Zen On Dirt

A 60th birthday present: White Rim with my dad


I remember my family’s last camping trip. I was on the order of 14 years old and working real hard to be the biggest pain in the ass of a teenager I could be. We car camped up at Camp Dick near the Indian Peaks west of Boulder in a handicapped access campsite (Isn’t it amazing what pieces of information the brain holds on to?!) and I, single-handedly pretty much ruined the entire weekend with my piss poor attitude.

I remember for years my dad wanting to go backpacking with the family. Really walk somewhere wild, and camp. It never happened because just as my youngest brother got old enough to go on trips like that, I got old enough that I wanted nothing to do with my family.

And so years passed.

On my dad’s 50th birthday, he asked my boyfriend and I to take him across Rollins Pass, Nederland to Winter Park with my little brother. He’d seen pictures from my past traversals of the pass and wanted to link up his main home in Boulder with the condo in Winter Park. The trip was a resounding success with minimal fits, crying, meltdowns, and bike-pushing (most of which were performed by my 14 year old brother), all of which were forgotten the moment we got donuts at the 7-11 in Winter Park.

My dad turned 60 this past September and I sort of sucked it up big time as far as a thoughtful gift for a big birthday went. That is, until Scott and I did our one-day White Rim trip at the end of October a month later.

“My dad would love this!” I exclaimed at the end of the loop.

I called him up. “Dad, I have a birthday present for you. When do you have three days free in April or May?” We nailed down days that he could escape to Moab and I set up camping permits for a three day, two night trip around the White Rim.

I fretted semi-nervously in the days leading up to the trip. I was still firmly in the sick-ward, so I had to pass up rides with Elliot, who was in Moab for the week and camping with us. The issue with a constant rotation of fresh friends at camp is that I can’t keep up with them all! #scamplifeproblems

My dad arrived late Friday night and we put him up in our guest tent after drinking some of the fine whisky that he’d brought us.

Morning futzing went about as smoothly as it could. We loaded up the BOB trailer that I’d had from years past with 9 extra liter of water, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and tents for Scott to haul, my bike with enough food for three people for three days, and my dads bike with a framebag full of his clothes. We were on the road by mid afternoon. Ready for adventure.


Watching my dad drop into the Shaffers switchbacks was a little terrifying. Watching Scott negotiate the steep hairpins with the BOB was equally scary. We all made it down safely.


Luckily, the first 30 miles of our route to Camp 1 at Gooseberry was fairly to mostly flat. The bikes were heavy!


The weather forecast was less than ideal, and clouds continued to threaten, but luckily, never turned into more than a few sprinkles.


We stopped for a sandwich break overlooking the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Our stop not only served to fill our bellies, but allowed us to miss a semi-substantial rain downpour that left puddles in the rocks.


Camp One. We ate a dinner of mac and cheese mixed with a pile of veggies that Scott and I needed out of our fridge. The night was capped off with some whisky, and we heard snores from my dad’s tent soon after the zippers went up.


Morning of Day 2. We started relatively early to start to knock out the 44 miles we had to go to our second camp. I knew it was going to be a big day, and we had a master plan of stopping frequently to rest and refuel.


My dad crashed only three times the entire trip. All three times in deep sand. Not bad for someone who hasn’t really ridden a mountain bike much in past several years. He showed up to this trip with minimal miles on the bike over the winter and a bike that had been ridden exactly 30 minutes since last summer. Those Horanyi genes, stubbornness and a good bit of off-the-couch-fitness.


The big obstacle of the day was Murphy’s Hogback. Scott had determined that it was easier to ride with the BOB than push it and was highly motivated to keep pedaling. He ended up clearing more of the climb than I did…and that was still with nearly 9L of water in the BOB. Big power he has.


The views at the top weren’t bad and I introduced my dad to my steady diet of chewy candies during ride. Swedish fish, gummy bears, peachy-os. Yum.


Every time the road went down, I got a little nervous, but once my dad figured out how to stand up and get his weight back, things started to be a little less scary. I was damn impressed with some of the things he made it down. Scott just bumped down everything, the BOB crashing over rocks, giving him the trail name of Country Thunder.


We stopped at Candlestick to eat some more snacks. The resident Raven hung out with us, posing for pictures.


“We’re going to stop for coffee 10 miles out of camp,” we decided. So that’s exactly what we did. We’ve learned the art of the afternoon cup of coffee from the Salsa crew, and it was delicious. It was also much needed for the climb ahead.


The final push to the top of the steep hill. I could tell my dad was starting to get tired. We’d been out for nearly 10 hours, but we still had a few miles of traversing, a big descent, and then a few more miles until our camp. Getting permits for WR is a PITA, and these two campsites were the best I could do for spacing.


Camp Two! We got tents set up just as it started to rain, so we hung out in the big tent eating ChexMix (our new favorite salty snack). We’d planned on filtering water out of the Green River, but I had to try our chances with our neighbors, who were in a truck. They ended up not only filling up my 3L of bladder, but also insisted that I drink a glass of wine with them before heading back to camp. Now that’s an offer a girl can’t refuse. And it definitely beat drinking Green River water.


It rained for a chunk of the night and we worried about the mud on the road. Luckily, it never came down hard and we had smooth roads for our final 12 miles back to the van, which we had parked ahead of time at the top of the Horsethief switchbacks, cutting out the less exciting Mineral Bottom Road and highway miles from the route.


When we’d woken up, my dad was sad that we were nearing the end of the trip. While he’s traveled all over the world for work, I’d like to think that the Canyonlands ranked somewhere high on the spectacular scale of things he’s seen. And while it wasn’t exactly remote backpacking, bikepacking is pretty cool too.


At the bottom of the Horsethief switchbacks, Scott and I stopped to futz as my dad took off up the hill. I have to admit, pedaling up after him, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t catch him by the top to snap a “summit” picture. It would have counted as a solid interval, if I were into that sort of thing. Finally though, the steepness got to him, and he started walking and I was finally able to catch up and put myself in position for photo-geeking.


The top! The van! We’d made it. I was one proud daughter.


My dad had to drive back to Boulder that afternoon, but we still had time to finish the trip in style – with a trip to Eddie McStiffs for giant burgers and fries.

I had many goals for this trip. First and foremost, everyone needed to make it out alive and with no broken bones and minimal skin missing. But then there was wanting my dad to get a glimpse into my world lived centered around bikes and being outside, I wanted him to get outside of his comfort zone and do something he’d maybe not do on his own. I was hoping he’d get inspired to do some trips closer to home and to see places that he’s lived near but never visited. Maybe rent an RV and take my mom around to all of the beautiful National Parks within a 500 mile radius of Boulder one summer. And I really wanted him to bring us a bottle of good whisky since we’d been in Utah for far too long.

Based on the fact that he called it the best (late) birthday ever, I’d like to think I succeeded in some of those goals. It was definitely one of those trips that we’ll talk about for a long time. Thanks for coming, Dad. And huge thanks to Scott for hauling all that water! I’ll run a shuttle for you any day, any where.


3 thoughts on “A 60th birthday present: White Rim with my dad

  1. Your photos make my heart sing. I think I know where I will vacation next.

  2. Your photos are glorious, what an amazing and profound trip with your awesome dad! I’m glad you got to make up for those days as a grumpy teenager. In fact you’ve more than made up for it, what a lovely daughter you are and what special memories for him to carry in his heart. Thank you for sharing.

  3. What a wonderful trip and perfect gift!

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