Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mountain Biking the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

In September of 2014, Chrissy surprised me with the most memorable Christmas and birthday gift ever, a guided mountain bike trip along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We've taken mountain biking trips to Moab Utah, Fruita and Durango Colorado, and Asheville North Carolina in the past.   But, we had never taken a guided trip.   Although we were responsible for providing our tent and camping gear, the tour guides would provide guided trail rides,  preparation of our meals, transportation of our camping gear from campsite to campsite, and permits to ride in the Kaibab National Forest.

The trip began in Saint George, Utah with the typical meet and greet with the other mountain bikers and our trail guides before loading up bikes and camping gear to shuttle three hours to the Kaibab National Forest on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  For Chrissy and I, this trip would be a mountain bike reunion with our friends, Christian and Jen, who moved to Denver, Colorado several years.  Two other mountain bikers, Gary from Denver and Ed from North Carolina, were also on the trip with our guides Bama and Tanesha.

Mountain biking along the rim of the Big Ditch offers more climbing and descending than we had expected between 7000 and 9000 ft elevations.  The trail surfaces on the Kaibab plateau were surprisingly comprised of loose rocky sections through Ponderosa pine, Juniper, and Pinon trees.  The trails provided spectacular views of the Grand Canyon, mountain meadows, and plenty of wildlife.  Although mountain lions are known to live in this region, we were fortunate to not see any.  But, we saw plenty of Mule deer (similar to Whitetail deer, but larger), Stryker Jays (similar to Blue Jays, but larger), and black bodied/white-tailed Kaibab squirrels (similar to red and grey squirrels, but...you get the idea...larger) that are only found on the Kaibab plateau.

We began our adventure on day one with a relatively quick out and back ride on the Rainbow Trail.   Mileage was pleasantly short, since the high altitudes made it difficult to breathe.  But, we got back to camp to take in a dinner of fish tacos before the unexpected rains from a hurricane blown in from the Pacific Ocean would drive us into our tents.  

Chrissy, Jen, Christian and Ed on Rainbow Trail.  Day 1. 

Day 2 started with temperatures in the low 50s and a steady rain.  Usually, I look forward to starting rides in the early morning.  On this rainy morning though, I was feeling pretty content to stay in the tent until the rain stopped.  But, after a blueberry pancake breakfast we were riding off on the Rainbow Trail.  Six miles into the ride, several riders decided to turn back towards the camp to get warm and dry.  Four of us continued on another 3-5 miles as the clouds gave way to sunny skies.  After lunch at a viewpoint into the canyon, Gary, Ed, Christian and I hammered back with Bama to the camp for a dinner of steak fajitas and an Apple Betty desert.  

Although we were far from Morgantown, WV, we had spotted several things that reminded us of home:

Even though Christian lives in Denver, he continues to
buy his Cannondales from Pathfinder.
(this says a lot for their products and service)
On Day 3, Tanesha sent me out to lead the group on the Arizona Trail while she rode clean up and Bama drove our gear to our next campsite.   The Arizona trail had the same loose rocky surfaces as the Rainbow Trail.  But, the climbs were steeper and longer.  And, the descents were steep and swoopy.

Christian climbing through Aspens and Ponderosa pines

One of the mountain meadows.  A perfect place to repair Ed's broken chain.
Many areas of the Arizona trail were riddled with fallen trees from storms.  Chrissy had an unfortunate experience with one of the toppled jagged tree trunks during a downhill.  Fortunately though, this was the only crash with an injury.  In her usual tough girl form, she finished two more days of riding with a contusion that got much worse. 
Chrissy leading the group up a climb before her crash.
Multicolored souvenir.

With several hours of riding, we seemed to spend time riding as a group getting to know our guides, Gary, and Ed.  Gary proved to be an excellent mountain biker and an inspiration to all of us, riding strong at age 72 and only 15 months after open heart surgery. 

Gary and Jen climbing through Aspens and Ponderosa Pine.
Day 3 ended with another amazing dinner with spectacular views of the canyon.

Camping on the edge...literally. 

Our longest and most challenging ride came on the fourth day after a beautiful sunrise.  

Day 4 Sunrise.

Warming up the Swiftwicks before breakfast. 

Even the views from the shitter are grand.
Perfect place to contemplate the meaning of life.
Just don't lose your balance

Twenty-four miles of mountain biking with four climbs hitting 8900 ft in elevation.  This out an back ride had a 1/2 mile descent at 26.8% grade with multiple switchbacks.  Bama guided us down after a brief overview of what was ahead.  As we descended, I tried staying staying on the back wheel of his rigid Surly fat bike.  But, he would lose me in every switchback by riding a nose-wheelie through the turn, then planting the rear wheel to accelerate away.
Bama showing some fat bike skills.
Since this was an out and back ride, the 1/2 mile downhill became a 26.8% 1/2 mile climb at mile 20.    This is quite possibly the most challenging climb that I've done on any bike. 

We continued on the Arizona Trail for our final day of riding.  The trail passed through more mountain meadows before another steep climb into a Ponderosa forest that was decimated by a forest fire in the 1990s.

Christian, Ed, Jen, and Gary about to enter the burned forest.

A big thanks goes out to Bama and Tanesha, and Western Spirit for a great trip with old friends and new friends.   

And an especially big thanks to my wonderful Chrissy for the amazing gift of travel.