Exploring the Grand Canyon by Handbike

I was hooked from just the subject line: "The bike trip to miss." After all, it's not every day that you're offered to go on a five-day fully guided bike trip exploring the trails of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Tim McGrough, the program director for Telluride Adaptive Sports Program (TASP) organized this trip with Western Spirit, a Moab-based bicycle tour company, to take seven select off-road handcyclists on their first-ever guided off-road handcycle tour.

Kirk, far right, with other members of the group

The group of riders primarily consisted of those spinal cord injuries, except for one rider who was born with spina bifida. Thanks to the advancements in electric assist, there were four quadriplegics in the group, outnumbering the two paraplegics. That being said, the electric assist by no means makes trail riding easy! It merely makes it possible for someone like me, a C6 quad, to power myself over rough terrain on a 60+ lb. (27+ kg) bike using the function I have. With all the controversy surrounding e-assist and whether or not to allow them on certain trails, I think it's important to consider the adaptive field as an exception to the ruling. We aren't buying e-assist bikes to set new stage records on Strava; we need it to just complete a ride. There's no way I would have had the strength to complete the rides with sheer brute strength, but somehow two riders on our trip did just that. Impressive!

Two riders stopping for a photo with the Grand Canyon in the background

There was a support team of seven Able Bodies (ABs) that joined us on the rides and helped around camp. As an adaptive rider, it's a privilege to have ABs around to help on tricky sections of trail. Since we don't have the ability to just hop off our bikes and walk around a technical area, the ABs are there to spot us, give us a boost if needed and inherently make sure tough terrain that you may not ride on your own is done in a safe, controlled manner.

The two guides who worked for Western Spirit worked their butts off! I have never been on a guided trip like this before but preparing and cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner for more than 15 people is no easy feat! I'm not talking about oatmeal or hot dogs either; they made fresh breakfast sandwiches, smoked salmon, and even campfire-cooked pineapple upside-down cake in a cast iron dutch oven! I was very impressed. Kudos to them for having the energy to do everything around camp as well as helping on rides, setting up tents, offering shuttles, and the extensive behind-the-scenes planning that went into this.

The group's campsite

As for the riding, I must say it was different than I had imagined, but not necessarily in a bad way. I had expected wide open desert double track with canyon views and minimal shade while the reality was much more akin to high alpine mountain terrain. There were many times we were riding through beautiful aspen groves, tall pine trees, and traversing high mountain meadows. I guess this is to be expected at more than 8000 feet (2438 meters) above sea level! One second we'd be threading our wheels through two tight trees and the next we'd come around the corner to the seemingly endless view of the Grand Canyon itself. Breathtaking, to say the least! Though my hand always gravitated towards the brake lever when I approached these vistas for some reason.

A handcyclist cycles through an aspen grove near the Grand Canyon

The riding itself wasn't too terribly technical other than a few off-camber and overgrown areas and the unfortunate fact that having three wheels instead of two meant that we had to plow through many thorn-filled locust plants. We counted over 10 thorns stuck through a tire after one of our rides! Tubeless with lots of sealant is your best friend here.

This tour was a wonderful experience that I feel privileged to have been a part of. Western Spirit now has a much better understanding of what off-road handcycles are capable of and is figuring out what other trips would be ideal for the next adventure. Hopefully guided handcycle tours will continue to grow and more people will be able to experience some of the unique and often scenic trail systems our country has to offer.

About the Author

Kirk Williams

Kirk Williams is a C6-7 quadriplegic adventure photographer who, despite having paralysis from the chest down, refuses to sit still. Even with having limited dexterity, Kirk has created a drone photography business, Birds Eye Optics, that allows him an opportunity to travel, be outside, and do what he loves. Kirk also uses his website to blog, vlog, and explain how he's able to live a fulfilling adventurous life as a quadriplegic. From scuba diving in Mexico or playa dust at Burning Man, to traveling around Alaska in a homemade camper van, Kirk hopes that his skill set and storytelling will persuade others to get out and do more in this beautiful short life we're given.

Kirk's ride is a Quickie 7R.

Most of the stories here on Live Quickie were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.

Date: 8/7/2018 12:00:00 AM

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