Grab a hot cup of tea/coffee, curl up in a blankey and get comfy… I’ve got a story for you. It’s long, but worth it. If you weren’t there, you’re going to wish you were.
How do you put into words an experience that changes the lives of those who lived it? You don’t. It’s impossible to fully express what happened on our 4-day adventure in the Utah desert on the White Rim Trail. But… I’m going to try.
Let me back up a moment and give you the backstory. When I was 16 years old I mountain biked the White Rim Trail with my mom, stepdad and stepsister. The four of us cruised on our bikes circumnavigating the varying terrain of the Island in the Sky mesa. The trail sits above the Colorado and Green rivers in Canyonlands with vast views of insane red rock formations, arches and desert beauty that is hard to explain. Slickrock faces, 300ft+ drop offs and red sandy washouts are only part of what makes this trail what it is. With our old truck as a sag wagon and trading off between three bikes, we made the 100 miles with pure joy and memories from a great family vacation.
Fast forward 20 years later and I hadn’t yet revisited that magical place. With my fairly new endeavor of empowering women through adventures guided by Mother Nature, the White Rim Trail seemed like an obvious fit. I knew this WILD Women adventure was going to be challenging to pull off, but most things that actually leave a lasting impact are.
To escape boring you from the details and to keep it simple, I will just say that after some chaotically stressful planning and organizing, there we were. On Thursday, September 20, I found myself in the parking lot of Chili Peppers Bike Shop in Moab, Utah with 14 other beautifully strong women who were energized, anxious and a bit nervous about the adventure ahead. For me, at that moment, I was curious as hell as to how we were going to actually pull this off. And so the story begins…
Day One: 9/20/18
Mineral Bottom Road to Airport Campground – 27 miles
Somehow we managed to get 15 women’s gear, bikes, food, water and bodies into 5 vehicles and tag-teamed it about 25 miles to the start/end point – Mineral Bottom Road. The women unloaded themselves and their bikes. We consolidated everything to the 2 trucks that would be our sag wagons (my truck: Chonie and my dad’s truck: PeeWee) for the weekend. Next was a pre-adventure group picture and a pre-ride warmup just in time to jump on our bikes for an 11:30am start down Hwy 313 for 7 miles on paved road into the park. This was a great time for the women to get acquainted with their rental bikes and find a “comfy” spot to park their tushies in the saddle for the next 4 days of riding.
With smiles and confidence, we left the pavement for the dirt and started our decent down Shafer Trail. I realized at this point that this was going to be a “learn as you go” trip for some people with regards to mountain biking skills. Maybe my prerequisites didn’t come across as I had intended, which immediately presented a bit of a scare for me, but at the same time a challenge I was ready to tackle as the leader of this group. There were a few women who bombed down the switchbacks like it was their J.O.B., while others used it as an opportunity to really test the quality of their brakes. Ha! Everyone made it down safely to the bottom where the rest of the day was fairly mellow until we hit our destination for the evening – the open field of red dirt and rocks, called Airport Campground.
Tents erected, chairs set out and all cuddled in the only bit of shade that existed from our large shade tent, we all got to know eachother a bit better. Stories shared, laughter had and a delicious meal from the two women who proved to be key ingredients to the success of this trip. My mom (Ryn Calhoon) and our friend (Deb Rice) were our sag wagon drives, camp directors, meal prep queens and just general badasses the whole trip.
It was an early night to bed under the blanket of stars and bright moon.
Day Two: 9/21/18
Airport Campground to Murphy’s Hogback – 26 miles
I was up before the sun (my favorite time of day), trying to get hot water boiling for coffee and my tent taken down before the others started rustling. Mom and Deb were right behind me, setting up the breakfast buffet (on the tailgate of the trucks). The rest of the crew followed, repacked up camp, ate breakfast and we put our already sore-as-hell butts back in the saddle for a 26-mile day.
Today was a pretty mellow day as far as terrain goes. Surrounded by amazing rock formation and deep canyons, we were all again in awe over the magic of the desert. I mean really, how did this stuff come to be? How on earth did Mother Nature create such unfathomable beauty?
Because it was a bit more mellow of a day, I got to spend time on the trail with each woman. Getting to know them, hear their stories and learn from each of them. Wow… what a diverse, talented group. We had small business owners, medical professionals, police officers, landscape architects, mortgage brokers, finance experts and newly retired freedom seekers. We had introverts and extroverts. We had long-time friendships and new acquaintances. We lived across the entire US from California to Washington DC. Our ages ranged from 29 to 65, with all but 4 of us being over 50 years old. But for the weekend, we were all determined, badass women enjoying each other’s company, challenging our bodies and minds, and embracing the magnificence we voluntarily planted ourselves in.
The end of the day presented the first real climb of the trip. It was the ascent right before we got to kick off our shoes and call it camp for the night – Murphy’s Hogback. A short, steep, rocky, narrow shot up the side of a plateau. Deb didn’t feel comfortable driving this one, so I took the wheel and she hiked the bike up. To say my adrenaline was pumping is an understatement. Not being able to see over the hood, I just trusted my instinct and watched the edge of the cliff for a line and cruised to the top. My mom did the same and ROCKED it! Not one complaint or whisper of self-doubt, she 4WDed PeeWee up the side of a cliff like it was just another day in the neighborhood. Can I just emphasize how impressed and proud of my mom I am! Truly, I’m the luckiest daughter ever to have such an incredible woman as a mom and best friend.
Atop Murphy’s plateau, we set up camp, refueled and took in the 360 degrees of epic views. I hope the women took time to sit and really be proud of WHAT they were doing. Riding a bike 100-miles through the desert is no joke. And they were doing it, like champs! I couldn’t go to bed having made them ride up that hill but not doing it myself, so I rode my bike back down and made the climb myself. I remembered this hill from when I was 16. I rode up it then, and had to prove to myself I still could ride it 20 years later. Mission accomplished. What I didn’t expect was when I got to the top huffing and puffing, that I would have a crew of women cheering me on. That is why I LOVE all-women’s adventures. The support and encouragement is contagious.
The sunset was breathtaking, the company was irreplaceable but again our tired bodies were asleep before dark.
Day Three: 9/22/18
Murphy’s Hogback to Potato Bottom Campground – 21 miles
I’ve used this quote before, but Yvon Chouinard says, “The adventure starts when things go wrong.” Whelp, today was that day. When you’re atop a plateau with 50 more miles to go, that means you have to go down at some point to continue on the trail. This rocky, steep downhill was the first thing right out of camp. It had all of the women a bit intimidated, but we had a conversation about how to position your body and bike. That a bit of speed is your friend. That if you don’t feel comfortable, then walk.
Let me first say that all of the women impressed the heck out of me on this hill. Some just plain out sent it, some half rode/half walked, and some walked the whole thing. Each one of these brave girls made it down the hill on their own though. One of our little daredevils took my advice of speed and was doing well, until a mishap occurred and sent her flying. She didn’t get up, so I flew down to her and saw her shoulder was much lower than the other… it was separated. This is where the amazing talents of the women came into play to show the true meaning of tribe. One of the women happened to be a physical therapist. She came down, sat in the dirt next to our tough cookie and put her shoulder back in best she could. I had a first aid kit with a cloth sling that we tied around her neck to support her shoulder. While I rode my bike down to the trucks then ran back up the hill to get the bike left behind, the physical therapist and another gentle, caring woman walked our injured WILD woman down the hill to the trucks. I encouraged the other women to go ahead as we still had 26 miles in the hot sun that day. I didn’t find out until after the trip that one of our other strong women, led the group that went ahead in a meditation to calm and refocus their minds for the task ahead. Again, a perfect example of tribe.
We loaded our injured daredevil and her bike into the truck. She was determined to stay for the remained of the trip and said her pain was good. The attitude of this woman was incredible. She kept saying that she was okay and this gave her the opportunity to see the trip from a different vantage point (in the passenger seat of the truck). Her spirit eased tension and fear that others may have been having. Her positivity seeped into the veins of the other women and again, the word tribe is defined.
Despite the injury, the ride this day was a few ups and down and then a long steady downhill until we saw… wait for it… WATER! Our campsite the final night was on the Green River. The contrasting colors of the red rock, blue sky and green trees was indescribable. I think the developers of the campsites must have strategically placed this one for an uplift for the riders of the White Rim Trail when they are hot and tired and need nothing more than a dip in the cold river to rejuvenated their minds, bodies and spirits.
With full bellies, warm hearts and rinsed of grime, we had another early to bed night underneath the moonlit sky.
Day Four: 9/23/18
Potato Bottom Campground to Mineral Bottom Road – 27 miles
Our final day began at 7am. The skies were littered with grey fluffy clouds and as the sun rose they turned to purple and pink and orange and everything in between. The day was upon us and the hardest climb yet was right out of camp. I had walked it the night before with some of the women to get an idea of what we were in for. On bikes, it’s one thing, but in the trucks, it’s a whole different animal. Deb chose to sit this one out again so my mom and I charged up the hill. Mom went first and made it up the rocky, sandy, cliffed-out switchbacks with what seemed like no problem (minus the back opening up and losing some snacks and gear on the trail). The wreckage was quickly picked up by the riders. I followed mom and with a bit wider truck, the spot I knew could be a hiccup, sure was. It was a narrow point up a big step up with a cliff off one side and a sharp rocky wall on the other. I hit the step up wrong and it knocked my truck back and killed it. I quickly turned it back on but when I had my foot on the clutch it started spasming. I couldn’t drive up, so coasted back, missing the rock wall by an inch. I let my leg off the clutch for a second to give it a break and then hit it hard. Winding up the switchbacks, I got to the top and we all hooted and hollered. My mom and I were both shaking a bit (major adrenaline rush) and the rest of the girls conquered that big hill on their bikes. Another proud moment for all WILD Women.
The next several miles were fairly mellow with some seriously deep sandy spots as we skirted the Green River, but again everyone made it through. I finally got to catch up with the one woman I hadn’t been able to really get to know. We were chatting away and in the process I had a feeling that we were headed the wrong way. We should have been climbing out of the canyon at this point, but that wasn’t the case. I suggested we turn around and back track. Luckily we did. We had gone 2 miles in the wrong directions (4 total out and back) and completely missed the sign that pointed us up the pass to Mineral Bottom Road. The woman I was with was a champ about it and kept an amazing attitude. I felt beyond terrible. I mean really, the leader is the one that led us astray. We started climbing up the intense switchbacks and saw some of our girls ahead of us toward the top. Others were on top cheering us on. All we could see were their silhouettes, but we felt their energy and that helped pull us up the hill. 45 minutes later, we found ourselves on top of the Island in the Sky Mesa. My mom, our injured reserved and another woman were there with open arms awaiting our arrival. The others had gone on down the dirt road to the cars. We pedaled our tails off for the last grueling 13 miles (supposed to be 10 according to the map) to try and catch them. This proved to be the hardest point of the trail for most. We had to stay mentally strong and keep composed to make it with the sun beating down on us, the road that seemed to never end and hills that kept cresting to other hills.
And there it was. The parking lot… with all the cars… and all the WILD women. Tears were streaming, all were embracing and a huge feeling of accomplishment energized our souls.
Being on a long-distance adventure with 15 women results in 15 different experiences, 15 different viewpoints, 15 different take-aways and 15 different lives changed in 15 different ways. This recap is my view. The curiosity I had in the parking lot day 1 and the challenge I was presented with as the tribe leader, proved to be exactly that. A curious, chaotic, beautiful challenge. I am forever changed by this experience and by these women.
Like I said before, this was a diverse group. All different backgrounds and lives outside of our 4-day adventure. But after spending four challenging, vulnerable, exhausting, incredible days in the Utah desert, we all now have a common bond. An experience led by Mother Nature that no one can take away from us. An adventure where we left some ourselves on the trail and at the same time found a bit of ourselves to take home. I am forever grateful for each and every one of you that decided to trust “some chick” to take you in the desert for 4 days. I’m glad you trusted in yourself to take on such a bold task. I’m honored to have you as part of The WILD Women Tribe.