White Rim Women’s Ride
By Peta Owens-Liston
Maggie Matthes laughs as she recalls riding behind one of the riders on the 100-mile White Rim Trail that undulates along the rim, on the edge of Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park. After 24 miles the previous day of pushing pedal and maneuvering, the woman had rigged a pillow so it attached to her bike seat. “You can do crazy things like that with just women around—plus, there’s that thing we all have in common, we’ve got the same kind of bodies.”A veteran White Rim rider, with more than 14 rides under her seat, Matthes grabbles with how to capture the beauty of the desert and the silent peaceful moments and camaraderie that encapsulate this 4-day ride, offered through Holiday River Expeditions. A landscape unique to anywhere else in the world, with its towers, buttes, and lingering views of the Colorado and Green rivers. This ride is along the White Rim formation, named for the thin, durable layer of White Rim Sandstone that was deposited some 225 million years ago. The White Rim is a ribbon between the river gorges below and the mesa tops above.
“There are a lot more giggles and laughs and support that happens on women’s trips,” agrees Christine Martin, who has done a dozen White Rim treks. “That whole girl bonding thing happens.”
“If you have never done it before, it takes you the first day to figure things out, like you really do have to stand up while rolling through the slick rock,” says Matthes, who, although athletic, the first time on the White Rim was the first time on a mountain bike for her. “At the same time there is no shame in getting in the support vehicle.”
The trail is not all that technical, but the elevation gains can require some grunt work—particularly on the first and last day, where there is about a 1000-ft descent or ascent; this depends on which side you begin the journey, Shafer Switchbacks or the Mineral Bottom Road. The rise and fall of the rim throughout, collectively add up to more than 4,000 vertical feet of elevation change. About 20-25 miles of riding are fit into each day.
“Three to four climbs are grueling and the rest of it is do-able, and since the trail is wide you can ride alongside others and chat, unlike a lot of single track rides,” recalls Matthes. “At the same time, if you want to be with your own thoughts, you just slow down and let some distance happen.” Martin adds, “There are a couple of technical spots but nothing overwhelming and every single section of it has views that are breathtaking.”
Immersion in an unparalleled and remote landscape as well as the disconnect from all the things that tether you to the demands of life (email, phone, etc.), make this four-day stretch feel much more vacation-intense.
Shifting Gears on A Personal Level
Peddling hard, removal, and immersion in nature are the perfect storm for introspection as well as a chance to shed stress and responsibility. “I go into these trips looking for a change, a release from what I do on a daily basis,” says Jennifer Gilmore, who teaches yoga on these trips and is an avid mountain biker. “I return more grateful and accepting of my life and willing to relinquish control, letting more things roll off of me and trusting the powers of what will be, will be.”
Matthes recalls her single best camping memory that happened the last night on a White Rim trip at the Gooseberry campsite. Three times she awoke to a gentle breeze, the silhouette of slick rock, a million stars and a constellation that with each awakening had shifted above. “It was only for a few seconds each time and then I’d drift back to sleep, but each time it filled me up with the most wonderful sense of serenity.”
“All the elements of the riding are all woven together—your mindset goes from this trip to this day to this 50 yards to this peddle stroke to this breath,” says Gilmore. “It all pulls you to the present moment.”