Going Big

Romper Rim: Pedaling 80 miles through Utah's Canyonlands with five toddlers.

    Photo: Artville

The mound of gear was gargantuan. Next to the equipment we'd normally take on a four-day mountain-bike ride were Pack 'N Play cribs, car seats, toddler chairs and toddler tables, portable high chairs, and little Linus and Lucy sleeping bags, complete with matching pads. "Looks like we're going to have to take another vehicle," said my friend Mike as we tried to shoehorn everything inside two four-wheel-drive trucks. He was right. Such last-minute changes are common when trying to squeeze an 80-mile bike trip into a long weekend. But our foray to Utah's White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park was far from normal. It had the added component of the under-four set: Our group consisted of ten adults and five children between the ages of three months and four years. Though we had them outnumbered two to one, we'd soon find that keeping them happy was as tiring as the bike riding.

Call us crazy if you will. After all, it's hard enough having five toddlers in your living room for a birthday party, let alone for four days and miles away from civilization. But as longtime river runners accustomed to camping, we weren't about to let the fact that we now have kids foil our annual outing. Instead of taking them on whitewater, we took them on the White Rim. With shuttle rigs along—which now numbered three instead of two—the theory was simple. The kids would mostly ride in the four-wheel drives and the adults would take turns biking and driving—which meant averaging 20 miles a day. With the overabundance of gear, it also meant hours of packing and unpacking at each campsite.
We didn't set off on day one until well after noon, but we quickly settled into a routine: drive or bike a few miles, and then stop to console the kids. Luckily, our 19-month-old daughter, Brooke, adapted quickly. When not eating pretzels or fitting shapes into box openings, she either slept in air-conditioned comfort or stared at the passing spires and side canyons. The other kids, two per car, played together along the way. The day's only crisis occurred after lunch, when four-year-old Stuey threw up, requiring a pit stop from the clean-up crew. That's when we unloaded the Burley trailer and offered Brooke a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately it didn't last long, as bumps, sand, and fatherly fatigue saw her quickly back in the car.

At camp that evening—atop a mesa overlooking the serpentine canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers—the kids wasted no time in finding natural sandboxes and playing Follow the Leader over coffee table-size rocks. Eventually, they settled around a miniature table to throw spaghetti while we tried to refuel after a long day of pedaling and parenting. We roasted marshmallows and the kids clapped gooey hands to Raffi's "Baby Beluga" on guitar.

For us, the biking during the next few days was not as technically interesting as the buffed Colorado singletrack we were used to back home. After all, the White Rim Trail is also known as the White Rim Road, depending on which type of pedal you push. But the doubletrack route is about as scenic a bike ride as you can ever do. Massive rust-colored sandstone blocks pop out of desert sands sprinkled occasionally with sagebrush and prickly pear. In certain sections, wind-strafed canyon walls loom above you on one side, while on the other, hairpin turns give way to 1,000-foot drops.

Dramatic plunges notwithstanding, a bigger concern on this trip was the unforgiving heat and utter lack of shade. Although Canyonlands storms can come on as suddenly as temper tantrums, blue skies held for the entire trip. The kids never ventured far without hats and sunscreen, and during day two's lunch we huddled in the only shade we could find—that of an outhouse.

The last morning we woke early to a band of children staring into our tent like cattle over a fence. They wanted Brooke to come out and play, and since another adult was already up brewing coffee, we gladly let her. That morning we bathed in the Green River, our first chance in four days to clean up with anything but wipes. After a five-mile climb up switchbacks, we were back on top of the rim and at the ride's end. We toasted with sippy cups and the cooler's last beers and—call us crazier still—made plans to do it all again.

IF YOU GO

On Your Own The White Rim Trail in Utah's Canyonlands National Park follows a layer of white sandstone for 108 miles along the Colorado and Green Rivers. Secure your own backcountry permit by faxing your request at least two weeks in advance—earlier if you plan to go in the spring or fall—to the park's reservation office (435-259-4285). You can't reserve by phone, but call the office at 435-719-2313 or visit www.nps.gov/cany for more information. Permits are $30 for a maximum of 15 people and three vehicles, plus a $10-per-vehicle park entrance fee. Support vehicles are highly recommended as there is no water along the trail.

Camping Camp only at designated sites, which have outhouses and are surprisingly kid-friendly despite occasional cacti.

Outfitters Nichols Expeditions (800-648-8488; www.nicholsexpeditions.com) offers standard five-day White Rim mountain-bike tours for $735 per person with discounts of 10 percent for groups of four or more signing up together. The fees include support vehicles, guides, meals, and permits, but not bike rentals, which are $130 extra. Kids 11 and older are preferred. Visit www.nps.gov/cany for a list of more outfitters working in the park.

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