Saturday 17 May 2014

Maker Faire Bay Area

Another year, another Maker Faire! Two kids this time :)  E enjoyed the bubbles, the hula hoops, and the pony rides (where the ponies were mounted on electric wheelchair frames).

Interesting preview of a tech museum exhibit.  Its an escape problem, you need to pick a lock to escape the cage and then hit a button to drop ping pong balls on your opponent :)

El Pulpo Mecanico
LOTS of quad copters around this year

Sunday 4 May 2014

Canyonlands White Rim Trail: Planning

This is the boring logistics post, which is probably only useful if you are planning on doing the White Rim yourself.  If you want to read about the ride experience and look at pretty pictures, see here.

We did our tour with Escape Adventures, which contracts with the Moab Cyclery in Moab.  We had 12 people on a private tour (i.e. we all knew each other) for 4 days, 3 nights.  Our guide Merrick was an awesome everything: chef, trail guide, driver, bike mechanic, drinking buddy, and riding coach.  He had a mean wookie call instead of a dinner bell.


We chose to fly SFO->SLC->CNY, these were the options we considered:

  • SFO->SLC, drive 3h 40min to Moab.
  • SFO->SLC->CNY with Delta.  This is as close as you can get on a plane, 22min drive to Moab.  A Variety of shuttles can get you into town (with a bike too if you have it). We took the moab taxi, but they were not so good. They double-booked and only had a single car available. Pretty inconvenient when it is at least a 45min round trip.
  • SFO->PHX or SLC->GJC.  It’s a 1h 40 drive from Grand Junction to Moab.  There’s more flight options, but price is about the same, and a one-way shuttle is going to cost you about $90.

Our SFO leg got delayed on the way out, and since there are only a couple of flights a day into Moab from SLC we were going to be in trouble if we missed the SLC->CNY connection. Turns out we just made it, but had we needed to drive that leg instead, it was possible to do a one-way rental from SLC to Moab for about $145 with Enterprise, who seemed to be the only company with an office in Moab.


I investigated, but it was going to take 3 days each way, and cost $150 with me doing the disassembly/assembly to get it from the Bay Area to Moab.  Cheaper, less hassle, and less bike-unavailable-time to just rent from the shop for $190.  

The Moab Cyclery rental was waaay better than my bike anyway. A full suspension Santa Cruz 29-er with hydraulic brakes. It was a pleasure to ride, and I had no issues. They supplied a basic patch kit (pump and tube), but according to our guide punctures are rare if you stay on the trail (which you need to do since the desert soil is actually really fragile). And as promised, we didn't have any punctures amongst our group, and the support truck is never particularly far away anyway. The support truck also had a bike stand, floor pump, and other bike maintenance gear.

Meals and Booze

Food provided and cooked by Moab Cyclery was amazing. I've never eaten so well on an outdoors trip. There is something amazingly decadent about having french toast and coffee waiting when you crawl out of your tent, having 3 course dinners, and never having to wash up. Always more food than I could eat, and heaps of high quality snacks to stuff in your camelback for the day. They also provided everything else we needed for meals: plates, cups, cutlery, napkins, chairs etc.

If you do need food, we shopped at City Market, which has long opening hours.

You provide all your own booze. Beware crazy Utah liquor laws. We arrived on a Sunday and the only place selling alcohol was the Moab Brewery. The tour provided a gigantic cooler just for booze, so our beer was kept ice cold the whole trip :)


We went at the start of May, and our guide said this was the best time of year. Temperature was not too hot during the day, and a few degrees above freezing at night. However, we had unusually strong winds which made everything quite a bit colder when you were out in it. I definitely needed my down jacket, thermals, beanie, and skiing mittens while eating dinner for the first two nights.


On the Bike

Here's what I carried in (or attached to) my Camelback each day:
  • Warm clothes for stops: beanie, long thermal shirt, rain and windproof riding jacket
  • Sunscreen, Lip balm, Ibuprofen
  • Whistle
  • 3L of water
  • Snacks and packed lunch
  • Phone

Packing List


  • Sunglasses (and spare)
  • Camp towel: the tour provided a solar shower! There are some opportunities to swim in the Colorado and Green rivers, but it wasn't that hot when we were there and the river access was not well suited to swimming.
  • Shorts
  • Sandals (Tevas or similar): Great for the slot canyon, where there are pools of water. Depending on the amount of rain and your ability to jump across pools you can probably stay dry with some work. Bike shoes are no good (bare feet is probably better).
  • Trail runners: around camp
  • Down jacket
  • Hiking pants
  • Hat
  • Beanie
  • Mittens
  • Waterproof pants: I brought these, but I really couldn't see myself riding in them, I'd probably skip taking them.
  • top thermals x2 and bottom x2
  • Socks x4


Basic bike repair kit included in rental (pump, tube etc.)

  • Riding shirts x2
  • Knicks x2
  • Bike shoes
  • Bike gloves (light and heavy)
  • Riding jacket
  • Multi tool


  • Toothbrush, toothpaste
  • Toilet paper: there's heaps in the toilets
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Tissues
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Moisturiser: wish I'd had this. I got a bit sunburnt and it would have helped.


  • Camera, memorycard, charging cable
  • 1st aid kit (band aids, ear plugs, water purification tabs): this is stuff I take everywhere.
  • Emergency whistle
  • Insect repellent: didn't need it, no bugs to be seen. Even when camping by the river.
  • Tent, groundsheet, hammer: tour company had a hammer. I ended up using the groundsheet *inside* the tent to keep my stuff from being covered in dust due to the wind.
  • Backup battery for phone and head torch
  • Long length of cord: this was really handy for tying down my tent to rocks since pegs were tough to get in and the wind was insane.
  • Kindle: all my electronics got dust in them to some extent, beware...
  • Head torch
  • Thermarest: I considered bringing a foam mat as well for extra insulation, but the air temp wasn't that cold, and this was fine.
  • Sleeping bag, liner: I brought my heavyweight down sleeping bag and was too hot in it. Once you were out of the wind the overnight temp was quite mild.
  • Pillow
  • PLB
  • Phone (music and strava)
  • Bluetooth headphones
  • Portable foam roller

Saturday 3 May 2014

Canyonlands White Rim Trail: 4 days, 100+ miles, 100s of beers

I did the White Rim trail in Canyonlands, Utah with a group of 12 friends over 4 days from 28 Apr to 1 May. I'll cover all the logistics and preparation in a separate post, this one is just about the experience.

Theme song: Ways to Go and Shark Attack by Grouplove.

Day 1: Moab to Airport (29.6km/18.4mi plus 17.5km/10.8mi side-trip)

We met at Moab Cyclery, and jumped in the van for a short drive out to the park and Shafer Canyon Road.

This direction of travel (clockwise, starting at Shafer) is sometimes called red to green, because you start with red rock and end with the green river.  The tour company chose the route for us, but apparently this is the most popular direction and puts most of the sand on the downhill slopes and has you climbing the shorter sides of Murphy's Hogsback and Hardscrabble.

View Larger Map

Canyonlands park map with the white rim trail in blue
We began the trail by launching off the Schafer switchbacks. The jaw-dropping scenery made me want to stop and take photos constantly, but fun downhill made me want to keep going :) Be careful on those sharp switchbacks covered in loose stones, it only took a couple of minutes for the first person in our party to eat it...

Shafer Canyon Rd

Shafer Canyon Rd

Dropping down the Shafer switchbacks to the White Rim

We took the short detour out to Gooseneck overlook for a great view of a loop of the Colorado River.

Gooseneck overlook
Merrick our awesome one-man support crew whips up the first of many amazing meals for lunch at Musselman Arch
Standing on top of Musselman Arch
Musselman Arch
Just ridiculously pretty all the time.  The entire 4 days.  It was like riding through the Grand Canyon.  The Colorado River has done some excellent work.
Giant slabs of sandstone are not enough.  Must go prettier.  Add carpets of wildflowers.
"Airport" campsite

Probably the best pit toilet I've ever seen.  It even had an air freshener!

The real drinkers (i.e. not me) cracked their first beer sometime between breakfast and lunch on the trail.

The stash.  Plus the liquor cooler, this *just* got us through the 4 days.
"Airport" campsite.  There are very limited sites, just a couple in each location and they are well separated from each other.
Lathrop trail side-trip down to the Colorado from just near the campsite.  Sketchy tyre-grabbing sandpit down at the river level, but a great addition to an otherwise fairly easy day that seemed to be done too quickly.

The Colorado at the bottom of the Lathrop.  You *could* swim here, but it's not the greatest spot.  Hard to get down to the water, fairly fast moving river.

The wind was brutal.  When I got back to my tent after doing the Lathrop everything was covered in dust (despite the tent fly).  The wind blew pretty much all night and the only people who got sleep were those who slept outside in the lee of rock windbreaks without a tent flapping around them.
Elaborate tent support to try and stop it blowing away or snapping a pole.  The air temperature overnight wasn't that cold (probably above freezing), but the wind added such a strong chill that we all retreated to our sleeping bags shortly after dinner.

Day 2: Airport to Murphy Hogback (43km/26.7mi including White Crack side trip)

The wind eventually stopped blowing just before dawn :(  Anyway, we fueled up on french toast and coffee and got back on the bikes.

Washer woman arch on the right (not a good angle for it)

You can see why it is called the white rim

Another arch along the way

We took the side trip out to White Crack, which was definitely worth it.  Some of the best views on the entire trail.

View from White Crack.  It's a short walk out from the end of the trail to almost 360 degrees of amazing scenery.  Click to see the larger version, there are people in this photo :)

Looking out from White Crack

Treacherous sandpit on the way to White Crack


Yet more wildflowers

Murphy's campsite.  The climb up here was the first big one of the trip.  Really really windy still.

View from the camp shower

Sunset at Murphy's

Sunset at Murphy's

Considering doing the penguin shelter thing for warmth...

Day 3: Murphy's to Hardscrabble (41.8km/26mi)

Day 3 started with a crazy descent down terrain similar to what we climbed up to the campsite.

On the way down

The Holeman slot canyon is a lot of fun.  It's not signposted but you can find it where the Wilhite trail (which is signposted) intersects White Rim road.  It is easy to spot from the road once you know where to look.  There are some pools of water, which required some gymnastics for us to avoid.  No-one fell in the water although we had some near misses and one of our party dislocated his shoulder briefly...ouch.

Bare feet are probably better than bike shoes.  Sandals, Tevas or similar, would be best.  No equipment was needed for us to travel most of the length of it, but being confident rock scrambling/climbing is a must.  You can exit close to the other end, or come back the same way with more effort.

Entrance to the Holeman slot canyon

Holeman slot canyon

Holeman slot canyon

The end of the slot canyon.  You want to stop at the big chockstone, otherwise you're probably going to need a fair bit of help to get out.  And if you keep going to the end there's this huge drop.

After another big climb to end the day, the Hardscrabble campsite was very welcome.  Nice soft sand, and thankfully, no more wind.  No other campsites nearby, so we even had a little dance party :)

Hardscrabble campsite

Day 4: Hardscrabble to Moab (54km/33.5mi via Gemini Bridges)

The final day we started with nice river scenery following the path of the Green River.

And then there was the final brutal climb up the Horsethief switchbacks.  Apparently this road has been very recently rebuilt at great expense after being completely destroyed by a landslide.  Fresh drill marks for explosives are visible in the rock.

Horsethief switchbacks
We had lunch at the top, then got picked up by the van to avoid riding the boring part of Mineral Road back to 313.  Instead we got dropped at Gemini Bridges Road, and rode that back to the Moab bike path and right back into Moab and the bike shop.  Gemini bridges was interesting, and the ride was a lot of fun.  Even the bike path was a nice gradual re-introduction into civilisation.  I'd highly recommend this return journey.

Gemini Bridges Road
So our riding total was 168.4km/104.6mi.  It was a fantastic trip.  Based on discussions with Merrick, the best (in terms of scenery and getting away from other people) multi-day mountain bike trip in the whole US is a trip they do through a remote part of Canyonlands called the maze.  Sounds like that's next :)