Photos and Story By: Eszter Horanyi
There’s something to be said for having the right equipment for a trip. The right gear can make movement over challenging terrain easier, safer, more efficient, and most importantly, more fun. There’s also something to be said for everyone on a trip having a similar gear setup in order to offer a level playing field. Different pieces of gear can excel in various environments, and too much disparity can lead to someone in a group moving much faster than someone else over a specific type of terrain.
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for simply wanting to do a unique trip with a fun crew and making due with what everyone has, knowing that there will be parts where at least one person will struggle and one person will be loving their gear choices. And a certain type of Make Do Attitude can go a long way towards overcoming shortcomings in gear.
I initially heard about this overnight bikerafting loop outside of Moab from a trip Mike Curiak and company had done. It involved heading down a sandy canyon to the Green River (perfect for a fat bike), floating a dozen miles on the smooth river with bikes attached (perfect for an Alpacka Caribou), and then exiting the deep Green River canyon corridor on a well-maintained road (perfect for a not-fat-bike). The route was just long enough and unknown enough that trying to do it in a day seemed like a bad idea, so overnight gear would have to be added to the load. I put out the feelers for people who fit the relatively small intersection of the Venn diagram of owning a fat bike, owning a packraft that would comfortably carry a fat bike, and having camping gear for sleeping out. Plus, they had to have a fairly high tolerance for the general mishaps that were sure to occur during a trip involving said gear.
In the process of trying to put together the trip, I discovered that it wasn’t the gear ownership that was going to limit trip participation, but the fact that everyone was just so busy. Finding a two-day window to gather people who fit within my limited Venn diagram was proving to be impossible. And after many years of thinking about this trip, I was highly motivated to make it happen. So I opened the criteria. Must have packraft. Must have bike. Must be willing to push bike through sand if bike doesn’t have appropriately sized tires. Please don’t hate me if it turns out awful.
With the lowered gear requirements, I quickly assembled a crew of fellow bikepackers/packrafters who weren’t ones to shy away from a questionable idea. Andrew and Katie, bringing single speeds with normal mountain bike-sized tires and Alpacka Caribous, Scott with a normal mountain bike and an Alpacka Gnarwhal, Beth with arguable the best setup with both a fat bike and a light boat, and me, sporting a Gnarwhal and a fat bike. I just hoped that the roads would be sandy enough that Beth wouldn’t hate me for telling her to bring a fat bike, that they wouldn’t be so sandy that the folks on regular mountain bikes would spend the entire day pushing their bikes, and that the Gnarwhals wouldn’t be so heavy for Scott and I that riding bikes would be no fun.
We filed our ride plans under: What Could Possibly Go Wrong, and set off towards the river.
There are certain roads in the Moab area that are only advisable to ride on a normal bicycle after a rain when the sand gets packed down. Unfortunately, many of the roads to get to our first canyon were included in this list, and it definitely hadn’t rained in a while. On the fat bikes, Beth and I pedaled happily along as the narrow tires bogged down in the deep sand. Stretches of slickrock were the only reprieve for the proper mountain bikes as the fat bikers, without dropper posts or suspension, hesitated on steep descents and roll overs.
Still, it was all mostly fun and games, giggles and hoots, as we made our way to our canyon in good spirits. That’s where the real sand began.
While I can only speak to the experience on a fat bike, which was lovely, fun riding, I suspect that the normal mountain bike portion of our contingent was less pleased with the situation. Beth and I would pedal ahead, fat tires floating easily on the loose surface, hoping to lay down tracks in the sand that the others could follow in. I’m pretty sure that if you asked the skinny tires, the only redeeming feature of the canyon was the scenery, which was spectacular. As the instigator of the trip, I worried that I’d gotten people in over their heads, that the fine line between Type Two and Type Three fun was being crossed and no one would ever trust in my questionable ideas again.
Eventually though, as all things do, the canyon came to an end at the Green River, and we set up a camp for the night. I think we were all a little bit relieved that it was over, some of us more relieved than others. And with food in the bellies and the setting sun turning the canyon walls fiery red, all suffering was forgotten. We were in a spectacular place, and all that we had to do the next morning was float down the river. And then deal with the ride out, but that was filed away under Problems For Our Future Selves.
The floating the next morning made the hardships of the previous day all worth it, blue skies, calm winds, an empty river. With a full day to float 10 miles and do a relatively short and straightforward ride back to our starting point, there was no sense of urgency. We soaked up the sun reflecting off of the tall canyon walls, enjoying the sensation of forward movement without putting in any actual effort. Great blue herons startled from the riverbanks and vultures soared overhead taking advantage of the building morning thermals.
Without the specific combination of bikes and boats, we would never have had a reason to see any part of this route. Riding an out-and-back on the previous day’s canyon would have been difficult and tedious, even with the fat bikes. This particular stretch of river, while stunning in its own right, would probably have never been floated by anyone in our little crew if it hadn’t connected our two canyons so perfectly. And our exit canyon, while a very pretty and unique descent from the higher plateau into the river canyon, really was just a dead-end gravel road to the river.
But with bikes and boats and a bit of creativity, we could link together beautiful pieces of terrain that otherwise might have been deemed not worthy of our attention. And maybe that’s the beauty of bikerafting trips, because I don’t think that anyone would argue that riding a bike with a boat attached is ever going to be Type One fun. It’s the ability to access what would previously have been inaccessible, to put together creative loops, and to look at maps with a completely different set of eyes when planning adventures.
A few hours later, with the float complete, we reassembled our bikes and headed back up the hill to close our loop. Now on firm roads, the mountain bikes took advantage of their low rolling resistance and cruised up the hill. Beth and I, with our 4- and 5-inch tires, sat back knowing that now was the time for us to pay the piper for our extra floatation on the sand the day before. And we were completely okay with the tradeoff.
Yes, the right gear can be important. But a desire to go on a trip and the ability to laugh at the disparities created by different types of gear are far more important for success. And having adventure partners who will still smile at the end of a canyon where they mostly pushed their bikes through deep sand is the most important ingredient of all.