White Rim is Better with Friends (and no Camera)
After being rejected due to high winds and sleet, four friends returned to the White Rim Trail in Utah last month to take another shot at the iconic route. Find a post-ride reflection from Rodeo Labs founder Stephen Fitzgerald, notes on the ideal bike for the route, and a trip video with insights into shooting it using only an iPhone here…
Words and photos by Stephen Fitzgerald
In recent years, White Rim has become a place that I retreat to solo when in need of an absolute escape and erasure of everything that is modern life. There are more remote places in the world, to be sure, but White Rim is just barely accessible in a single day’s travel from my home in Denver and therefore becomes the default location to fall back to. As to that escape function, the Rim simply never disappoints, so much so that it may actually be turning into a rut of sorts for me. Sometimes I tell myself I should be looking for fresh and unridden locales, and I actually believe that to be true. But in other ways, White Rim is now an old friend who wants and needs to be revisited lest we drift apart.
On this trip, however, none of that applied. On this outing to the desert, the objective was quite different: I wanted to ride it with my friends. We had, as a group, first attempted to ride here in 2021 and were summarily rejected by high winds, rain, and sleet as we drove down the dirt track to the chosen starting point at Mineral Bottom. I’m pretty sure if we had actually attempted to ride that day, we would have become a search and rescue story on the evening news, so dire were the conditions. The desert is not always dry. The desert is not always welcoming. We turned tails and returned to Denver from whence we came.
In the two years since that attempt, our group has drifted a bit, and some have moved to far-away places, but others of us still tend to that shared desire to keep having big days out together. So, as fall approached, summer heat receded, and desert conditions became welcoming once again, we somehow managed to agree on a couple of days to take off to Moab for a White Rim redo. In a way, I’m sorry to report that this trip to White Rim did not have any inherent Jon Krakauer weight to it. We weren’t there to be deep, we weren’t there to ponder, we were just there to ride together and to be friends. That was enough. That’s always enough.
I know enough to know that no matter how beautiful a route is or how sublime the experience of a ride was, bike people love talking about gear more than most anything else. This may be because we mostly surf bike websites while at work, and discussions of gear are the perfect distraction from our more mundane nine-to-five jobs. The elephant in the room in the video and photos of our ride is that we’re all on gravel bikes on what is near-universally agreed on to be a MTB route.
I can already tell from comments elsewhere that the clickbait topic to discuss would be the merits of a rigid drop-bar bike on this route. Is anyone else as tired of that narrative as I am? I’ve had the conversation hundreds of times with hundreds of people. I’m happy to say it: If you go to White Rim, take your MTB. You’ll be comfortable and happy pretty much all day long. Or, if you’re like me and my friends, don’t take the MTB, take whatever bike you have that you like, because who cares? We all approach this route, this sport, and these challenges in our own ways for our own reasons.
Here’s some slightly less typical gear that I’m more interested in talking about: What camera to bring on rides like this. Having recorded a nearly embarrassing number of portrait mode video bike ride monologues in recent years, I remember asking myself what the goal of this trip would be from a photo-video documentation point of view. One part of me said, “Go ahead and leave all the cameras at home and just ride.” That didn’t resonate, because for me, making photos and videos is recreation. Another part of me said, “Bring the Fuji mirrorless, but with a 50mm 1.8 prime lens and only shoot in black and white.” I could make this ride an art project and capture the less-seen sides of White Rim.
Finally, it hit me: What a radical idea it would be to simply turn my iPhone sideways and try to make a little video project the old-fashioned way, which is to say, in landscape mode. Yes, 16:9 aspect ratio. That felt radical, and that felt right. I wanted to make a video of our White Rim redo for myself and my friends that I was riding with, for watching maybe even on a TV together some day soon, after grilling out on a patio and drinking a few beers.
Can I just say here and now: you can argue about the best bike for the route until you are blue in the face, but cell phone cameras are bonkers these days. As much as I love to hate smartphones for being the origin point for so much disposable imagery in our modern culture, I really have it wrong. What I learned on this ride was these incredibly packaged and engineered wonder-devices allow me to do something that is so hard to do: To ride the bike ride, to experience the bike ride, and lastly to also document the bike ride.
All day long, I simply had to reach into my shorts pocket, flick the camera on with a swipe, select the focal length with a pinch, and hit record. Sure, you have to think about composing shots and trying to cover the experience with some shot diversity, but the tiny Miracle Device did so much of the work, and in retrospect, it did it so well. I’m so content with the output and this highlight reel from the day not because it’s technically perfect (please, let’s not discuss how bad the audio is!), or because shot on par with Lawrence Of Arabia (just look at the HDR flickering!). I’m content because somehow it bottled up the terrific time that I had with my friends out in the desert that day.
Our do-over ride at White Rim may have been one of the most perfectly fun bike rides and time spent with friends in recent years, and it wasn’t the large Fuji dangling from my back that gave me my favorite keepsake of the day, it was the lowly device that lives in my pocket every other mundane day of my life. Run what ya brung, in life, in bikes, and in cameras.
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