This trip was done in early 2010. Four Corners Guides does not guide this trip, nor will we ever (sorry!) Nor do we ever rappel with bikes or lower bikes down cliffs in any of the areas where we guide. We do not have permits to do that, and we won’t ever apply for “climbing” permits, as our focus is to get our guests out on bikes and boats. However, we do occasionally share photos and stories from adventurers who do these things. We’re sharing this story as a piece of bikerafting history, specifically for The Bikeraft Guide.
The Bikeraft Guide Podcast, Episode #2, Transcription
Lizzy Scully: Welcome to The Bikeraft Guide Podcast. The ultimate, how to guide history of and wild adventure stories about bikerafting. My name is Lizzy Scully and I’m your host and the co author of the book along with Steve “Doom” Fassbinder. This community multimedia storytelling project includes film, audio, and written stories from expert bike raft adventures from around the world. Welcome to the second edition of the bike raft guide podcast. In this episode, we explore Jon, “the legend” Bailey and Doom’s very first bikerafting adventure to Southern Utah. This was the first of dozens they would embark on over the next decade. Read more about this trip and see photos in the Guide, to be launched spring 2021. Also check out other The Bikeraft Guide how-to info or stories, such as “How to Put Bike Wheels & Other Gear on your Boat,” and our first podcast, “La Perouse Glacier,” with Doom.
The Desert Tour
Steve Fassbinder (01:14):
So, the first desert tour was, I mean, it was a continuation of other riding that I’ve done in the desert. Not so much with you [Jon Bailey] then, but it was something that, you know, was a good precursor to riding more than the desert with you. But it was an idea that I’d gotten from Eric and Dylan and I’d seen them do that Alaska trip a day, done the Lost Coast North part. And I was like, man, there’s this trip I’ve been thinking about doing in Southern Utah. And so I was like, well, these boats are made here [Mancos, Colorado]. Let’s get one, they’d borrowed you a boat. And and I just wanted that to be the first part of the trip, like right away that we did that on day one.
Jon Bailey (01:59):
Right. But it was actually day four because we kind of did the first day Prologue Tour, which was super fun. Yeah. What did they call that? Training for the Apocalypse, the apocalypse they were, yeah, they were, we were just training for a desert tour. Yeah. Yeah. So it was just like a, it was a wanting to go deeper into the desert and use these rivers, which are in the desert. They’re just kind of in the way, because there’s large sections where there’s deep canyons and there’s no bridges. And so you had to go around, like for the Colorado, you have to go way around the North and then over the Green River and then drop down to like, Hanksville, which is super, super far… hundreds of miles. It’s really crazy far. And the other way to go is all the way down to Blanding and through Monticello and all that. And through natural bridges and then crossing Lake Powell and then looping back up again to Hanksville. Right. So like there’s just no, really. And so it was like, it’s like a shortcut to like, get to where you want to go in the desert, but we did that like three different times on that trip.
The Unknown of Bikes & Boats
Jon, can you talk a bit about what you thought of using bikes and boats initially?
Yeah, I mean you know, I think it was, there was an unknown about it and also like, like, okay, we’re going to blow some boats up and put our bikes on them. And we talked before and it’s, I, you know, I, I had some like, you know, small raft experience in Ohio and I, you know, the, the idea wasn’t like, Oh my God. Out of the water or in the water. And yeah, but we really, as per trip, everything kind of came together within 15 minutes before leaving as far as like, there was no blow up of the boat, put the bike on and practice in a Lake. It was a wet run only. There was a wet run only. And that was definitely like an exciting piece of it. But really after doing that first one that was like, wow, the capabilities of these little boats is pretty impressive. And yeah, that..
It’s a really, it’s a really good question. Because like, I, I guess I don’t really remember like how much I was like, okay, we need to get ready for this. I think we just kind of went for it for the most part. I mean, the first time you even maybe saw the boat on the way out, but I mean like the first time you saw it blown up was when we blew them up.
Jon & Steve(04:36):
Yeah, no, we, I picked up the storage, you know, the nylon slip sack, like you know we picked it up thing and I was like, okay, this is my vessel. And that was in route to the desert at Sherry’s old place at her house. Yeah.
So there really wasn’t that much, but there had to be preparation that went into the trip.
The route… it was this part of the map and it was like, we don’t know what it’s going to be like in there, but that goes to there and that goes to there.
It was pretty exciting to like blow the boat up. That was like, we’re just crossing was short. We were in the boat for 20 minutes, maybe at the most.
Jon: And then you’re done an hour on either side. Yeah. Just getting stuff ready and yeah.
Steve: But then like getting on the Dirty Devil and then crossing like all the way down the Escalante, we were on those rivers for two and a half to three days each. So, you know, they were substantial chunks of the trip.
Day 1: The Desert Tour
So I’m curious, can you guys set the stage? I mean, the first day doesn’t sound super exciting. Was the first day, what was the first day like for you guys and what was the setting like?
It was mid may. It was in may.
And we had just done the training for the Apocalypse. Right. But we had this, like, we have this like family of friends and cyclists and adventures, and we started with a three-day trip with them through Beef Basin and the Needles and to Elephant Hill. And some of them have never done anything like that. So we were sharing that with our family. That’s true. And and in the process you know, kind of acclimating to another 11 days or whatever, if not more
Than that, I think it was 11, maybe 12, but
Yeah. After that, of, of continuing on and so the setting was, we just got done with a great trip with our friends and we camped outside of the park and, you know, celebrated and made food and then got up in the morning, redoing all of our gear for this next leg, which was just more specialized and not, you know, we were kind of on like, we were just, you know, we were in, you know, it was a whole different packing list for the most part.
It was a whole different trip. It was all different trips. Of course you’re like stress, like, well, I was, cause I’d kind of packed a lot of extra stuff for both of us. I was like, okay, when am I going to see what I forgot? You know, when’s that going to happen? But it didn’t really happen, but you’re like double checking, triple checking, everything. Cause like key components could kind of spiritual up and it was a big trip. Like I’d been planning it all winter. Like I’ve put a lot of time into like figuring out exactly where the stuff was, had flown into caches and buried them in the desert, like food, water
And Surly had sponsored the trip with, with bikes. So those bikes came to me, and I was really focused on like, okay, what are the scenarios? What are we going to deal with? What might they be? What’s the, what’s the most, the minimal amount of mechanical movement that we can create on these bikes. So we’re not dealing
In that bike is still fills up almost exactly the same.
Yeah. a lot of good recycled parts. But yeah, the, the scenarios that’s, that’s where I, and it was an unknown, right. Cause you’re like, okay, we’re in water. Don’t really do a lot of like submersed water, bike things, you know, you’re not like, Oh yeah, we’re going to possibly be flipping our bikes and downriver and doing all these different pieces parts. So it was just going through that and being like, okay, it’s desert, we’re going to be dried out. We’re going to need X amount of things to do that. So that was, and that was a good shakedown too, because even with that preliminary trip the whole time, you know, your mind is kind of going on like what we’re about to move into, that next crux. And yeah.
So the first day was quite eventful.
It was, we were using the boats the first day.
Yeah. And we had, like, one of the hardest day was, was the first day just like carrying our stuff down that trail. And we ran into Michael Kelsey, the guidebook author, who I didn’t recognize until after the fact. And I was like, that was, excuse my French, f’n Michael Kelsey. Of course it was. This super desert rag guy who was just super salty. And…
And we see him of course… We were overlanding and we were carrying her bikes. It was strictly really utilitarian. We got to get to point B.
He said to me, what the hell are you carrying that for? I’d ride it. The the trail gets way worse from here. Cause I’ve carried her bike on a perfectly rideable trail. And it’s not easy and it looks horrible and he takes a look at me like, what are you crazy? Why are you riding your bike here? You’re about to get into you’re about to actually really have to carry it. And he kind of laughed it off. And, and then I was like, Whoa, what a trippy guy that was, and then Bailey catches up to me. And I was like, how about that dude? He’s like, that was a salty dog right there.
He was, he had like a little teeny rucksack on, which was torn to shreds. Who has torn to shreds stuff?
Steve: We have perfect stuff.
Jon: Yeah. It was funny because there’s always this element of pushing the limits.
So how did you guys feel at the end of the day? I’m just curious, like when you
It was like double rainbow expressway.
Surprise Canyon was the name of it. And we had just kind of found it, it wasn’t on our necessary our path. It was just at the top of the climb on the other side of the Colorado river. We just found this Canyon kind of off, off, off the trail a little bit, that was literally a drainage into the Colorado River, but like a cliff drainage.
Jon: And it was just spectacular, and I’ve been in, it was like double rainbow and just flowers. And it was, you know, and you can look across this huge meander in Colorado River to where we had just toured for four days with our friends
Steve: The view was amazing.
Putting Bikes on Boats = Awkward
Yeah. And you had the whole river that was below you that we had just crossed with the packrafts, which were a key component to doing day one, like right away. We use them right away. It was all going fine. We’ll fix the bikes on the boats and it was a little awkward and weird, but it’s totally, totally fine. And it’s like really led to a lot more of those types of trips.
Well, and also it was a, it was a like kind of like, okay, yeah, we, we did the first leg using the boats and there’s more down stream literally. But yeah, it was kind of like a, not a, yeah, I guess, a relief, a satisfied, like, okay, yeah. I know how that blows up. I know I put my bike on it. Ish. I’m going to do it this way next time. Or, you know, there was so much just developing as the trip progressed because we had no major practice.
Yes. Yeah. I think I’d probably laid my bike on my boat and strap it down once. I was like, well, I think this is how I’ll do it.
Yeah, I do. I remember you telling me like, yeah. I don’t even know if you went to a Lake or something.
I don’t think so. I think I just did it like in, at the “leservation,” right? Yeah. Yeah.
Rest Days? Not
So I guess one of you could, one of you describe like the next few days after that and where he went and like how things progressed. I mean, like Steve had mentioned something earlier when I was talking to him about how there were no rest days and maybe he thought they were going to be rested and you guys were joking about that. Like, what was, what were the next few days?
There weren’t any rest days, but I think that’s when we started joking about it.
Yeah. That’s when the term came up because it was a rest day. It was for a 16 hour. Yeah.
It was full on like the Dirty Devil river didn’t have any water in it. And so we got to the put in beyond the story of the naked lady Sunday, a thing that we scared, we were like, we’re in the middle of nowhere right now. And and sure enough, this lady jumps off. He’s like, Oh, he’s thinking it won’t be down here. And we ended up talking a long time and then her boyfriend came by and that was pretty funny…
Jon: Spark, sparks…
Steve: Yeah, I think so. Yeah. And then we blow up these boats and they’re just like, what are you doing? Like, we’re going to go down river. And they’re like, what in the f**k is going on with this people right now? Like, what are you doing? Like,
Well, and we also dropped into a spot with bikes and all this stuff when they’re like,
Where did you come from? Like a super random spot. And we just blow up these boats and start pushing downstream. But it’s like the river’s really braided. And we’re immediately dragging our boats, which is hard in the sand and like trying to walk in the river bed, which you have to drag your boat. Like you have no traction and you’re sinking into the Sandy river bottom. It’s not like a Rocky bottom where you can get traction. You’re just sinking in. So like the first day on the river was frigging hard.
Cause you know, you were expected to be like, okay, we’re going to paddle, it’s going to be chill And it wasn’t, and it wasn’t bad and it wasn’t really, there wasn’t really a better way to move through it because we had these bikes, we had, you know, a good amount of supplies and carrying them through that river just on our backs or would have just been carrying all that on our back. So that’s what we have. It was like we were walking our dogs, you know, we had leashes…
And they were like doing this a lot. Pulling… Yeah.
Just stop and lay down. And anyhow.
Steve: Yeah, like llamas.
Canyon Country: The Dirty Devil
Jon: But it, it allowed us to really absorb the Canyon cause we were walking through it. And you were just like, you really started to under you, you got to one get above the, the, the river. Cause like, you know, I, you may have had a little more experience, but like reading water was not really something that I had a ton of time with as far as how it’s the, the channels. And especially in the desert, when you have silty water, it’s like, you really have to pay attention to just the little ripples and stuff and being able to walk through it and be that much higher. You could see it more, even if it wasn’t like, you know, raftable, you could see what it was doing and how the currents were changing. And so it gave a good overview but took longer yeah. But took longer.
And were you actually able to, to raft?
Steve: At times it was on and off all day. And then the next day we had a lot of headwind upriver. The next day was a full day on the river, like pushing and pulling and padding a little. And it was a hard day and
Each day progress though. We’d paddle more and more each day on the dirty devil, more water, more tributaries would come in and we’d narrow
Third day on it. We were like, it was fun. Yeah. We mostly boated and didn’t get our boats too much.
Yeah. So really a great kind of taper into it because you were, you wanted it, but like getting wanted to be paddled
Steve: But getting into camp every night at like right at dark. Yeah. And just being loud, happy to sit down happy to make dinner and yeah.
And the Dirty Devil beach camps, are just like, you know, micro Grand Canyon beach camps, you know, just beautiful white sand and like yeah. And we had a couple really great camps. Yeah. Love camps.
So how about the cache day when you hear the story?
Jon: The first caches, there were two caches on the trip.
Steve: Well actually there were three caches on the trip we left one. And my mom buried one for us out there by Escalante. Remember. So this was the first one, it was like day three or whatever. And it was like like a three gallon thing of water food. And I had a 12 pack of beer, but I also had left a bucket for Alpacka [Raft] because Alpacka was going to be doing a shop trip down there. And they were supposed to go after, but because of the water flows were receding quickly, they went before us. And I didn’t know this. And so they’d gotten to the cash first and they were having a really long day too.
And so Sheri [Tingey] just sent up one of her at the time employees, and he didn’t know anything about the cache. She just said go up there. And it was way off the river, the cache, like, it wasn’t just like right next to the river. Like once you went up there, it took you a while and you were back like an hour later kind of thing. And so they went up there and came back with the bucket, but also our beer and Sheri didn’t have a heart to tell him to go back up there and bury it because it was like a process to go way back up there and do it. And they were trying to beat the darkness and get back on the river and get to a different campsite place on the river. And so they just took off with our beer. And so we get there like a few days later, you know, and maybe I don’t even know how long it was and we’re digging up our stuff and I find
It, we kind of figured it out. Cause we saw their tracks.
We saw footprints. They must’ve been your first and they’re going right to where we’re going. So it helped us find it, which wasn’t that hard. Yeah. Dug it up. I’m like, Oh, that’s a 12 pack of beers in here. Like, you know, that’d be a really like sweet thing to have tonight. Cause been a hard day and it wasn’t there. And I just thought it was pretty funny. I was like stole our beer, but I always tease Sheri about it to this day. Yeah.
I, I felt like I was like, well, they did give me the boat and then they continue to do that the next year.
Yeah, totally. So yeah. It seemed like it worked out.
Up the Henry Mountains
Lizzy: So then you had a few days of biking in between before the Escalante River?
There’s two Springs and I rode the old cowboy trail up into the Henry’s super cool. Yeah. And it was so nice to be back on the bikes again, love the bikes. Yeah, yeah,
Yeah. Back on the bikes and I mean, that’s, what’s the, you know, the Southwest in general, having these mountain ranges in between these desert expanses and canyons country. The diversity and terrain is unreal and really inspiring, and also really magnificent and grand. Cause you’re like, okay, we’re down here. We’re looking up at those snow caps and we’re going in between those two and up and over that. And you’re in full-on Canyon country
And it’s 90 degrees out. It’s 90 degrees out. And at the end of the day, you’re like on the other side of those mountains, we walked through some snow. It was like a completely different environment. We saw buffalo that night.
And like, and just climbing up. We like, literally like we’re like up the Henry’s. It was like, and it was an old cowboy trail and it was, you know, like horse, you know, just go right up it. And it was awesome. Rideable. And you’re just, you’re just moving, moving, moving, and then the elevation game. And then you look back and you, you know, canyon country when you’re in it, you don’t really get the, you know, the topography is either above you, as far as the depth change, you don’t quite see all the veins of waterways. But then when you get up above it, and all of a sudden, it just turns into this planet of,
And you could really retrace like the whole Canyon connecting system that we had gone through. Yeah.
And you could see it all, which is always, you know, just inspiring visual to see the terrain that you move through because it’s so different when you’re right in it. And then when you see the expanse of it, it’s really impressive.
The Escalante River
So then how many days did you bike to get over to Escalante?
It’s like three days or two and a half days? Probably two and a half days. I think we biked to get there.
And how many miles?
Steve: About 50 miles a day. That sound right?
Jon: All day.
Steve: All day. Yeah.
And how are you feeling at this point? Like your bodies.
Steve & Jon (21:50):
Jon: Yeah. I mean, we’re, what are we ended now? We’re, we’ve been touring for six days. Seven days. Yeah. Your, your past, any kind of move through it or figure out systems. Systems. Yeah. Yeah. All systems. The desert has a way of, you know, for me personally, you feel good when you’re in it. Yeah. Just, I’m not allowed to say it if Tom was here, but it nurtures, you know, it nurtures that it just, yeah. It’s like you feel alive, you feel like you. Yeah.
Well, you just get in tune with like the day and just everything. And, you know, you like get used to like hearing the birds at certain times of the day you get used to like this, the wind and the way that it flows and moves at certain times a day. Cause it’s, there’s a rhythm. And we had mostly pretty good weather so far on that trip. But then after we got, you know, down onto the Escalante and, and a little farther along on the trip, we had some like pretty severe wind and cold.
So it snowed at a 50 mile bench. Yeah, totally. Yeah.
It was like may of like 26 or something
That was after they Escalante?
Jon & Steve (23:16):
It was part cool. It was more, more boating. It was more believable. Yeah. Yeah. I wouldn’t say it was more water. It was just more of a one channel where you could, it was a deeper, you know, so you could actually paddle, it was really fun and engaging
And all bit clear water, clear water.
Yeah. So I was actually like the best boating that we do on a trip was those days down on the Escalante. And then and, but we still like, didn’t have time for long side hikes or anything. Like we did that one short hike until that kind of cave, What that Canyon was called, but it was really pretty. Yeah. Like we had some chocolate up there.
Jon: Yeah. We did love chocolate
Crack in the Rock
So then tell me about that really gnarly day, the exit of Escalante. Cause it sounds like that was one of the harder days of the trip.
Well, this is the worst. It was just the worst it’s dramatic
Steve: Is dramatic. Yeah. The wind was serious,
But it wasn’t you, so it was, it was dramatic before that, because it was the, I want to say hole in the rock, but what is the name of the crack in the rock and the rock? It was this pretty much going straight, you know, 1500 feet elevation gain from the Canyon up to the rim, close, close to a mile and a half or something like that. Yeah. at least 1200. Yeah. Yeah.
So, and it was, and it was up sand dunes. So you’re just like one step forward, three steps back kind of thing.
But man, it was so beautiful. There was all the all these flowers coming up and it was in the sand dunes. So there’s this, like, it was just, it was very picturesque. It was really calm. Yeah. It was down in the Canyon as we were climbing through this. And then we, then, then it was like a series of literally cracks to like push up through to get to the rim. So we had we had maybe, I don’t know, a total of 25, 30 feet of, of small rope to be able to pull the bikes up mainly because it was like you’re stemming through cracks to get up. And then we’d had to like push bikes and pull them up. And it was an ordeal. It wasn’t just go through it. And we had to do two loads because it was so steep to get up that it wasn’t like everything carry your backpacks and all your panniers and stuff and then your bike. So I think we did two loads and it was like, it was a distance, you know?
Yeah. Going back down was fun because you could just run down and we had nothing on us. Yeah. Sandals and empty packs and just like cruise them. Yeah. And then we got to trail head up there with our second load and the wind has gotten way worse.
Yeah. Like it was come out of the crack. It was like,
Like hat flying off kind of thing. And then you’re just leaning into it and walking across the final sand dunes to get up to the parking lot, which that second one was more of a slog to get back to the parking lot. Maybe our loads were heavier the second time. I don’t know. But it was, for me it was the bike load and yeah, it was like, it was heavy. And then we got to the parking lot. We build our stuff up and then we’re like gonna go ride. And the road is just drifted over with all the fine sand. And like, we didn’t ride that for a ways, like just pushing our bikes.
It was, it was windy and really sandy.
It was like wind in your face and sand, but you just get sandblasted. We’re like, all right. And there’s no shelter out there. It’s just like, it’s just a sand dune. And like, all right, let’s ride, ride, ride. We got on the road. But at the main road, we’re actually able to ride that, but it was so windy. We weren’t going very fast and we found this lone tree and we’re like, all right, blown tree, like, and it’s dark. Like we’re camping here. And I was made camp there …
And dug some shelters out of Cal patties and then
We didn’t have a tent or anything. So we were like, just kind of got up under the tree as much as we could to sleep. And it exploded on us all night, but like not crazy wet or anything. But it was like sleety and frozen in the morning and really cold. Like we woke up, it was, I don’t know what 25 degrees out
There was snow on the ground all around us. Yeah.
Yeah. This is the very end of may. Yeah.
Yeah. And you didn’t bring a tent because it was…
Steve: Too much shit to carry.
Ground cloth. Yeah. Maybe I have like a garbage bag for the bottom half of my sleeping bag.
What Was It Like Pairing Bikes & Boats?
Yeah. So I think you guys have maybe touched on this already, but the the combination of bikes and boats and how they worked and what you learned. I mean, obviously you became faster at switching between the two because you had to do it a lot, but like, how did this change your guys’s perspective on adventure travel like this, this trip and all these transitions you had to do?
Well, I just knew that I wanted to do more bike and boat trips because first of all, it worked out. Second of all, it was fun. In third, I knew I could travel to places that I hadn’t seen before, or couldn’t see before. And I was super into the idea of all three of those things. We really, it was like the, it was all the ingredients were now there and I was ready to make up, you know, adventure, soup…
Adventure soup. Yeah. And it was, it was it was the, the, the shift in the rhythm was really a unique experience that had happened, you know, and a lot of our stuff had been like grueling days back to back, but you’re on the bike. You’re on the bike every day, every day, every day, we’re here, you do that for a couple of days. And then you’d shift to being on the boat and you’d be therefore dictated by the river, the river rhythm. And it allowed for a, just a different reflection on the environment really, because you’re not reading it and running on a bike, you’re reading the river and floating down. And that was just rewarding to have that shift in rhythm. And I really enjoyed that part of it. That was like, that was like, really like, Oh, this is, this is this, this is more sustainable.
But then three days on the river and you’re like, hands are cracking. You’re ready to ride. You’re like, Oh my God, I can’t wait to ride my bike. Yeah.
Yeah. It worked, it worked in both directions. Yeah. And yeah, that was, that was, that was that was what I really took away from it. I was like, wow, that was a nice shift during human traveling and still staying human-power travel.
The Last Day
Lizzy & Steve (29:47):
So what was the last day?
Steve: The last day we got to do a really big ride and it was pretty fun. Like that was long, long rides. Maybe we rode like 90 miles that day, I think is pretty, pretty long ride. But like the last 15 of it was like pavment into Page. And that was just like, you knew you’ve completed the trip. You know, you just got to like ride and we had some cruiser cruiser or miles, which isn’t fun. And just,
Yeah, it’s a bittersweet thing. It’s like a sad, a satisfied accomplishment of like, we got to where we wanted to get to, but also like we’re going out of where we’ve just been, that’s become so familiar. And, and now we’re, we’re, we’re on the backside of that. So yeah… bittersweet.
Yeah. But you got to ride your bike more. So we got to Page and I sent like a bunch of our stuff back to Durango boats, stuff we didn’t need, and Jon rode his bike back. Then I flew out a page to Portland. I mean, that’s it in a pretty good nutshell, I would say. Yeah.
And that’s it for our show today, stay tuned. We’ll be sharing more stories, interviews coming soon.