper mid gloves, Mountain Laurel Designs shell mitts. I have mild Reynaud's Syndrome, so my hands get frozen fast.
- Buff neck warmer / sun shield
- Walz cycling cap
- Lazer helmet
- Wind vest
- Outdoor Research Helium wind/rain jacket
- Emergency clothing (unused):
- ancient ultralight rain pants, unknown brand
- old ultralight synthetic insulated pullover from an unknown cottage brand
- Older model Lupine Pika with one battery, handlebar mount
- Fenix PD36R attached to helmet with velcro, one battery
- Planet Bike flashing tail light
- Garmin Fenix 6 watch
- ultralight first aid kit with blister stuff, small bandages, tylenol, ibuprofen
- Garmin inReach beacon
- Leatherman Skeletool
- Salomon running vest to carry gear, liquid, food
- Bedrock and Revelate Designs bike bags