Feb 08, 2024

150 miles on the Kokopelli Trail: heat, rain, mud, snow, 60mph winds, broken bikes and smiles.

Has this ever happened to you?

It goes something like this. So you’re having a few beers with a few buddies, maybe you’re reliving the moments of a great day skiing, biking… whatever. The point is, that one of them comes up with an idea for a little adventure that sounds really great at the moment. By the next beer, you’ve committed to something solely based on the fear of missing out. A few days later, the reality sets in about you what you just signed up for.

It happened to me when my buddy Chris decided we should all mountain bike the Kokopelli Trail. He’s the guy peeking over my right shoulder in the picture above. By the way, the other guy in the picture with the red jacket is my buddy Madison, he took all the amazing pics posted with this story.

Anyway, the Kokopelli trail travels a scenic and meandering route through the desert from Loma, Colorado to Moab, Utah. It's about 150 miles and includes roughly 14,000 of vertical elevation gain on terrain varying from technical, white knuckle single track, pavement, and old jeep roads. The trip included 4 days of riding and three nights camping out in the dessert.

I started thinking about this a little… that’s an average of 37 miles and roughly 3,000 vertical climbing 
a day. Followed by sleeping on the ground in a tent, getting up the next day and doing it again. Then again and again. At that time, the longest single day ride I had done was 26 miles and that was last season. So far, I had barely been in the saddle and Kokopelli was only two weeks away. Needless to say I started second guessing my decision about this whole idea. I tried thinking of an excuse that would give me a pass to get out of this without facing ridicule by my friends. I couldn’t come up with a believable excuse. It was too late, I was in and there was no wimping out at this point. I spent the next two weeks wondering how the hell I was going to finish this thing.

Day one: Loma Colorado.

Thirty two riders started the trip, full of anticipation and excitement. My friends and I were part of a larger guided trip that included riders from around the country. Many were primarily road riders from the midwest that had been training for months. The good news was that we didn’t have to pack any food or carry any camping gear. We had a crew of that consisted of two cooks, four guides, a pick-up truck (that served as emergency transport) and a van that carried our food, gear and plenty of propane. All we had to do was make it to each campsite at the end of the day’s ride. Simple enough right? However, given my “off the couch” approach to training I couldn’t help but think again about how I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

The morning was ideal, a typical Colorado blue bird day. About 10 miles in, I was holding up better than I expected. After about 17 miles or so we made it to the first check point to eat lunch and take a little break. Already, we noticed that the initial group had dwindled. It got extremely hot by midday, and a few riders decided that desert riding was not for them. The rest of the day proved to be tiring but the scenery and the energy of the group made for a great ride. We ended the day arriving at camp one that was atop a mesa over looking a desert sunset.

After setting up camp, eating, and taking a quick shower from a hanging water jug, the day was winding down and I was feeling pretty damn good. After all, I had my Keola balm to ease the aches right? What more did I need? I slipped into my sleeping bag, with the tent screen open to the stars, the night was cool with a slight breeze. I actually got a little sleep. Maybe this ride wasn’t going to be near as bad as I had thought. One day down, three to go…

Day two: Kokopelli mud and the Buzzard’s belly…

After burritos, coffee and a trip to the bushes, it was time to break down camp, pack up and get on with the day’s ride. Today we would be riding primarily old, sandy, two-track jeep roads through mostly exposed country with no cover. Not a bad ride if the weather holds out. It didn’t. First, the storm clouds started rolling in. Dark, foreboding and full of rain we could see them moving toward us. What started as a light cool rain quickly turned into a downpour. Sheets of rain that kept on dumping on us. It was relentless and quite unusual for the Utah desert.

The real problems began when we discovered that the mud was made of primarily red clay that acted like cement. As it caked up on our bikes, the mud-clay combination made it impossible to pedal as there was now way to keep the shit out of our drive trains, tires, bike frames, and shoes. There was so much mud that it made a bike that typically weighed around 28 pounds, now tipped the scales at about 50 pounds. We couldn’t push the bikes because there was so much damn mud that the bike’s wheels would not turn.

Freezing cold, wet, and covered in red clay from head to toe we proceeded to carry our bikes over our shoulders and hike. Slipping and sliding, we hiked for miles with little progress. Not knowing exactly where we were and way off schedule we spotted our support truck coming toward us. The guys had spotted a little outpost in the middle of nowhere, it was open so we made tracks for the “Buzzards Belly” general store.

The trip would have been over for sure, if not for the kind elderly woman who ran the place. She literally saved our trip. She invited us all in from the rain and cold. There we changed into dry clothes, drank coffee, ate some grub and were able to wash the clay off our bikes.

The weather was starting to clear and we started for the final leg of the day’s ride to camp two. It was located about 14 miles away on higher ground surrounded by towering red rocks. We finally made it to camp exhausted and just glad to be off our bikes. At this point we thought the day’s battle with mother nature was over. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Mother nature was not through with us yet. Around dusk the winds started to pick back up. They increased to gusts up to 60 mph and they didn’t let up. The whole night sounded like a freight train was running through camp. The wind blew so hard that we were fishing our tents from trees. Once the tents were out of trees and back on the ground, the wind plastered the tent walls to our faces. I had two inches of sand that found its way to the inside of my tent by morning. Needless to say, I got no sleep — which by the way was the worst night to not sleep because day three was going to be the most physically demanding section of trip. We had to ride forty miles with over 6,000 ft of climbing before we reached camp three in the La Sal Mountain range above Moab.

Day three: La Sal Mountain Range

As you might imagine after day two, day three did not look promising. A few more riders in the group tapped out that morning and called it quits. Right out of camp we started climbing. I put my head down, turned my earbuds up and just peddled. As I kept grinding away, running on zero sleep, and around 75 miles or so into the ride, I felt a sense of peace and calm wash over me. I stopped thinking about the weather, being tired, the grueling climbs ahead of us, or anything else. I simply leaned into a rhythm and just keep peddling. A funny thing happened. Each day the ride went on, I had assumed I’d get more fatigued. However, it actually felt as though I was getting stronger (maybe my body was just numb). I knew if I got through this day, completing the rest of the ride was within reach. The weather cooperated with us and the scenery was gorgeous.

The last six miles was all climbing, but I arrived in camp to the cheers of some of my buddies who rode faster than me and had already settled in.

Tonight was the big feast and we were all eagerly anticipating a great meal. While reminiscing with my friends about the day over some hard earned brews, I happened to look over my shoulder at the van, where the “kitchen” was located. I saw one of the cooks carefully taking the steaks off the grill and placing them on a huge serving platter, they looked fantastic. Then I saw the full plate of steaks start to tip. All over the grimy floor of the van they spilled. Every one of them. I made eye contact with the clumsy cook, smiled and looked away. I never told my friends what I had witnessed. The steaks were the best ones I think I ever had.

After hangin out at the bonfire, I nestled inside my tent under large ponderosa pines, this time sheltered by the wind. The starry night sky was bright and filled with crisp, cool air. My tent was dry and free of sand. Tomorrow was the home stretch and the most fun part of the ride. I was grateful to be on an adventure with some of my dearest friends. In contrast to the night before, I slept like baby.

Day four: The Porcupine Rim

After pancakes, scrambled eggs, and fruit (I don’t know if any was dropped on the floor of the van beforehand), it was time for the last leg of the ride which was supposed to the most fun for sure.

We started the morning riding fast single track mixed with some pretty chunky sections to making sure we were good and alert. To get to the Porcupine Rim section of Moab we had to put in some up hill road work. It was a long climb, however the road was winding black top that provided a nice mental break from all the fast technical chunky sections we were about to encounter at the rim.

The world famous Porcupine Rim ride is a must-do on any mountain bike bucket list and is a classic Moab ride. The route takes you to the edge (literally) of Castle Valley and then down a thrilling (and bone jarring) descent to the edge of Jackass Canyon where you’re treated to sweet single track around and down to the Colorado River.

I’ve ridden this trail previously, it’s rare that an entire group that starts the trail ends with all their bike parts. It’s filled with primo downhill technical stuff, dropping off a gazillion small rocky ledges, with the last 3 miles a hairy single-track on the edge of deadly cliffs. From the Rim, we drop 2,700 vertical feet to the Colorado River over 11 unforgettable miles, eventually ending in the town of Moab.

The end of the trail

With 150 mile behind us, we rolled into Moab after 4 days of wrestling mother nature. I was glad the ride was over. However, even though I was glad to be finished, I was more grateful to my friend Chris for suggesting this little adventure in the first place. Time has a funny way of smoothing over the rough spots and we’re left with great memories of being with friends making new ones. I find that being pushed out of our comfort zones is good for the soul and is a tremendous confidence builder . The high from the trip stayed with me for days and I couldn’t wait to get back on my bike. I gained a new perspective on my local trails. Suddenly they seemed a lot less challenging after this ride.

So would I ride the Kokopelli trail again? Probably not. Will I sign up the next adventure proposed up by one of my adventure buddies, and not think twice about it? Definitely.