Gemaehlich, biking buddies make most of White Rim trip

From left, Mark Kniskern, Robert Garcia and Allen Gemaehlich are literally stuck in their tracks. The trail has become so muddy that a timeout was taken to contemplate how best to proceed.

It was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

The thought of my first mountain bike ride on the White Rim trail in Canyonlands National Park was excitement enough. Completing the 85-mile trek with a group of eight others in the worst weather conditions any of them have experienced made it a trip I’ll never forget.

Day 1

5:45 a.m. I wake up and hear pouring rain. Great! I’m mountain biking today ... in this?

8:03 a.m. The bikes and all our gear are loaded and the rain has let up as we leave for Canyonlands National Park. Maybe the weather will pass.

10:05 a.m. We make it to Canyonlands. No rain. It’s cloudy, and I’m still a little apprehensive. Three people who signed up for the trip backed out because of the weather forecast. Will the weather hold? What am I getting into?

12:28 p.m. The eight of us start riding. I’m excited, feeling good and looking forward to the ride and the new sights I’ll see.

1:05 p.m. We just finished the descent into the entrance of the park and stop for lunch. The views of canyons in the distance is awesome.

2:30 p.m. It starts raining as we come back from a hike. We were looking for an old log cabin along the river, which we never found. This trip is quickly turning ugly.

5:31 p.m. I’m soaked, we’re climbing uphill and the bike tires are caked with so much mud, we have to carry our bikes — uphill! I could be home eating dinner in a nice, warm house right now! What the heck am I doing? I can’t wait to reach camp.

7:06 p.m. The rain finally lets up as we arrive at Potato Bottom camp. I’m getting cold and I can’t recall the last time I was so hungry.

8:13 p.m. It is taking forever for the water to boil on the old stove to cook dinner, but at least I’m in more comfortable, warmer clothes. I visit with fellow first-timer Tomas Smith to see how he’s feeling. Is he ready to head back home? Maybe I am, too.

8:40 p.m. Dinner is finally ready (spaghetti). I eat as fast as I can so I can go to bed. I’m flat-out exhausted. I hope I can keep warm tonight. It’s supposed to snow.

9:35 p.m. I curl up in the sleeping bag ... aaah! I think I’ll be all right.

Day 2

7:45 a.m. I wake up to snow on the ground. I ask Robert García, my buddy who invited me on this trip, if he’s ever experienced weather like this in the 10 times he’s done this ride.
What? No? Well, maybe today will be nicer.

8:30 a.m. I finally drag myself out of the tent and see canyons and the ground dusted in snow. Where’s the coffee?

10:15 a.m. As we eat breakfast, we see small patches of blue sky. Everyone seems optimistic the weather will get better.

12:50 p.m. We start riding in cloudy, cool weather. This isn’t bad, except for the muddy spots.

2:14 p.m. We’re starting to see several people coming from the opposite direction, including the group who camped next to us. They tell us Murphy’s Hogback is snowpacked and “impossible” to climb. Maybe this was a dumb idea. I wonder if others are ready to go home.

2:30 p.m. The group discusses options while eating lunch. We can make the next campground before the climb. We’re here, we might as well wait and see what the weather is like in the morning. The weather hasn’t been too bad so far and it’s supposed to clear tonight.

3:15 p.m. I can see it raining…or is that snowing in the distance as we ride to Candlestick campground. This isn’t bad, but I wonder what Murphy’s is like?

5:40 p.m. We arrive at Candlestick. Another day down. I’m feeling all right, better than I thought.

7:07 p.m. Chicken chili with strawberry shortcake for dessert hits the spot.

Day 3

8:16 a.m. I wake up to clear skies and sun! It’s cool, but at least it’s dry. Still, we have a 36-mile ride ahead of us. Sigh.

10 a.m. The climb over Murphy’s Hogback (estimated 5,200 feet in elevation) is getting near.

11:35 a.m. I stop for a snack. I’m going to need every bit of energy for this climb.

12:45 p.m. I reach the top of Murphy’s for yet another snack. It’s nice being at the summit, but we still have 25 miles to go.

1:10 p.m. We visit with a group coming the opposite direction who say they never thought biking conditions could be so bad until the past two days. We hear Shaffer’s Trail at the end of the ride is closed because of snow. A vehicle has supposedly gone off the road into a ditch. Oh, great!

2:55 p.m. We finally reach White Crack trail head for lunch.

3:42 p.m. This is so worth it! I feel so connected to the beauty of the canyons in the foreground and the La Sal Mountains in the background I nearly cry. I’m seeing things I couldn’t see driving through the park in a car.

6:30 p.m. We arrive at Airport campground, immediately set up camp and fix dinner (bratwursts, baked beans and potato salad). I can feel my muscles getting sore.

9:15 p.m. Our group leader, Elmer Peralta of Montrose, tells me these weather conditions are the worst he’s experienced on the trail, and he’s been riding every year since 1990. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished even more.

Day 4

7:15 a.m. I wake up and my legs are tight. I’m going to need a good stretch if I have any hope of finishing the ride. Can I do another day of this, especially with a 1,600-foot climb over the last five miles?

8:23 a.m. Tomas and I visit. We feel better than we expected, but neither of us are making any promises of finishing.

10:45 a.m. I feel better after breakfast. We’ll see how long I can ride.

12:30 p.m. We reach Musselman Arch. My legs are doing OK, so I walk across the nature-made rock bridge with layers of canyon walls below.

1:30 p.m. We reach the bottom of Shaffer’s Trail. Between us and lunch is a five-mile climb of 1,600 feet up the canyon wall.

2:03 p.m. This is it! We’ll try riding, but no promises I won’t walk the bike up what seems like a never-ending climb.

3:13 p.m. Most of the way there. I actually was able to stay on the bike for a good portion of the climb.

3:45 p.m. We reach paved road. We did it — 85 miles in four days.


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