Bikerafting the Navajo Nation - Storytime with Doom
November 4, 2013
Ahoy!! Let the blogging begin!! Today we'll take you on a Navajo Nation bikeraft adventure. Story & photos by Steve Fassbinder.
The San Juan River
Starting and finishing at the San Juan River takeout, my bike and packraft would assist in completing a three-day loop through some rarely visited areas of the Navajo Nation.
It didn't take long to do the short paddle to the impressive waterfall at my take out. From there, I went up and out a good road toward toward "Grandma's Cabin," following the route Jon and I took last spring on the Wild Ass Tour (read more about that tour in this fall's Mountain Flyer magazine). It wasn't long before the road turned to the sweet old familiar track of hoof prints and ass droppings.
Somewhere along the way I took a new line and stumbled upon this great sheepherder's dugout (pictured). We passed within 100 feet of this place last spring, and totally missed it. Fully dug into the hillside, this would make a great cool respite from summertime heat.
Cycling & Hiking The Dunes
A few miles down the trail, I found another feature we somehow missed on the first round. The boulders that Leonard (the Navajo man that we spoke to at length last spring) had told us about with his family's markings. I kept hoping to run into him, but interacted with no one for three days instead.
From there it's a short ride to Grandma's Cabin. This bottle seemed to have its own little world going on inside, and I was fascinated by it for quite a while.
Ah, on to the dunes, where I could have spent hours just watching the fading light change.
Although this was not at first intended to be a solo tour, I was quite enjoying the fact that it had become one. I love my adventure partners, but there is really no substitute for the quiet, calm, reflective space that can be attained from a solo mission in places like this. On that note, I've done my share of solo tours in remote locations, but I have to say this place in particular had an overwhelmingly quiet, lonely, and peaceful quality to it. Thank you!
Committing to the Loop
From here I backtracked quite a bit, out to the road and then did a long straight boringish hill climb over to my return wash to the east. Taking this wash (which will remain unnamed) would allow me to hit the river up stream from my starting point. From there I could paddle out eight miles of mellow, sandbar laden flat water.
The only problem with committing to this wash as a loop, was: a) there was no guarantee I could get to the river with my gear; b) it was 2 2miles down, and I figured if there was an impassable obstruction it would be at the end; c) if I had to turn around and find a different way back to my car, the alternative was a 125 miles of shitty pavement on a fat bike with a f'd drivetrain (see below); d) my surgery was in 36 hours.
Following the usual MO, I threw caution to the wind, and headed down canyon to tempt fate.
As my drivetrain was increasingly getting f'd, the many plastic kids bikes, long lost to flash floods and washed downstream to an early grave, looked like better alternatives to my fancy boat anchor. Some testing of these steeds was in order. Or maybe not...
My senses returned, and I continued to pedal (my surprisingly still working bike) further down canyon, and closer to my fate.
Mostly great, although muddy riding in the upper and middle sections led inevitably into the much more difficult lower stretch of the canyon. Mud pools and rock gardens became stacked on top of each other, and my fears of getting shut down were starting to knock a little louder.
Pushing into and beyond dusk, I finally came to the mouth of the wash and the edge of the river! Halle-f'n-lujah! I finished my Navajo Nation bikeraft adventure. An easy two-hour paddle session, and I completed the loop!