Ride the Kokopelli in a day

Moab, Utah and Loma, Colo. are connected by the 142-mile Kokopelli Trail. The Kokopelli Trail travels through remote canyon country and the Colorado River corridor in Utah and Colorado and can be ridden in either direction. There is over 14k feet of climbing on the Kokopelli, with most of that bunched up on the Moab side. The trail takes riders over the La Sal mountains, and deep into several canyons between Moab and Dewey Bridge on the western end of the trail.  Typically, cyclists take 3-5 days to complete the trail, some folks do it in one long day. Here are actual texts from me to my riding partner and back as we were planning a September 2021 Kokopelli Trail single-day ride.

Seth: Full moon September 20th, sufficient daylight to finish without lights if we get a 3AM start. Shouldn’t be too cold on the shoulders of the La Sal mountains at 8K feet pre-dawn.

Torin: Sounds good, I am in. 

Seth: You are an Idiot.

Torin:  You are an Idiot times 3.    

Well, he had me there. I am three times the idiot he is. This will be my third time riding the Kokopelli Trail, and I am hoping for the least amount of time spent negotiating the roads, single track, sand, sun and wind that make up the day-long sojourn. That shouldn’t be too hard. The first trip nearly 20 years ago was a (predictable) disaster with a group of six underprepared riders heading west from Loma to Moab departing at 1AM in the moonlight. Riding the highly technical trails of the McInnis Canyons eastern end of the trail (starting on the famous Mary’s Trail) led to a severe mechanical that took a couple of hours to repair in the dark. Things went downhill from there, literally as you are following the Colorado River downhill southwest to Moab, and figuratively as pretty much everything that could go wrong did. We stopped counting flats at 10 (kids, this was, hear me out, back when there were tubes in mountain bike tires) and though we did make it to Moab, it was nearly 24 hours later, and we had to cut out some parts of the trail to make it happen. We coasted into Moab in darkness our lights having long ago given out, frozen, and demoralized having failed to complete the trail.  

The second trip was heavily influenced by the first attempt, and our single priority was to finish the trail and have a successful day. To that end one friend from the previous trip and I started at 8PM on a full-moon night in Moab in September and rode through the entire night, arriving around the halfway point after nearly 12 hours of groping through the darkness on the first 70 miles of the Kokopelli Trail. This includes the most remote and technical portions of the trail. Heading from the west, the initial climb into the La Sal Mountains is largely dirt roads and a bit of trails, but after descending out of the La Sal Mountains, you do encounter some more challenging terrain including the Rose Garden Hill section, the most difficult portion of the trail to negotiate. From there to Dewey Bridge, the halfway point, has some other difficult sections, but mostly it’s the climbing and descending that is challenging. Riding in the dark is truly a wonder and allows one to experience the very depths the Kokopelli’s offerings in nothing but moonlight and solitude. However, it may not be the most efficient way to mountain bike 140+ miles in a day.  Nearly 10 years ago that September trip took 19 hours to complete and the last decade has left me wondering, now at age 51, how much faster could I go?

This time, another approach is in order. I have more confidence and knowledge about the trail, and more emphasis on going faster this time around. Going faster may not actually mean working much harder, but simply being able to ride less in the dark and spending as much time possible moving. Again, heading Moab to Loma (west to east), and starting during the night of a full moon, but this time with a “wheels on the ground” time of 3AM. This will allow us to have about 17 hours to finish the ride without needing lights at the Loma end, with a goal of 15-16 hours on the trail and only a few hours of riding the non-technical Moab end of the trail in the dark. One challenge of the Kokopelli from this direction is the reality that we are likely riding up into the La Sal Mountains during the coldest part of the day. Snow on the ground is a distinct possibility in the mountains, and the pre-dawn temps can be brutally cold. This, regrettably, forces us to carry more clothing than we likely want. On the upside, we are mostly climbing and that will keep us warm, until we are not (the downhills will be freezing). 

The vast majority of the climbing is on the Moab-west end of the trail and getting that done early is a psychological benefit for most. If we can reach Dewey Bridge (mile 70 or so) in 7 or 8 hours, we will be able to refuel at a cache we will leave there consisting of just water and some snacks. We can drop our cold weather riding gear as well. The riding northeast of Dewey Bridge starts with Yellow Jacket Canyon just across HWY 128. Not my favorite part of the trail, 10 miles of ledge and sand riding, and we will cross the highway again and quickly rejoin the Colorado River. Aside from a bit of single-track, this is where the roads really open up, and if we have some energy we can make some good time through the well-known Colorado River access points of Cisco and Westwater (where water can be found). We should also (hopefully) enjoy some westerly tailwinds. Rabbit Valley is our first Colorado landmark, and can be a bit crowded and sandy, but also is efficient riding. From there it’s a quick jaunt to the Salt Creek crossing bridge and into the McInnis Canyons area and trails. This final 10 miles of single-track is challenging riding, but if we have made it to this end with some daylight left and ride carefully, we should finish before dark. Stay tuned for a ride report in October, 2021.  

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