Mountain Biking the Kokopelli Trail (Part 3 of 3)

14 11 2008

Zero to expert in five months. (Photo by Fred Bohm)

The Kokopelli Trail was a hind-sight trip. Exactly one year later, I don’t remember anything but the view from the canyons you can only have see from mountain biking. I remember the golden eagle that soared with us for a mile. The hike-a-bike that made me feel like a trail-blazer. And I remembered how I cried when I reached camp after day three, because I kept going when I was set on quitting. The Kokopelli Trail wasn’t the most difficult trail that I’ve ever done, but it was the most rewarding four days of my life, in hind-sight.

Perhaps the rewards couldn’t truly be seen until exactly a year later, when Fred and I went back to Moab. The first time I attempted Slick Rock, it took me six hours and a lot of sliding on my butt down the hills. The first time I tried Porcupine Rim, I ate it hard on that loose rock section. Last year, I walked my bike through every pinch rock section; swung my legs over my handle bars every time I felt I was going over; walked every steep incline and decline; burnt out half way through every ride.

Coming back to the same trails a year later, with Kokopelli under my belt, my perspective is a bit different, and I’m having a lot more fun. Kokopelli forced me to learn how to put my ass over my seat to where I almost touch my tire — allowing me to go straight over practically any obstacle and down any steep. I learned how to use my feet to re-balance when I think I’m going down. I learned how to touch my chest to my handle bars to climb any hill. This year, Slick Rock took two and half hours.

Mostly, (brace yourself for the cheese), I learned that I seriously could do anything I wanted to on a bike. Because I’m a bad ass now.

If you want to learn how to mountain bike, I think you should seriously consider training for something your first year. Even if it’s just a one-day 40-mile ride, like the Colorado Trail from Buffalo Creek to Chapfield Reservoir (which is not all down-hill by the way).

This winter, find a good full-supsension bike, start taking spinning classes and doing squats in the gym and pick your poison. If you work towards that goal, all the frustration of starting a new sport (and sucking at it) diminishes because it’s not about wanting to be good anymore – it’s about having to be. If you do this your first season, the second will absolutely rock. And that’s the real cheese.

For more info: The Colorado Trail
Buffalo Creek
Trail conditions, information, blogs and sales – the mecca of mountain bike websites: MTBR.com




Mountain Biking the Kokopelli Trail (Part 2 of 3)

11 11 2008

Four-days of the ultimate desert dance: To do a trail of this magnitude (142-miles in four days) self-supported, you must be more than ready and a little crazy, or in my case, naive. The day before Fred and I began the trail, we drove to each campsite and dropped a cooler with food, water and supplies including fresh bike tubes, beer, fresh clothes for the next day’s ride, and baby wipes (for the “nightly shower”). It helps to have a different sleeping bag and pad for each drop point — we ended up carrying bivvy sacks and sleeping pads on our backs the whole way. They were bulky and heavy, but worth it, separating us from the cold desert floor every night. Another thing that is helpful is to gather wood at the campsites, though there’s no guarantee it will be there when you come back (I’ll explain that bitter story in the Day 3 section). Your guide book will lead you through this entire planning process. Also, make sure have a good map as the trail is not always marked.

This is where the epic trail begins:

Day 1 and the Sundance Kid: The Kokopelli Trailhead begins in Loma, Colorado, at the beginning of Mary’s Loop. I felt good that morning; confident climbing the slickrock and loose-gravel rollers of Mary’s Loop. Once we reached the canyon lip along the Colorado River where you travel along the edge of the steep crater-like holes, I giggled like a Redford-groupie. I couldn’t help but look back envisioning Butch Cassidy’s gang and hoping to hear the sounds of law enforcers with wagons and rifles trailing. This part of the trail is one of the most memorable, however, the day is long and tedious as you reach a couple of huge hike-a-bikes to get back to the road.

The day went on like this – me pretending to be The Sundance Kid, Fred yelling at me to hurry up while snapping photos of my shadow on the canyon walls; me feeling proud of my ass-endurance by mile 15, Fred telling me that we weren’t even halfway there; me cursing at our camp when realizing it was still three miles away, Fred hiking back down the steep rode to carry my bike the last mile.


Mud facial.

Day 2 Moab mudbath: Forgettable by the foreshadowing of the day to come, but entrancing by the desert dance you do for 42 miles. This section is a straight away along train tracks with grey, vegetation-less mountains and black lava-rock beneath. We traveled through a section that was soaked with red Moab mud, which is supposed to have deep healing powers. Then into a rolling slickrock section that mocks the land before time. You fall into a deep trance-like state, taking in the vast nothingness around, annoyed by the sound of your own thoughts. At this point, if you’ve properly acclimated to your environment, then you might even see dinosaurs selling Coors Light on the side of the trail.

This day passes so quickly, despite the impressive mileage. You begin near the haunted Cisco desert, which is silent and sleeping (or maybe not). You end near the historic Dewey Bridge outside of Moab. You ride up the road to a campsite among the red slick rock and sleep under the Utah stars.


Dead bear carcass at final campsite.

Day 3 is a bitch: Only 27 miles, it’s the 8,000-foot elevation gain that’s the kicker. About mid-way, you come to Rose Garden Hill, Kokopelli’s little devil surprise, imbedded in the high cliff-lined canyon you spent the morning climbing. It is a 90-degree, 30-foot drop (I may be exaggerating a little) taking you back deep into a valley, which you can now look forward to climbing back out. It’s hard to believe that at this point you aren’t even half way and you still have a cool 4,000 feet left to scale.

Day 3 is by far the most challenging part of the ride, our guide book rated it 10 out of 10 for endurance, 10 out of 10 for difficulty, and a 5 out of 10 for technical. This is because you are on roads depressingly steeper than your childhood driveway, there’s no glorious single-track to look forward to, and there is no relief. You climb out of your campsite in the morning and up to your campsite that night. Day 3 would have been the discouraging factor for me doing this trip, had I only known. But I learned more about what I am physically capable of by this day and in hindsight, it’s what made the trip worth it for me.

There is a section, right before you reach camp, that you can look out and see the accomplishments of your day’s journey. Over that canyon, down into that valley, then out of the valley and up the side of the mountain, across the side to the top, to where you now stand, empowered, in awe, and exhausted beyond a need for rest.

Not finishing was never an option, so when I sat, hysterically crying at the bottom of Rose Garden Hill, cursing Fred, cursing the desert, cursing myself for agreeing to this madness, something in me switched. My brain kicked in and gave the only logical answer – it wasn’t a question of if, but when. So I got back on my bike and kept riding. There was no other choice and that’s when I realized that my legs were just muscles and my emotions had nothing to do with it.

We rode into our campsite in the La Sals just as the sun dipped below the earth and I cried again in disbelief that I actually completed the day; that I actually made it. It hurt so bad.

At our campsite, we discovered a very nice hippie couple had decided to camp right where we hid our third and final drop (two feet from a dead bear carcass). They asked us ever so politely if we could move campsites. This site was luxuriously stocked with a deep fire pit and tons of wood, all of which they had commandeered. I’m a nice girl, but when this went down at the end of what remains to be the hardest day of my life, I wasn’t so nice. I said absolutely not, no way in hell. And then Fred and I made a makeshift fire-pit in the dark and I marched deep into the woods to pull out firewood. This was the coldest site and a fire was imperative. I found a couple of dead trees and we chopped them up using our hands and slept in the freezing alpine dirt next to a crackling twig fire, next to an angry couple that for sure did not get it on that night. They did offer us hot chocolate, however.

Day 4: Summit Fever. It’s hard to realize the gravity of what you’ve done once you reach the look-out point at the top of the La Sal’s. Your anguish from the entire trip seems to be glazed over by the finish line. You forget that your ass hurts more than a root-canal, that you smell like a foot, and that just the day before, you were going to dump your boyfriend, call in heli-rescue and quit.

This last day you have a short climb (only a 2,000 foot gain) from desert to aspen glens. Then, when you reach the summit, you get to wail down LPS Trail that gracefully preludes Porcupine Rim, and take the road (or the Rim if you’re good) and fly at 30-miles-an-hour on a 17-mile, whirling downhill straight into Eddie McStiff’s Bar and Grill. It was the best buffalo burger and pitcher of 3.2 beer I’ve ever had.

*All photos by Fred Bohm.





Mountain Biking the Kokopelli Trail (Part 1 of 3)

6 11 2008

I’m in limbo about what to do this weekend. It’s too cold and wet to go mountain biking, and it’s barely ski season. Well, I guess I could always try out A-Basin, but having lived in Colorado for the last six years, I know the drill well — an hour and a half drive, two runs, three shots of whiskey, a sunburn on my nose and then a 3-hour gridlock drive back home. So now, I find myself reminiscing about bike season… lot’s of ups and downs. But mostly I find myself reminiscing about something I did a year ago — The Kokopelli Trail.

Here’s the scoop. I picked up my mountain bike for the first time ever last April with one goal in mind, training for this four-day, 142-mile bike trip from Loma, Colo. to Moab, Utah. I can tell you now, this was the wrong approach to enjoying this epic trail. The terrain and sense of accomplishment were worth the chaffing; but the 7,000 foot-elevation gain in one day would make anyone eager to forget. Many regard this trail as a notch for bragging rights, and few the best singletrack in the West. It is packed with jeep trails and un-ending climbs, and full of spectacular views and Butch Cassidy nostalgia. The trip is broken up into 4-6 sections (1-3 for the truly crazy). However, don’t be fooled into thinking that more days makes the trip any easier. Day 3, no matter how you cut it, is an unrealistic elevation gain that will make you question your sanity.

It’s not that it was the most difficult trail I’ve ever done, but more that it was the hardest four days of my life. My boyfriend and adventure-seeking partner, Fred and I did the the trail in four days, self-supported, which translates to carrying your sleeping pad and bivvy-sack, two 100-ounce bladders of water, clean underwear, five ClifBars, one meat log, two tubes, an all-purpose tool and a derailleur hanger. All this for zero incidences… not even a flat.

Stupid me, I didn’t train with a 30-pound pack. I trained with a cozy CamelPak that fits snuggly on my shoulders and curves oh-so-gently to the contours of my spine – unlike that devil pack I drug along with me to do this trail, which cut off the circulation in my fingers via my neck. But all bitching aside, had my front wheel folded, I would’ve been thankful that I had that meat log while hiking my bike out 15 miles to the road and waiting for a person to miraculously solidify in Cisco, Utah’s infamous ghost town.

This three-part series is an account of my experience. Stay tuned, because I will wrap this up with a happy ending and closing statement about why doing this trail the first year of mountain biking was stupid, but oh so rewarding.

Preparation: To be prepared, you must have a good guide book, like The Kokopelli Trail Mountain Bike Guide by Alex Hearn, which did us well, though the author is a goofy, sarcastic, tech-nerd — unlike myself. Also, pack Clif Shots with caffeine, at least  four per day. When you are running on empty, there is nothing better. Bring your IPod stacked with comedy or even a book on tape. When you are spinning through the desert and can’t stand to hear yourself think any longer, you’ll be so happy you have Dane Cook there to make you laugh. Pack beers in your coolers and at each drop point, leave yourself something cozy. Choose your adventure partner wisely. If you have any qualms with this person, I guarantee they will be revealed at Rose Garden Hill.

You must read about this trail first! If you do it self-supported, you have to run drop offs at designated camps sites first. It takes about a day to do this. You can do this trail with a guide group, which will alleviate all of this pressure, and make you eggs in the morning.

Don’t be like me: Train properly.

For more info: Single Tracks Bike Shop in Fruita is a great place to start: 150 South Park Square
Fruita, Colorado 81521
970.858.3917 ~ 800.878.3917
A good guide book: The Kokopelli Trail Mountain Bike Guide by Alex Hearn




Moab’s Last Hurrah (at least until next season)

28 10 2008

View of Castleton Towers, photo by Claire Fisher

It’s just about that time to give my mountain bike its final scrub down for the season, but not without caking my chain with little red dirt, first.
Moab, in my opinion, is the best in October. It’s about 80 degrees and emits that type of sunshine that makes your faded tan feel like August again. And right about now, when it’s getting cold in Denver, Summit County is snow-capped, A-Basin is open, and the Front Range is no longer lit after work, there’s nothing better than a weekend in the desert. Not to mention that in October, Moab is bustling with outdoor enthusiast’ favorites like 24 Hours of Moab or the Moab Half Marathon. I wish I could say I was the only person who felt this sort of adoration for my October Moab. But when we arrived late last Thursday night, I discovered it was not so, as every single campsite in Sand Flats was full. So tip Number 1 for your weekend Moab getaway – don’t arrive at 1 in the morning expecting to set up camp in that spot right under the “eye cave”. You know what  I’m talking about.
Thankfully, there are people out there that camp in Moab during the week and leave on Friday. To you folks, I am not writing, for I am jealous that you have graduated from Weekend Warrior, to All-The-Time Warrior. For the rest of us who are lucky enough to get that coveted 9:80 Friday off, getting to Moab after work Thursday is a great way to get a full weekend in, just plan to sleep at a temporary campsite (aka poach).


Storm over the La Sals, photo by Jamie Givens

So here’s my scoop on trail conditions:
The Whole Enchilada: You can catch a shuttle at Poison Spider (497 N. Main St., 435-259-7882) for $20 cash. They will shuttle you as far up as Hazard County right now for the scrambled-brain descend into Porcupine Rim via UPS Trail. Call for weather updates, these guys will be honest and take you as far up as they can. They said there has been snow sporadically on the trail, but you may catch it on a clear day. It’s getting late in the season, so if you’re hoping for a 2008 Whole Enchilada, you’re time is limited. From Hazard back to the shop, this adventure is 27 miles and an expert ride, or great for intermediates to really get a feeling for what a full-suspension can handle. And make sure you catch the new bike path along 128 in the Canyon. It cuts out an annoying road climb and is smooth and glorious after a hard day of bumping and grinding.


Sandy Beach on Colorado River,
Photo by Jamie Givens

Things I love about shuttling Porcupine Rim:

  • Catching the shuttle at 8:30 or 10 and being finished by happy hour.
  • Having Mavericks’ (the gas station next door to Poison Spider) famous breakfast of coffee and those dough things with egg, sausage and cheese. Yum.
  • Getting those honey snacks at Poison Spider. Highly recommended over Cliff Shots, though I still think Cliff Shots’ energy boost is far superior.
  • Listening to an entire album by N.W.A on the hour bus-ride to the top of the trail. I was certainly amped for some seat-dropping fun after that.
  • Catching a $5 shower at Poison Spider or Moab Cyclery (391 S. Main St., 435.259.7423).

My favorite campsite:
Camping is $10 a night at the Sand Flats Recreational Area, the area surrounding the Slick Rock Trail Head. (http://www.discovermoab.com/sandflats.htm). There are tons  of campsites in and around the Moab area, but I like this best because it’s near all the bike trails.


Dewey Bridge Burning, photo from MTBR.com

PS: Did you know that the historical Dewey Bridge burnt down earlier this year? It was built in 1916 and was modernly used as part of the epic Kokopelli trail. More pictures of the burning bridge.

For more info: For any and all information about Moab go to http://www.discovermoab.com/