WHITE RIM TRAIL, Utah - I've spent at least one week in the high deserts of southeastern Utah each fall since 1986, but I cannot recall a trip as good as the one that just concluded.
It's a rare and amazing feat when the actual adventure turns out better than the plan. The highlight of desert week '12 was my first trip around the White Rim Trail. I have mountain biked two stretches of the marvelous backcountry route on day trips, and I've hiked to it via the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park, but I had never made the entire 102-mile loop. Now I'm wondering why I waited so long.
Seven of us stuffed our belongings into the back of my brother-in-law's Dodge Ram pickup. Boxes with pans, utensils and dry goods dominated the bottom layer along with coolers of beer and food and containers with 34 gallons of water. Folding chairs, grills, more action packers, duffel bags and backpacks dominated the upper layers. Two pumpkins survived the trip as stowaways perched precariously among the gear. The extended cab carried our tents and sleeping bags.
Six of us on bicycles took off down the tight twists and turns of the serpentine Shafer Trail on Oct. 23 and, after a screaming downhill, meandered to our first camp about 20 miles away. We stopped to explore the Walking Rocks, a series of mushroom-shaped monoliths leaning against one another, and did the obligatory walk over Musselman Arch, a 12-foot-wide sandstone path with a few hundred feet of exposure.
It's becoming more popular for stand-out athletes to ride the White Rim in just one day, but our group had no desire to rush and probably didn't have the ability to complete it in one shot. We wanted time to soak up the scenery. Soaring rock formations such as Candlestick Tower, Washer Woman Arch and Turk's Head begged to be savored rather than just glanced at.
A lot of the riding was a pleasant cruise on a sandy and rocky Jeep road, but every day brought challenges. My legs ached and my lungs screamed while grinding up Murphy Hogback and Hardscrabble Hill.
We faced a fair share of other challenges: Our sag wagon driver had to conquer a fear of heights, a head wind hounded us on the middle two days, the temperature dropped into the 20s one night, and a hike in Holeman Slot canyon nearly proved disastrous. But it was all good - just icing on the memories.