Monday, April 9, 2018

Kokopelli Trail Fruita, Colorado - Moab, Utah

I’m going to start off by saying, “I severely underestimated how hard the Kokopelli Trail is. It is a legitimate test of will, stamina, and equipment for the Tour Divide Race”.

The Kokopelli Trail has been on my bucket list for quite some time. However, I never really researched it and assumed, other than Mary’s Loop, Lions Head, and the Troy Built trails, out of Fruita, the rest is all dirt roads. Boy was I wrong. There is some hard-technical riding throughout the route.

One of the best things that happened on this ride was hooking up with my friend Travis Ekenberg. When it comes to hard, epic rides, you couldn’t ask for a better riding partner. Travis was always positive no matter what went wrong, never even considered throwing in the towel regardless of how hard it got, and was just fun to experience this ride of a life time with.

Heading out with Travis on an Epic Ride

Without Travis, I may not have been able to complete this ride on my own. Travis researched the ride quite a bit and decided to cache water at three points along the route. I thought I could do it with two camelbacks and three water bottles, then find water to filter along the way – WRONG! Travis also downloaded an app that helped immensely with navigation which resulted in huge time saving. I planned on using maps.

Finally on the Trail

20 Miles of Technical Riding

Travis Enjoying the Trail

Trying to Keep Up with Travis

We started from Fruita at around 3:30 pm Thursday afternoon, with the goal of reaching Rabbit Valley before night fall, where Travis had cached water. Thirty miles – piece of cake. Except that thirty miles included 20 miles of some very tough technical mountain biking that was made all the more difficult with fully loaded bikes. 5 ½ hours later we finally arrived and it was dark. This made finding a campsite a bit difficult as we rode in circles looking for a designated legal campsite. Eventually we found one and it was approximately 11:00 PM before we finished setting up camp, cooking, and eating dinner. I can’t say enough good things about the freeze-dried backpacking meals. High in calories, nutritious and tasty.

Morning at First Campsite

Friday was a big day. We started out on fast fire roads that had us thinking we would be pulling into Moab later that evening. We weren’t even close. The rest of the day pretty much threw everything mountain biking can throw at you, except water crossings. Technical single track, deep sand, long rocky climbs, long rocky descents, and hike-a-bikes, which made for a long hard day. This was back country paradise; the scenery was amazing and we were loving every minute of it. We barely saw another soul until later in the afternoon when we approached the Dewey Bridge campground.

Travis Motoring Along

After being in the desert this seemed like a jungle

We realized after several hours that we were not going to make Moab the same day. We could see the LaSalle mountains in the far distance and knew we had to cross them before diving down to Moab. 

Knowing we still had the LaSalles  to cross - we weren't going to finish today

By the time we got to Dewey Bridge campground, about the halfway point, it was late afternoon and we were out of water. This is where what we call trail angels come to play. One of the campers at the campground came over to talk with us and of course asked if we needed anything. Next thing we knew, our camelbacks and water bottles were filled.

The Old Dewey Bridge - Now what?

We decided to push on from there. We faced an enormous, steep, rocky, long climb. By this point I was feeling it. Travis is much faster than me, even on his fat bike, and I had been pushing hard, and failing miserably, trying to keep up. This climb was the low point for me. Up until now, I was reveling in gratitude that at my age I can do rides like this. Now my thoughts turned negative and my-self conversation was more like “who do you think you are doing things like this? You’re too old for this stuff. What are you trying to prove anyway?” This climb was brutal and my back was starting to spasm from my heavy backpack. I tried to get myself out of the negativity. I thought of the low points in 100 mile runs, I’ve always manage to come out of them and this would be no different. I thought singing would help so I started singing quietly in a very strained voice “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, in the desert you can’t remember your name cause my legs are so F*****g tired I can’t turn the pedals any more”. Well that didn’t help, so the only choice was to keep going.

Travis Heading up the LONG, Steep, and Rocky Climb

This was my low point, climbing this at the end of a long day with a fully loaded bike

And it never seemed to end

I reached the top just before dusk, Travis wasn’t there but I could see his tracks going down the other side. The descent was every bit as rocky and technical as the climb. It didn’t take long before it was dark and I got to REALLY test my new Exposure high beam headlight. It works well. Finally, I came upon Travis, hiking up the hill looking for me. We both agreed that continuing to descend this trail in the dark was crazy and we would camp at the first flat spot we find.

The Next Morning Camp #2
View from Camp

Camp number two turned out to be an awesome location with incredible views the next morning. It rained a bit, which was an opportunity to test my bevy. It passed. After packing up and a quick breakfast of energy bars we continued our descent. We made the right decision, as it was probably at least another 30 minutes or more of steep rocky descending that would have been incredibly dangerous at night. Plus, we would have missed the incredible scenery!

Continuing our descent from the night before
This descent took us down to Fisher Valley from which we began our first climb into the LaSalle mountains. This was a very long climb that brought us into the snow line. It was not technical or super steep, just long. We ran out of water at some point. We searched the map and found a creek a quarter mile off the trail and down a hill. We rode down only to find it dry as a bone, with a small puddle here and there. Even though we were both out of water and dehydrated, we somehow knew that something would come our way. Stay positive, never give up. Earlier in the climb a group a ATVers passed by cheering us on with encouragement like “You’ve got this”, and “Way to go”. They were some of the very few people we saw on the trail the entire two days. It wasn’t long after our dry creek disappointment that they were coming back. They not only gave us water, but electrolytes, and offered us food. Trail Angels again. Ironically, shortly after getting re-supplied by our trail angels, we came across a stream. Since we still had another big climb and carried our water filters all this way, we stopped and topped off our camelbacks.

Trail Angels just at the right moment
Once we reached the top we had a fast-incredible descent that reminded me of riding in the Alps. Absolutely gorgeous! Once down, we immediately started our last climb. Of course, we both wondered why we couldn’t have just stayed up there, but that’s how the trail went. This climb started out on a newly paved road that eventually turned to dirt. It was a long climb back up to the snow line and I think it was the strongest I felt the whole ride. I even kept up with Travis for most of it!

Climbing the LaSalles

Close to the Top

Top of the first Lasalle Climb only one more to go! 
Finally, we came upon the final descent into Moab, which is part of one the epic rides of Moab; “The Whole Enchilada”.  We descended to where it intersects with Sand Flats road and headed down an incredibly fast and scenic descent all the way to Moab.

Coming out of the LaSalles - Now just one long descent into Moab!
 Once in Moab, Travis’s friends were waiting at the bottom of Sand Flats Road. They had been tracking us on the Spot Tracker and knew exactly where we were. Travis loaded up his bike, we said our goodbyes, did a couple fist bumps, and they headed back to Fruita. My plan was to ride back to Fruita.

It was late afternoon. I rode to a grocery store and bought some apples and bananas. Travis talked of apples and bananas during the ride and that was all I could think about. On my way out of town it started to rain. I stopped by the Poison Spider bike shop to re-supply with energy bars and electrolytes. My intent was to ride the road, about 35 miles to the Dewey Bridge campground, camp for the night, then hit the trail back from there. This would cut out the LaSalle Mountains. The shop guys told me that the weather forecast was severe thunderstorms through the night then clearing in morning. As I left the shop it began to pour. I debated checking into a hotel, then decided, camping in a rain storm would further test my equipment, so I checked into the Slick Rock campground.

Setting up and keeping my stuff dry in a downpour was a challenge but good experience. At least this campground had a hot shower which I took advantage of. I left my camp stove with Travis to reduce weight, but since the campground had hot water, I was able to make a decent dinner, then tucked into my bevy in the pouring rain. It kept me dry, and as predicted, the rain abated early morning.

I even had a picnic table!  
Putting on my smelly wet riding clothes in the morning was a challenge. At least I could go in the campground bath house where it was much warmer than outdoors!

With the exception of a very unlikely coincidence, the ride back to Fruita was non-eventful; which is good for a road ride. The trail I intended to ride near the Dewey Bridge campground was un-ridable. Due to the all-night rain, and the clay like mud, it would only take five feet before the tires were so full they couldn’t turn any more. So, I continued down highway 128, then through the “town” of Cisco, and approximately 40 miles on Interstate 70.

The "town" of Cisco, Utah

It really wasn’t bad, a huge shoulder and light traffic made it sorta/kinda pleasant. About three miles from Fruita, one of my best riding buddies, Tom Turney and his wife Peggy, were stopped on the side of the interstate. They were on their way back from Las Vegas and couldn’t believe it was me out there on the interstate just riding along. How about that for a perfect end to a great adventure?
Coming back into Colorado on I70

Tom & Peggy "Just happened to be driving by"

All in all it was a great experience. Under other circumstances I would consider this to be a highlight or goal ride for the year. With Tour Divide it is "only" a training ride. I think it was successful. A lot of lessons learned, I gained confidence in my equipment, and see where I need to make adjustments. Oh and the saddle is done. This was its last chance to get broken in. On my ride back from Moab, it was the only thing that was causing pain. It's had its chance and blew it. Time for a new saddle.

Finished another Epic Ride

Ride Stats 
Kokopelli: 154 miles, 17,024 feet of climbing, 21hrs, 52 min ride time
Back to Fruita: 90 miles, 3,379 feet of climbing, 6 hrs, 55 min ride time

Thanks for Reading


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