I wandered aimlessly through the small visitors center. Posters, faded by time and sunlight hung on the otherwise barren walls. A rotting bighorn skull sat lifelessly on the Touch Yable”. I grasped its horns with both hands, a small placard next to it read, “I’m delicate, please do not touch”. I smirked at the incongruence. Shelves of rockhounding, birding, and wildlife books were opposite me, flanked by t-shirts and topographical maps. In the center of the room was a plastic diorama of the world outside these government built walls. Canyonlands National Park. The White Rim. The Maze. Abbey country, some claim. Well, Abbey’s dead. It’s my land now.
A voice crackled over a radio sitting inamitaley on the glass table:
“Uh, yeah, a bunch of mountain bikers just went through the gate.”
It sounded irritated. Miffed.
“I tried to stop one of the groups, but they didn’t seem too interested in what I had to say.”
Of course. It was the sound of self-inflicted authority being dispatched, ignored, unrecognized. The owner of the radio on the table did not seem to hear the voice. She was busy pointing out this tower or that arch on the plastic world to a semi-interested tourist. An impatient, insistent woman waited in line to buy stamps. Someone was going to receive a postcard from Canyonlands. Nice. But a sunburn and sandy shoes are a much better souvenir.
The Gatekeeper was still complaining.
“Most of them had blue and orange jerseys on.”
It was, no doubt, riders from the R.A.W.R.O.D. expedition. Ride Around the White Rim in One Day. And, no doubt, the irked ranger, confined to his hell of wood and glass wanted to run down the Shafer switchbacks, fist shaking wildy in the air: “There are regulations here!” But, as he said, the riders had no interest in what he had to say. Even the usual and mandatory $5 fee did not apply—it was “free National Park Day”. But who could blame the riders for rolling hurriedly past the uniformed ranger? What could he say that would possibly describe or explain the massive gaping maw that unfolded below the wheels and the awe-struck faces of these mountain bikers? What rules or regulations mattered when staring into the void of Shafer Canyon, and the endless tables of mesas, layered rock, and living history? Well, pages and pages of them if you wear a badge. None of which are particularly interesting or relevant if you don’t. Indeed, to ride the White Rim in a day—on a bicycle— requires but one primary rule: pedal, dammit.
And so they did. And so did I. Only, the previous day.
A time trial around the White Rim has become a rather enjoyable annual tradition. A rite of passage. The official and inaugural sacrament to the new spring and season. A welcome shift from snow and dawn patrol and quietly looking forward to the next round of wintery assault. It is a yardstick of spring fitness, and fuel for future delusions of grandeur. And fittingly so. The canyons and towers of the White Rim and its surroundings seem to be carved from some divine delusion, as if God himself wanted to experiment with sand and rock, water and wind, for no other reason than to “see what would happen.” The result is unrivaled. Subtle, but breathtaking. One could stand and stare into the abyss for a lifetime, and never fully comprehend or appreciate its magnitude or varied magnificence. Like the park rangers limp, undelivered lecture, the density and nuance of the canyon country are meant to be unheard. Or rather, digested slowly, whispered, discovered—line upon line. Layer upon layer.
But those philosophical thoughts were far from my mind as I rode my bike underneath the eons of wasted earth and stone. I had one simple objective staring me in the face and repeating itself over and over and over: pedal, dammit. And that is the great and obvious secret to finishing the White Rim in one day. In fact, it is the solution to every race or ride or audacious two-wheeled ambition anyone has ever dreamt into reality. And as such, there leaves little time to gawk and wonder and monologue, even when in the vast expanse of the sacred and intriguing confines of the Green and Colorado’s collaborative offspring. And never were those words more relevant, yet more difficult to achieve than when looking up at the incomprehensible vertical wonderment that are the Shafer switchbacks.
Later, I sat under the night sky and the juniper trees and reveled in the open silence. The fire crackled softly. The moon hung lazily, a luminous ring surrounding its bulbous center. I rested easy, knowing that my pedaling—for the time being—was done. My belly was full of beer-boiled brats. My legs ached and twitched. The wind sung softly. I grinned with satisfying indulgence while a panorama of natural brilliance still coursed through my mind. Rock and sand, blue sky, and purple mountains, red dirt, and scattered black brush.
The third time’s a charm. 8 hours, 15 minutes. A personal best. That is, until next year.