The Plan: Park camper on Mineral Bottom Road the night before. Sleep. Wake up at 4AM. Get dressed, eat, leave camper by 5AM. Baby should sleep until her usual time (7 or 8AM) and give us a good 2-3 hours start before having to make frequent stops for baby. When baby wakes from nap, stop to let her out to play and to switch trailer from Tyson’s bike to my bike. Stop every 20 miles or so to let baby play and to switch trailer. Ride to campsite at base of Hardscrabble climb (~80 miles). Set up camp. Awake in morning and finish the last 20 miles (with 2 big climbs) for our second day of riding. Sounds, simple. Right?
But, things rarely go according to The Plan.
I went into this thinking it would be just Adalynn and I doing the ride. I put an invite onto Facebook to see if anyone wanted to join me, but I’m sure everyone thought I was crazy. 100 miles of White Rim Trail with a baby would seem crazy to most people. In fact, within hours of reserving the backcountry permits online, I received a call from the National Park ranger. The ranger sounded genuinely concerned about the itinerary I had just submitted and wanted to confirm that I was 1) bringing a baby, 2) on a bike, 3) without vehicle support, and 4) onto the White Rim Trail in the middle of the desert. He inquired about my knowledge regarding the ruggedness of the trail, the fitness that would be required and how there was no potable water available along the trail. He was anxious about my plan to ride 80 miles to reach the campsite in one day (many people do this in 3-5 days with a tour company after all). I felt guilt for having caused him so much worry, but did my best to reassure him. I shared my previous experiences, my familiarity with the trail, my prior adventure racing experiences and Tikepacking adventures. I also let him know that I had a SPOT device available to call for help in case of an emergency. Despite my best efforts to reassure him, he was inconsolable.
His concern seemed a bit silly to me at the time, but it was not totally unwarranted. The trail itself is an enormous undertaking. Like any wild place, the desert can be very unforgiving. Everything in the desert is hot, dry, sharp and inhospitable. Initially, even Tyson was hesitant to join Adalynn and I, preferring to ride bikes with his friends planning to be in elsewhere in Moab during the same time.
However, months later, Tyson did finally decide to join us. Mostly, I’m sure, he did this out of concern that I might just take his daughter off into the desert, forget to give her water and fall off a cliff onto a cactus or something. Then, with less than a week before the ride, my best friend Teresa (that is, aunt T-Rexa) decided to join us as well (woo-hoo!). And there you have it. Our own little family tikepacking trip came together perfectly.
The Journey to White Rim
We decided to take our T@B teardrop camper to Moab with us. We left Fort Collins as soon as I got out of work on a Thursday evening. We drove until we got too tired to continue and pulled off at a truck rest area just west of Eagle. We slept very cozy with the 4 of us in one king-size bed in the camper.
After a restful night, we journeyed on and made it to Moab by the afternoon. We parked our rig at the Navajo Rocks trailhead. Tyson and I took turns riding and then watching Addy. The area near the parking lot had lots of rocks to climb which kept Addy very entertained and happy.
After our quick rides, we made a stop at the grocery store in town, then headed out to the dispersed camping on the BLM land on Willow Springs Road just north of Moab.
We awoke the next morning, detached the camper and took an adventurous drive up near Gemini bridges. Tyson dropped T-Rexa and I off near the Gold Bar trailhead and we rode our bikes on Gold Bar to Portal Trail (which was a bucket-list item for me). After our ride, Tyson picked us up at the bottom of Portal and we shuttled him up to Gemini Bridges where he did a similar ride. Thats when Adalynn, Aunt T-Rexa and I explored Gemini bridges and then played at the Swanny City Park in town.
We turned in early that night and set up the camper just off of Mineral Bottom road. We set up on BLM land, but tried to stay as close to 313 as we could. We found a good spot just off the road. We spent a good deal of time outfitting our bikes with bike bags and loading our gear. We also spent time disagreeing about how much water to bring. Tyson wanted to bring way more water than I thought we needed and I was worried about carrying too much excess weight. I reasoned that we could always fill up from the Green River (70-80 miles into the ride) if we needed to. Anxiety got the best of me and I conceded to bring the extra water. We brought a total of 23 liters total for the two of us and the baby, which weighs about 50 pounds (if my math is correct).
- The trailer: Adalynn, 2 bags of baby toys, trailer bag (food, diapers, sunscreen, repair tools, wet wipes, etc), tent poles (attached to the frame with velcro), Revelate Sweet Roll (attached to back of trailer and containing a Z-Packs sleeping bag) and a 6L Dromedary bag (fits under the seat). We are estimating the total weight to be about 70 pounds.
- Tyson’s setup: Ortlieb saddle bag with 2 sleeping pads (a Klymit Static V and a Therm-a-rest NeoAir 3/4 length), a thermal blanket and a SOL Escape Bivy. On the handlebars, a Topo handlebar bag with our food and eating supplies. 2 Revelate Feedbags with food (Honey Stingers, Jelly Beans etc.). He carried 2 water bottles on the frame and wore a Camelbak with his rain jacket and 7L of water (a 4L Dromedary bag and a 3L Camelbak bladder). About 28 pounds (not including the bike frame).
- My setup: handlebar Sweet Roll bag with our 2-person Ultralight tent, 2 Feedbags (Jelly Beans, LaraBars and Aquamira to treat water), Revelate Gas Tank (toiletries, inhaler and cell phone), Revelate Frame Bag (2L water, repair tools, tubes etc.) and a Camelbak with 5L water (3L Camelbak bladder and 2L Platypus) and camping clothing. About 22 pounds (not including the bike frame).
- T-Rexa’s setup: whatever she usually rides with when she’s out adventuring for overnights.
The White Rim Ride
We woke a little later than intended because I goofed and set my alarm for 4PM instead of 4AM. Luckily, the baby woke me around 4:30AM. I cooked up a quick breakfast and we were out the door by 5:30AM. Tyson was the first to take a turn pulling the trailer. I kept my eye on Adalynn in her trailer, hoping she would fall back to sleep as I had anticipated. However, she was too excited about what was going on and there was no way she was falling back to sleep.
Regardless, she remained in good spirits and we were able to get to Shafer Trail in time to see the sunrise over the canyon we were descending into. Shafer trail was the the part of the trail that I was most worried about because of its steep downhill grade. I was glad Tyson agreed to ride this part with her. He has better bike handling skills and probably takes much less risk than I do ;o). Shafer Trail is a 5.5 mile, loose gravel, jeep road, with about 1500 ft elevation loss. We had to stop several times to let the brakes cool down, but these were welcome opportunities to take in the scenic views and snap a few photos.
After making our way down Shafer and then starting onto the White Rim Trail, our next stop was at the Airport Campsite (about 30 miles into the loop). Addy still had not slept a wink, but remained cheerful and energetic. She ran around finding rocks and sticks to bang on the metal walls of the pit toilet. She liked the loud boom sound it made and spent nearly 30 minutes doing just this. Then she tried to sit on a cactus (hey, she’s only 20 months old and that just what toddlers do). While we played and ate, Tyson attached the trailer to my bike and let me pull for the next 40 miles.
The next portion of this ride travels alongside an exposed cliff edge, is very scenic and relatively flat with the occasional punchy climb. We were making great time despite making occasional stops for photos and playtime. We stopped to attach the trailer to Tyson’s bike just before the Murphy’s Hogback climb. T-Rexa and I charged ahead of Tyson just before the climb and left our bikes trailside at different points along the climb. We then ran back downhill in time to help provide a little “assistance push” to the trailer while Tyson remained on the bike pedaling and pulling the trailer. We tried to time it so we were sorta leapfrogging with assistance, but the terrain was too steep and loose and at some point Tyson was off the bike and walking his bike with the trailer attached. T-Rexa helped Tyson with pushing the trailer up the hill. Meantime, I collected our bikes from the trailside and, with one bike in each hand, pushed them up the rest of the climb.
As we made our way over the Candlestick climb, I was beginning to look forward to settling into camp. I figured that we should be reaching our campsite soon because our campsite should be just downhill from Candlestick and just before starting the Hardscrabble climb. However, as we approached the campsite just before the Hardscrabble climb, it became clear that this was the Potato Bottom Campground, not the Hardscrabble Campground. I was sorely mistaken and this meant that we would have to climb Hardscrabble and then descend again before reaching our campsite.
Despite this setback, our little team eagerly sprung into action yet again to tackle the Hardscrabble climb. Tyson was still pulling the trailer and T-Rexa and I motored ahead to provide push-assistance. Hardscrabble proved to be the most challenging climb due to the soft, powder-like dirt and loose pebbles and steep grades. All things considered, I cannot believe how far up the hill Tyson was able to make it while still remaining on the bike. What a machine!!!
The descent to the bottom of Hardscrabble was scary. It was a fairly steep grade with deep, soft, powder-like sand that made it hard to keep control of the bike. Tyson handled it well and managed to get the trailer to the Hardscrabble bottom without any issues.
Once we finally reached the Hardscrabble campground, we took stock of our situation. We only had about 20 miles left. We were all feeling pretty darn good and Adalynn was still in a great mood and seemed to be having fun. We had already tackled 3 of the 4 tough climbs. The final climb was the climb out of the White Rim via Mineral Bottom (a steep 2 mile climb with 1,000 ft elevation gain, followed by a slow gradual 11 mile climb with another 1,000 ft elevation gain). We decided to go for it. We dumped our unnecessary 6 liters of water and motored on.
We pedaled another 5 miles alongside the Green River until we finally left National Park land and were officially on BLM land. We made a stop to let Adalynn out to play. The sun was starting to set and the temperature was starting to cool. As we attempted to get Adalynn back into her trailer, she started squealing and squirming in protest. With 15 miles to go, and limited daylight, we wanted to press on. It was time to pull out my “ace-in-the-hole”. I gave Adalynn my cell phone and let her play baby games. This kept her attention and we were able to continue on without further resistance.
Within a couple of miles, we had reached the start of the Mineral Bottom climb. We stopped once during the climb to lube dry chains to to let Adalynn play. She walked uphill a bit, then turned around and went downhill. She seemed very delighted by the speed she would gain by running downhill and refused to go back uphill on her own. I repeatedly carried her back uphill so she could run downhill again, which provided much amusement (for me and for Adalynn). She had so much fun with this that she did not want to return to the trailer. Cell phone to the rescue again.
With cell phone in hand, Adalynn was again content to let us pedal on. We continued up the Mineral Bottom climb. I was able to remain on my bike alongside the trailer and give little tiny pushes once in awhile. Honestly, I struggled to keep up with Tyson’s pace and wasn’t able to give as many little pushes as I would have wanted. The 2 mile climb felt like an eternity, but the view was spectacular. As we crept higher and higher above the White Rim, we had a spectacular view of of the Green River below. Rays from the setting sun glimmered along its surface of the river as it wound its way through the red-orange canyon walls. There was a ravine that cut its way down the cliff we were currently ascending. Within the ravine, there were a couple of crumpled old cars which were so rusty that they blended in with the color scheme of the surrounding landscape. Supposedly, this is where Thelma and Louise jumped their car off a cliff and I wondered if one of these cars could have belonged to them.
My head stayed lost in this daydream about the rusty cars until we reached the false-flat summit of Mineral Bottom. The final 11 miles proved to be the most emotionally challenging, especially for Tyson. This last stretch seemed to take much longer than it should have. With every mile, Adalynn became more challenging to keep entertained. We had to stop more often to let her play and to give our legs a break. During one of these stops, the snap on our trailer cover broke off leaving the cover halfway open. At this point, Adalynn kept dangling her arms and legs outside the trailer. She lost interest in the cellphone with less than 5 miles left. We struggled to keep her entertained. We sang children’s songs LOUDLY and with as much SILLINESS as we could muster.
What a relief when we finally reached our camper. I made a quick rice and bean dinner. Everyone took a quick Wet-Wipe bath while Adalynn played in the camper. She played for a good hour or so before she passed out from exhaustion (she hadn’t gotten a full night of sleep and had napped less than an hour all day). She slept so soundly that it was one of the most restful nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time.
We awoke the next morning and headed into town for breakfast and a shower at the Moab Rec Center before heading home. We made a couple stops at playgrounds in Moab, Fruita, and then Silverthorne along the way home just to break up the long drive for everyone.
Why Was It So Darn Important To Me?
When Tyson and I first rode White Rim in 2015, we met a guy out there on a mountain bike pulling a toddler in a BOB bike trailer. Seeing that guy really got me thinking about my preconcieved ideas of what being a parent had to be like. It occurred to me that being a parent can take shape in whatever way you want it to.
As a parent, bikepacking with a baby often feels like a risky undertaking. Even as I was planning this adventure, my anxiety kept trying to take over my logic. The anxiety, at times, almost kept me from even trying. There were moments of serious doubt. Doubt that I was strong enough to pull this off. Doubt that I should even try. Worry. Worry that I would forget something important. Worry that I didn’t plan well enough. Worry that I might mess up and cause injury to myself or, even worse, Adalynn. What if Adalynn got sunburn, or bug bites, or dehydrated or what if we lost control of the trailer and we crashed!! I had moments of feeling guilt. Guilt that maybe I was being selfish. Guilt that Adalynn might get hurt or be bored.
The anxiety can be paralyzing. Overcoming this anxiety was, perhaps, the most challenging part of this entire journey. My anxious thoughts, at times, would keep me up at night. I think its a “mom-hormone” thing because it is entirely irrational. Risk is inherent with everything we do. Some tasks we perform so routinely that we don’t even consider the risk associated with it (e.g. traveling by car, making poor food choices, overeating, watching TV, habitually using our smartphones and electronic devices, Facebooking, watching the news). Conversely, there are some tasks we perform so infrequently that we may overestimate the risk associated with it.
In this family, cycling is just another part of our life. It has become routine enough that I feel very comfortable with the risk associated with it. Yet, not routine enough that I feel complacent about it. Adalynn and I practice riding together for long distances and I feel very comfortable knowing her limitations and my limitations as well. My riding style has adapted to accommodate her needs. My riding is no longer about the destination, or meeting some lofty goal. Its about finding a way to have a meaningful experience with my daughter within a context I can relate to. It means I have to really pay attention to her and figure out what her needs are. Even if all we do is to sit and play with rocks and sticks all day, as long as Adalynn is happy and learning, then the goal has been fulfilled.
Reflecting back on the White Rim ride, I felt so blessed to have open-minded and adventurous people in my life to partner with me. Tyson and T-Rexa were solidly committed to the idea of Tikepacking White Rim with me and having Adalynn be a part of our experience. There was not a single moment of wavering dedication or support from anyone. Teresa never showed even a twinge of fatigue. With every steep hill, she leapt into action like a Tikepacking Superhero. Tyson was like a machine charging up hills with the most impressive strength and power. Even though there were brief moments when I could tell he wanted to stop from utter exhaustion, he continued on. Seeing this, my heart swelled with love knowing the intensity of the physical effort that each of them put into this journey, even if it was only because of how much they knew it meant to me. Even more, the experience helped me rationalize a lot the anxiety and doubt I have been struggling with. The experience helped me gain confidence in myself as a parent, and a more realistic understanding of what to expect when adventuring with a Tike.
So… What’s Next?
Well,… glad you asked.
This weekend, we are flying to Bend, OR to help T-Rexa settle into her new home, to visit Mattie and Scott (and Leanor and Amelia) and to (surprise) ride bikes!!
I have 5 days off in mid July and am considering a multi-day Tikepacking trip (details to be determined). If you would like to join (for part or all of the adventure), Adalynn and I would love to have the company. Leave a comment below and we’ll put together a plan. All are welcome, although the experience would be ideal for seasoned tikepacking families or beginner bike packers.
July 28 and 29 is Overland’s Member Ride at Curt Gowdy. Bring a tent or camper and join us at Curt Gowdy for the weekend. We may drive up after work (late evening) on July 27. Let me know if you want us to hold a spot for you (if you are an Overland Member, your campsite is paid for).
August 18 and 19 is Overland’s Member Ride in Crested Butte. We are bringing our camper and staying from August 18-21. Let us know if you wanna join.
September 21, 22 and 23 Overland’s Member Ride in Steamboat. I am considering (maybe) bikepacking from FoCo solo (no tikes involved) and then meeting dad and Adalynn in Steamboat. I would start after work on September 20th, route TBD, with a plan to be in Steamboat September 22.
October 12, 13 and 14 Overland’s Member Ride in Moab.
Wanna join for any of the above adventures. Leave a message in the comments below or message me and we’ll make it happen!!