Photo by James Adamson
CommUtah: 421 Miles of Dirt from Salt Lake City to MoabAdventure cyclist, a publication of adventure cycling association
Photo by James Adamson
By Kurt GensheimerPhotos by John Shafer and James Adamson
What started in 2014 as an excuse for a few friends to ride bikes for a week on as much trail as possible along 420 miles from Lake Tahoe to San Francisco has grown into a bigger mission of connecting major cities with recreation destinations through multi-use dirt infrastructure. In late September 2015, James Adamson, Justin Schwartz and yours truly — dubbed The Commute Crew — took on a bigger challenge of connecting Salt Lake City with Moab, Utah. This 421-mile, eight-day adventure was 95 percent dirt, almost half of it singletrack, and according to backcountry guide Scott House of White Pine Touring in Park City, Utah, the first time such a ride had been attempted. Exactly what we were aiming for.
We climbed the Great Western Trail to the Wasatch Crest and headed south toward Park City amidst an array of aspen groves with fiery reds, yellows, and oranges. After reaching 10,000 feet, we railed down Shadow Lake, Keystone, and Two Step trails. For dessert, we hit the tight and technical John’s Trail to Sweeny’s Switchbacks. Thanks to the generosity of Rhonda Sideris of Park City Lodging, we had a beautiful four-bedroom home waiting for us only a couple hundred yards from the trail.
Great Western Trail to the Wasatch Crest
Photo by James Adamson
The Great Western Trail to the Wasatch Crest
From the gun our legs and lungs seared with pain on the relentlessly steep half-mile climb up Rattlesnake Trail out of Mill Creek Canyon. After recovering, a much more reasonable traverse along Pipeline Trail eventually delivered us to the Big Water Trailhead where we encountered our first dilemma of the trip. This area has an “even-odd day” use designation, and on this odd day, mountain bikes were prohibited, hikers and dogs only. However, turning around at this point was not an option, so we pressed on, walking our bikes up the trail. Less than a half-mile up a woman was carrying a 75-pound dog down the trail and told us the dog cut its belly open on a rock. James offered to carry the dog back to the car for her and she happily obliged. Justin and I were hoping this would be the good karma we needed to avoid receiving a ticket for being unintentional scofflaws, and it was.
An extremely steep, sandy, loose, and rocky moto trail, Dry Fork had us surfing our bikes more than actually riding them. The plus-size Bontrager Chupacabra tires on my Trek Stache really came in handy on this brake-burner of a descent, making the terrain easier to manage. Once we reached the bottom, the three of us were ecstatic, not so much because the trail was awesome, but more because nobody suffered a compound fracture. After a horrible hike-a-bike up the Great Western Trail, we met Scott House, the man responsible for laying out the first three days of trails for us. His route so far had been amazing, but he had a real treat waiting for us on Ridge Trail. Ridge Trail provided some of the most remarkable singletrack descents I’ve ever experienced anywhere. Once the short, stabbing uphills ended, this moto-legal trail absolutely let loose, sending us downhill so fast the world turned to a blurry streak. Meanwhile, the beauty of the terrain below Mount Timpanogos was taxing my lexicon of superlatives. And just when I didn’t think it could get better, we rounded a corner to find a hunter with a rifle dragging a dead buck. Never seen that before.
The rip-roaring descents continued, careening down Lame Horse trail all the way into Sundance Resort. More descending. This time down pavement, blasting down into Provo Canyon. We climbed up to Deer Creek Lake State Park and found my girlfriend Elisabeth waiting for us with a campground and a pasta dinner. It was an incredibly tough yet rewarding day that could have only been better if Utah didn’t have such weak beer.
After ascending toward Strawberry Ridge from Wallsburg, the final pitch to the top turned into a punishing rock-strewn hike-a-bike about as fun as a spike in the eye. Upon reaching the summit we encountered a hunter on an ATV who exclaimed, “Are them push bikes? Thunder and lightning! You legs must be harder than rocks.” Not sure about our legs, but our heads definitely were, as most sane riders would have turned around. The commanding views of Strawberry Reservoir and Spanish Fork Canyon on either side of the ridge were stunning though, making the slog worthwhile.
Day 3 51 Miles and 7,100 Feet of Climbing
Day 2 49 Miles & 7,800 Feet of Climbing
Photo by Justin Schwartz
In a word, Dry Fork was rowdy
The terrain coming off the ridge was treacherous, a mix of jeep and ATV roads riddled with rocks, man-eating ruts, and powdery dirt that covered us all in a layer of red silt. The trails were so dusty that after following Justin and me downhill, James proclaimed, “I think I just swallowed a sandcastle.” The highlight of the day by far was the last 10 miles of downhill on 5th Water Ridge Trail, a singletrack that flowed with remarkable speed and fun hip jumps, descending 3,000 feet into a canyon lined with maple trees showing off vibrant red colors. With only two miles left in the ride, we stopped at the beautiful 5th Water Hot Spring for a quick soak.
Day 8 70 Miles & 6,100 Feet of Climbing
It was inevitable. Up until Day 8, we’d had amazing weather, so when a 30 mph headwind blasted us for the first 45 miles, we tried to take it all in stride. By the time we hit the junction of Dubinky Well Road and Highway 313, we were completely encrusted in salt and dirt — and totally out of water.
To complicate matters, there was a miscommunication with our support crew, and they weren’t at our expected meeting spot. By the time we hit the top of 7-Up trail at Bull Run, we were delirious. It was 4:00 p.m. and we still had all of the Magnificent 7 trail network to ride, more than 20 miles of extremely rocky terrain, finishing with the notorious cliffside run down Portal Trail.
James adamson parkcityJohn shafer scottJames adamson justinjames adamson 5thwaterJames adamson skylineJames adamson reederjohn Shafer hydrategold bar rim
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We climbed 10 miles out of Park City on Armstrong and Pinecone Ridge, arriving at the top of “Puke Hill,” amazed to see dozens of mountain bikers out for a casual Saturday ride along the famous Wasatch Crest. We dropped down Guardsman’s Pass to Brighton Ski Resort and tackled the steep and rocky hike-a-bike up Catherine’s Pass Trail. We pushed our way over boulder fields to another 10,000-foot precipice and were rewarded with the first big descent of the day — Dry Fork.
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Day 4 50 Miles & 8,300 Feet of Climbing
There are times where words and photos fail to capture the true power of a life experience. It began early when Tyler Cloward of Fezzari Bikes selflessly drove to our campground at 8:00 a.m. to fix a serious mechanical Justin suffered the day before that would have otherwise ended our trip. Tyler’s generosity enabled us to continue our journey as a trio, as we wouldn’t complete CommUtah without Justin.
Photo by James Adamson
After climbing nearly 3,500 vertical feet from 5th Water up Cottonwood Creek on a scorching hot morning, we regained the ridge and rallied an absolutely world-class 2,500-foot singletrack descent on Great Western Trail to Tie Fork. The trail was fast and buffed out for miles with perfect corners and hip jumps. The trail eventually opened up into double track, with numerous stream crossings as deep as three feet, cooling us off as we blasted straight through them.
Day 5 64 Miles & 5,200 Feet of Climbing
John Shafer Fezzari
Photo by John Shafer
But the true magic came on Skyline Drive after a soul-crushing 3,000-foot ascent, running us along a ridge at nearly 10,000 feet far above the world. While we sat taking in the beauty of Skyline Drive, a sheep dog ambled over and sat down next to us. I looked out over the valley far below and said to the dog, “so this is heaven, eh?” A stunning red sunset accented by lightning far off in the distance intensified the experience, as we put our heads down and hammered well into the darkness. Day 4 was a spiritual journey by bike, the most powerful of my life.
The change in terrain from start to finish on Day 5 was among the most varied in North America. The first 25 miles on Skyline Drive were punishing. The combination of thin air above 10,000 feet and weary legs slowed our pace to a crawl on the constantly undulating terrain.
 
After passing numerous rifle-toting hunters on ATVs, we dropped 3,500 vertical feet in nine miles down Reeder Canyon, a ludicrous-speed ATV doubletrack with dozens of whoops and one of the most perfectly arced left hand sweepers I’ve ever ridden in my life.
John shafer rockcanyon
Photo by John Shafer
After a lunch break at Joe’s Valley Reservoir, we climbed up to the top of Rock Canyon, another ATV trail that only a handful of mountain bikers have ever ridden. Unlike the relatively tame Reeder Canyon, Rock Canyon was absolutely rowdy, dropping us nearly 3,000 vertical feet into the desert along a boulder-strewn wash requiring every last bit of energy and skill to keep our bikes upright. We rolled into the tiny town of Castle Dale and were greeted by retired Emery County sheriff, Lamar Guyon and the mayor, Danny VanWagoner, who let us camp at a city park for the night.
Day 6 53 Miles & 2,200 Feet of Climbing
Lamar guided us out to The Wedge where Good Water Rim Trail is located, a 17-mile singletrack that he hand-built over the course of 10 years, winding around the Little Grand Canyon with breathtaking red rock bluffs at virtually every turn. Good Water Rim Trail is one of Utah’s best-kept secrets and is great for riders of all skill levels. And unlike trails in Moab, we didn’t see a single human. Having Lamar give us a personal tour was very special, and his 40 years as sheriff made for some fascinating stories, including his harrowing tale of falling 300 feet off the edge of the Little Grand Canyon, breaking his pelvis in two places and requiring a titanium plate to repair his face.
After stopping to show us some beautiful petroglyphs in Buckhorn Wash, Lamar led us down to the San Rafael River where we camped for the night beneath bluffs that shot up more than 1,000 feet in every direction.
Day 7 51 Miles & 2,300 Feet of Climbing
James adamson blackdragon
Photo by James Adamson
Day 7 was another “recovery” day for the legs, and after a mellow 10-mile climb up Cottonwood Draw, we got our first glimpse of the La Sal Mountains, signifying our proximity to our final destination – Moab. The highlight of the ride was Black Dragon Wash, a remarkable red rock canyon with walls more than 800 feet high on either side of a trail barely 30 feet wide.
After marveling at a set of petroglyphs, we hit a series of dirt roads across a barren, uninhabitable desert landscape toward Green River. There wasn’t much talking between the three of us; we simply put our heads down and ground out the miles in 90-degree heat, finishing with a swim in the Green River.
John shafer greenriver
Photo by John Shafer
james adamson mag7
Photo by James Adamson
After refueling at the top of Bull Run we followed our friend Dennis Jones who guided us along Mag 7, a much-appreciated effort considering he was the only sane human in the group. After eight days of riding, James, Justin, and I were completely spun, chanting incoherent babble and screaming out “CommUtah!” as we could see the finish line of Moab 1,500-feet straight off a cliff below us.
Photo by James Adamson
Commute Crew
Photo by Dennis Jones
CommUtah was simply magical. We went the hard way and it paid off with terrain that few mountain bikers have ever seen. CommUtah couldn’t have been possible without the daily efforts of my girlfriend and “camp mom” Elisabeth Johnson and our photographer, John Shafer. They were there for us every day, making sure we stayed fed and hydrated. And the fact that we had no injuries is a testament to the skill and fitness of my riding mates James and Justin. Where to next? It looks like we’ll be setting our sights eastward in 2016 to sample what the mighty Appalachians have in store for The Commute Crew. Stay tuned!
John shafer lamar
Photo by John Shafer
"the beauty of the terrain below Mount Timpanogos"
Photo by James Adamson
James Adamson Strawberry
Photo by James Adamson
"the true magic came on Skyline Drive after a soul-crushing 3,000-foot ascent"
gold bar rim
Photo by Dennis Jones
The Gold Bar Rim singletrack is one of the rockiest and most technical trails in Moab, a hell of a way to finish CommUtah. Our bodies, brains, and bikes were growing weary, and as a bonus, the sun was setting. Thankfully we anticipated a long day and put our Light & Motion Solite 250s on our helmets that morning. That little light saved our asses, as we finished the 421-mile odyssey by descending the treacherous Portal Trail in darkness.
Day 1 33 Miles & 5,600 Feet of Climbing
DAY 1
DAY 2
DAY 3
DAY 4
DAY 5
DAY 6
DAY 7
DAY 8
Photo by John Shafer
FURTHER READING
● Along the Canol
Better known in cycling circles as The Angry Singlespeeder, KURT GENSHEIMER is really a pretty mellow guy, especially when he's on a geared bike. To fund his adventures, Kurt writes professionally both inside and outside the bike industry and will be sharing his experiences daily throughout the CommUtah adventure. Always looking to take the adventure one step further, JAMES ADAMSON is mostly found in the mountains on his bike or behind a camera. He grew up in the mountains and foothills where the commute will start out, and lived in the bay for years before moving back up to “his happy place” to ride and work. JOHN SHAFER helped document CommUtah by setting up shots along the entire route. Although “Photo John” is a professional photographer based in Salt Lake City, there were still parts of Utah he never experienced before this adventure, including the secret gem Good Water Rim Trail on the rim of the Little Grand Canyon east of Castle Dale. Learn more about the Commute Crew at thecommutecrew.com.
Caribou Pass
Devils Path
Norman Wells
Photo by James Adamson
Photo by John Shafer
Photo by James Adamson
Photo by James Adamson
Photo by James Adamson
Photo by James Adamson
Photo by John Shafer
Photo by John Shafer
Photo by John Shafer
Gear
Incredibly remote, long-abandoned, wet, steep and full of bears.
The Canol Heritage Trail
Anthony DeLorenzo on the incredible high plains as we pushed closer to the Plains of Abraham.
Day 1 started out wet and finished up with an amazing sunset as we set up our first camp.
Day 1 started out wet and finished up with an amazing sunset as we set up our first camp.
DeLorenzo & Ryan Stuart preparing boats for the Godlin River.
On the boats
Freeze and dried dinners
Gear
Logistics
Gear
Logistics
While we accessed the Canol from the Yukon side, it’s probably easier to stage from Norman Wells. First get to Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories, with various airlines, and then fly to Norman Wells with First Air (firstair.ca). Stay at the B&B-style accommodations at the Canoe North Adventures Outfitting Centre (canoenorth adventures.com). Charter a flight with North-Wright. Airways (north-wrightair ways.com) to one of the landing strips in Macmillian Pass, the start of the trail. Before leaving Norman Wells, talk to Canoe North about organizing a boat pick up from the end of the trail, which is on the other side of the Mackenzie River from town.
Freeze Dried Dinners
To keep weight down and meals quick and simple we brought boil in a bag, freeze dried dinners. They taste great! Various meals from Mountain House (mountain house.com) and Natural High (katadyn.com).
Gear
Bikes: We all rode single speeds, which we agree was the right choice from a durability stand point. All the bushwhacking, rock gardens, and river crossings would have destroyed a derailer several times over. Paul Christensen rode a fat tire bike, which was probably the best choice for the frequent mud, sand, and rock. He was often still riding while the rest of us were pushing. Satellite phone: This far north, even satellite phones don’t work that well, but having some kind of communication device is essential. Help is a long ways off, even with a phone. Plus you’ll need to be able to call for a boat pick-up from the end of the trail. Alpacka Raft: We never would have made it without Alpacka Rafts, six-pound personal white-water rafts that fold down to the size of a tent. We each carried one and they paid their way in easing river crossings. With a four-piece kayak paddle, rivers were an afterthought, not a worry. alpackaraft.com. Bike bags: After we returned a couple borrowed Porcelain Rocket bike bags to company owner Scott Felter, he said the Canol beat them up more than a typical Alaska-to-Argentina trip. It was news to us. Simple and bomber, these bike bags withstood constant abuse without showing a rip or tear and allowed fairly normal operation of our bikes. We all had the Mission Control Handlebar Setup and the Booster Rocket Seatpack. porcelainrocket.com.
Photo by John Shafer
Along the Canol
Adventure Cyclist is North America’s only magazine dedicated to bicycle travel. It is distributed to members of Adventure Cycling Association, whose mission is to inspire people to travel by bicycle.
 
LogisticsLogistics
While we accessed the Canol from the Yukon side, it’s probably easier to stage from Norman Wells. First get to Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories, with various airlines, and then fly to Norman Wells with First Air (firstair.ca). Stay at the B&B-style accommodations at the Canoe North Adventures Outfitting Centre (canoenorthadventures.com). Charter a flight with North-Wright. Airways (north-wrightairways.com) to one of the landing strips in Macmillian Pass, the start of the trail. Before leaving Norman Wells, talk to Canoe North about organizing a boat pick up from the end of the trail, which is on the other side of the Mackenzie River from town.
Freeze dried dinners
To keep weight down and meals quick and simple we brought boil in a bag, freeze dried dinners. They taste great!
 
Various meals from Mountain House (mountainhouse.com) and Natural High (katadyn.com).
Freeze fried dinners
Gear
Bikes: We all rode single speeds, which we agree was the right choice from a durability stand point. All the bushwhacking, rock gardens, and river crossings would have destroyed a derailer several times over. Paul Christensen rode a fat tire bike, which was probably the best choice for the frequent mud, sand, and rock. He was often still riding while the rest of us were pushing. Satellite phone: This far north, even satellite phones don’t work that well, but having some kind of communication device is essential. Help is a long ways off, even with a phone. Plus you’ll need to be able to call for a boat pick-up from the end of the trail. Alpacka Raft: We never would have made it without Alpacka Rafts, six-pound personal white-water rafts that fold down to the size of a tent. We each carried one and they paid their way in easing river crossings. With a four-piece kayak paddle, rivers were an afterthought, not a worry. alpackaraft.com. Bike bags: After we returned a couple borrowed Porcelain Rocket bike bags to company owner Scott Felter, he said the Canol beat them up more than a typical Alaska-to-Argentina trip. It was news to us. Simple and bomber, these bike bags withstood constant abuse without showing a rip or tear and allowed fairly normal operation of our bikes. We all had the Mission Control Handlebar Setup and the Booster Rocket Seatpack. porcelainrocket.com