Every Risk Blossoming day trip brings new adventures. In Canyonlands National Park, our path crossed with an athlete who personifies “owning your story.” And what a brave and courageous story it is. Please do not skip reading this week’s blog. If you want to skip or skim through Tim’s description of the day’s activities and vistas, do so. But DO NOT skip reading Deborah’s heartfelt perspective. We hope that it will inspire you, as this day and a chance meeting inspired us.
I had never spent any extended time in Moab, UT, so I didn’t know what to expect when we booked a five-day stay. I knew we had Willy, our Jeep, and that Jeeps are extremely popular there.
It was much cooler than I expected for a Memorial Day weekend, and the blowing sand seemed normal. It got inside BAM (our big-a$$ Motorhome) even on the cool days when the windows were closed. When it warmed up and the windows were open, it got everywhere.
A Change in Plans
We eagerly headed for Arches National Park the first morning. Turning into the entrance, we were greeted with two lanes of cars, stretching a quarter of a mile, waiting at the park entrance. Quickly, we changed plans and headed to “The Island In The Sky” sector of Canyonlands National Park. It was a great choice. There were no lines at the entrance, and the viewpoint parking lots were not even half full.
Canyonlands National Park
The grandeur and beauty of the canyons on each side of this island mesa took me by surprise. There is a 1,200-foot drop to a second, interior mesa before another 1,000-foot drop into the inter-chasms of the Colorado River to the east and the Green River to the west. At the Grand View Overlook, you can see the two canyons and their large rivers merge.
Mesa Arch is perhaps the most famous photographic spot along the Canyonlands National Park drive. Other viewpoints often offer vistas that go for a 100 miles. You can see parts of the rivers and hundreds of multicolored layers of sandstone, eroded into jagged canyons in every direction. On the horizon, there are snow-capped peaks rising to higher than 12,000 feet. The sun and constantly moving clouds put on a light show here that stretches further than the ones that can be seen down river at the Grand Canyon.
Going home that afternoon, we decided to put Willy in 4WD and take Shafer Trail and then Potash Road back to Moab. Shafer abruptly drops 1,200 feet through a series of 12% grades and tight hairpin turns. It is mostly one lane, often with overhanging cliffs rising up on one side and sheer drops of 300 feet or more on the other.
The evening drive created our desire for more. We decided to get up in the morning and drive White Rim Road around the lower circumference of the Island in the Sky. That plan was changed when I looked it up on the internet and discovered that the 100-mile, 4WD, high-clearance-vehicle-only road takes three days to navigate. You camp for two nights on the ground and need to pack all food supplies and plenty of water.
White Rim Road Permit, Day 1
I knew that wasn’t going to happen. So instead, I applied for and received the required passes to do day trips on White Rim Road the next two days. The drop into the Green River Canyon is as impressive as Shafer Trail had been. At one point, this single-lane, gravel trail almost looks like a series of figure eights. As you look down, the hairpin turns jut out and then turn in, so tight to the cliff that you can’t see the road until it re-emerges at the next hairpin.
On the Green River side, the road goes right down to the river. The first thing I noticed was the color of the inner chasm. It is a pale green, the color of uranium. The river even takes on the color. I was informed it is harmless, but nevertheless, it is the color of a radio-active warning sign.
White Rim Road Permit, Day 2
The following day on the Colorado River side, the road wanders mostly at the top of the inner canyon, about 1,000 feet above the river. At our furtherest point out this day, we started down Lathrop Canyon, a five-mile, 1,000-foot drop to the Colorado River. After about a half mile, we decided to retreat. We estimated the time needed to complete this canyon would bring darkness into play. I did not want to do the hairpin curves of upper Shafer Trail in the dark.
During these slow drives, Deborah and I often have long conversations, inspired and stimulated by the majestic views we watch go by. At the top of a short but particularly steep hill, and without warning, we met a bicyclist who looked back down the steep grade on his side with a somewhat worried look.
A Chance Meeting
The downslope was blind until Willy’s nose dropped down to give us our first view of a reverse tricycle bike with crank handles at arm level. The power was being supplied by the rider’s arms with the two front wheels pulling. A support crew held the bike steady on the upslope as they signaled us to come down and pass. The natural crushed shale roadway caused Willy to slide when applying the brakes.
At first, we weren’t sure what we had just seen. It seemed like a strenuous effort at a day ride. We had no idea of the magnitude of the story at this point. About an hour later, after turning around and heading back, we encountered the paraplegic biker a second time. This time, we noticed it was a lady, getting her arms massaged while stopped. We also noticed a film crew.
We passed and proceeded before detouring onto a short, extreme 4WD spur leading to the Goosenecks Overlook. It took us over some large boulders to the edge of a 1,000+ foot cliff above the Colorado River. The view of this sweeping canyon stimulated both my creative imagination and my fear of the cliff and its height—just feet in front of me. There were actually tire tracks on the rock where people had pulled their vehicles closer to the edge than I could even stand.
Back on White Rim Road, we once again caught up with the support vehicles as a cameraman was finishing filming the bicyclist circle around a distant curve. The shot silhouetted the bike on the road, etched into the side of a slope with a steep drop to the right. We waited until he was done shooting before asking him if he was part of her crew and who she was. He said he was a cinematographer, not part of her personal crew, and then he told us what he knew.
Danielle Lancelot Watson survived the highest rock-climbing fall on record from 280 feet. The fall left her paralyzed and a paraplegic.
As I jumped out of Willy to meet her, I was already overcome with awe, respect, and complete admiration for this young woman, who had returned to southeast Utah to embark on a 100-mile hand-biking trip around the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands.
“Hi, my name is Deborah Bateman and I’m a blogger. Would you mind if I took your photo and asked you a couple of questions?” I sheepishly asked.
“Not if you make it fast. I have a trek to finish today,” Danielle Lancelot Watson replied.
Never one to stand in anyone’s way of reaching a goal, I quickly took notes, attempted to express how inspired I was by what she was doing, and got out of her way. She was about to complete the final leg of her 100-mile journey around the Canyonland’s White Rim Road. All that was left was the Shafer Trail, a final 1,200-foot ascent to the top of the mesa.
ADAPTED: The Film
Her support team was there to support her and film “ADAPTED: The Film,” which will be a feature-length documentary that follows Danielle and other inspiring paraplegic athletes.
Just being there and witnessing her in this incredible locale, I was overwhelmed with her raw challenges and courage. It was if though I could feel her heartfelt joy and success for the completion of this amazing accomplishment. And yet, I wanted to celebrate the “no regrets, no excuse” life that she had created and was living, and thank and congratulate the under-appreciated community and crew that was there to support and celebrate her.
Nature’s Healing Impact
While I came to Canyonlands to absorb and enjoy the beautiful and exotic vistas that nature has provided, I came to respect and understand, in my chance meeting with Danielle, what nature’s effect on the brain and the soul has for all mankind.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in,
where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.
– John Muir