The 140-mile-long Kokopelli Path has lengthy been a desert take a look at observe for mountain bikers and bikepackers drawn to ledgy, technical, scenic, and distant Colorado Plateau using. With greater than 14,000 ft of climbing and elevations starting from four,000 to over 10,000 ft, there’s nothing simple about this route because it meanders from Moab, Utah, to its jap terminus close to Grand Junction, Colorado. For the higher a part of 20 years, a small subset of Kokopelli Path riders have chased quick occasions on the size of the path. An unofficial Kokopelli Path Race continued for years within the early 2000s till it turned a bit too widespread for its personal good. It light away, however bold people would nonetheless often time trial the route. A operating stage race on the path has been efficiently hosted each Spring for practically a decade, however a current try and host an official mountain bike race on the size of the Kokopelli Path failed dramatically as organizers underestimated the rigor and dangers of the route. Though there’s not a lot singletrack alongside the best way, 100-plus miles of tough four×four tracks are unrelentingly tough, steep, free, and in locations, sandy.
Rides on Kokopelli are typically relegated to the hotter early summer season months as late Spring snow cowl persists excessive within the La Sal Mountains till mid-Might in a few years. And by autumn, the few springs alongside the route that function necessary water sources have usually gone dry. That leaves the murky Colorado River as the only choice for refilling on water, water so thick it crunches subtly in a single’s mouth. Afternoon temperatures in June typically sore to almost 100 levels on a lot of the route, and it’s a uncommon deal with to see any cloud cowl at the moment of yr.
The panorama of jap Utah and westernmost Colorado is one by which stunningly stunning cliff bands, canyons, and slickrock domes stand in relative irony towards the area’s endemic drought. Regardless of its function within the formation of those iconic landforms, water is scarce except for in monsoonal bursts, transient snowmelt occasions, and within the desert’s few flowing arteries just like the Colorado and Inexperienced Rivers. The summer season warmth might be completely oppressive, and winter storms flip the prolific clay-rich soils to expanses of impassibly sticky muck.
This can be a desert that has captured my intrigue ever since shifting West a bit over a decade in the past. As a geologist, the tales this area reveals on its bare floor are riveting. I’ve bikepacked by means of right here numerous occasions, utilizing the comparatively sluggish however regular tempo as a option to hyperlink collectively disparate geologic options inside a psychological map. I’ve introduced wide-eyed teams of scholars right here to study. And I’ve had my very own progress each on the bike and behind the wheel fully stopped by cloudbursts and the following mud, solely to capitalize on all of it as an opportunity to watch first-hand the erosional impacts of a single storm occasion.
Regardless of how I’ve reveled in merely sitting and observing the intricacies of this place, I’ve additionally been drawn to race my bike throughout it on the Kokopelli Path. The problem of shifting as shortly as doable by means of such a harsh place, utterly on the mercy of the situations and terrain, isn’t about any form of conquest. For me, it’s extra akin to recognizing the realities of such a panorama and honoring that by being adequately ready for pushing my very own limits in a spot that pushes again way more emphatically.
However my historical past of racing Kokopelli includes being humbled by the desert each single time and paying the implications of pushing only a bit too onerous by means of rugged terrain and warmth, operating low on water, and customarily overestimating my very own capacity to thrive in such an unforgiving setting, even when only for 13 or 14 hours. And I do know fairly a number of very gifted riders who’ve succumbed to related outcomes on this path – it’s an extremely difficult one to get good. The quickest rides have been by skilled endurance racers like Jesse Jakomait, Rebecca Rusch, and Dave Harris with occasions within the 12 to 13 and half-hour vary. Extra typical one-day experience occasions are inclined to take 15-18 hours.
Regardless of my checkered historical past with the route (or maybe on account of that historical past?), the will to return looking for a clean and gratifying run is at all times there. Final month, I used to be watching the Tour Divide race play out as a winter storm smashed into northern Colorado and introduced many of the lead racers to a standstill amid contemporary snow and show-stopping mud – in late June. And never surprisingly, I shortly discovered myself questioning what that meant for the climate alongside the Kokopelli Path. Pulling up the Moab climate forecast, I held my breath as I noticed rain predicted that night, adopted by highs within the higher 70s and calm winds for the next two days. I contemplated for a couple of minutes. I used to be nice kind as I used to be deep in my coaching for the upcoming Colorado Path Race. I had the liberty to go away the subsequent day on the Eight-hour drive to Moab. And my dashing coronary heart clearly was excited on the prospect of racing Kokopelli.
With that, I set about getting my bike ready and setting up a technique. On condition that it was only a few days after the solstice, I wouldn’t want lights, so I packed only a small headlamp in case I occurred to get caught out after darkish. And past my regular small backcountry restore and first-aid kits, I threw in an emergency bivy and a second further. I’d begin the experience in Moab with only a liter of water, seize one other liter 2 hours in, get a pair extra liters four hours in at Hideout Spring, after which fill four liters from the Colorado on the mid-way level of the path. And I’d pack meals so I may soak up 350 energy per hour – a mixture of nuts, cookies, crackers, a number of bars, some rooster nuggets, and Gatorade combine.
The day earlier than I wished to start out, the ultimate day of unseasonably cool climate, I wrapped up my work within the late afternoon and hit the street. I slept behind my truck for a number of hours after a midnight arrival to Moab, after which I used to be rolling out of city and towards the trailhead by 7 am. I didn’t want a very early begin given the abundance of daylight only a couple days previous summer season solstice.
My technique for the experience was to dig deeply on the primary two climbs into the La Sal Mountains after which simply attempt to cling on for the ultimate “flatter” miles. It was undoubtedly a little bit of a raffle, however I wished to capitalize on these first 6,000 ft of climbing whereas my legs have been contemporary. I launched into the primary climb, keen, smiling, and basking within the mild heat of the solar because it rose over the reddish cliffs flanking the mountains. I dug, pacing aggressively and but feeling like I used to be nonetheless holding again. I crested the primary climb after a few hours and a full 20 minutes forward of report tempo. And I topped out on the second climb, I had gained one other 5 minutes. The path then acquired considerably rougher because the four×four observe hugged a sequence of yellow cliffy slopes and plunged right into a slim canyon. Navigable choices linking the La Sals to the canyon nation emanating from Colorado River greater than a vertical mile under have been few and much between, and all the paths by means of this area are rugged.
I continued to really feel like I used to be holding again, however on the similar time, I may already really feel a little bit of fatigue in my legs from these first two lengthy climbs. My answer to sensing fatigue has grow to be instinctual – eat as a lot as my abdomen will deal with, so I pushed a stream of meals into my mouth at any time when the terrain eased. I garnered a cheer as I handed a few Jeepers paused amid a large number of ruts and boulders. I’m positive that they had no concept of my mission, however they might clearly sense the dedication as I launched over the biggest of the rocks, not wanting to clean any pace. Half an hour later, I plunged into one other rocky canyon and stopped to fill a bottle within the creek. I hadn’t anticipated water right here, however I used to be more than pleased to have a bit further to drink. The late morning air nonetheless felt cool, however I used to be working onerous for my pace, and I used to be going by means of water a bit extra shortly than anticipated.
A steep, free quad path clung to the facet of a slim canyon, winding out and in of facet drainages as I turned over my lowest gear. Popping above the rim, the Colorado River lowlands expanded earlier than me. I glanced again, and the La Sals had shrunken significantly. Progress. An extended, cobbly descent to the river gave my legs a reprieve as I slid and skittered by means of the sharp turns. However that reprieve additionally gave my muscle tissues an opportunity to tighten up and notice simply how onerous that they had already labored. After crossing the Colorado on a freeway bridge, I turned off and started a gradual climb into the sandy, shallow canyons of the Yellow Jacket space. And my legs instantly protested. A sudden sense of dread overcame me – with greater than 80 miles to go, I spotted that I could have made the identical previous mistake of going out too onerous. I ended and ate a bar, pedaled a bit extra, dismounted to open a ranch gate, and ate some cookies. And a few coconut macaroons. And a pair handfuls of path combine. It at all times will get higher, I instructed myself. It at all times will get higher.
A couple of minutes farther up the climb, I grinned as I seen the brilliant blue sky reflecting and glowing throughout potholes in a slickrock expanse. They have been brim full after the current rain, and quickly, the desert felt a lot extra welcoming. I hopped off my bike, stuffed a bottle, drank all of it, and refilled it. Persevering with on, my legs nonetheless felt heavy, however I knew they’d come round if I simply gave them a little bit of time earlier than making an attempt to renew digging. So I loved a extra relaxed tempo and targeted on the big alcoves amid the sandstone rims, the previous river gravels now stranded a whole lot of ft above the trendy Colorado River, and the truth that I hadn’t seen one other soul in hours. The slim canyons and rocky terrain quickly gave option to using alongside the floodplain after which into the barren shale badlands to the north.
As predicted, my legs got here again to life earlier than lengthy, and after grabbing a gallon of silty brown water from the Colorado, I felt set for the ultimate 70 miles of the experience. It was mid-afternoon, and the La Sals have been now disappearing behind me, together with the hardest a part of the path. I used to be surprisingly nonetheless practically half an hour forward of report tempo, so I simply needed to maintain regular. I watched as previous uranium mine workings handed by. My thoughts drifted a bit to the west with recollections of a experience years earlier than by means of an space known as the Poison Strip the place I marveled in awe at ponds fashioned within the mines and extra lifeless cattle than I’ve ever seen in a single space. I acquired misplaced in different recollections of using by means of much more contaminated areas on Navajo Nation and the continued well being disaster on account of the necessity for uranium throughout World Conflict II and the next Chilly Conflict.
An extended, washed-out descent requiring my full attentiveness pulled my thoughts again to the current, and I spotted that I had simply drifted by means of practically an hour of pedaling whereas misplaced in thought. I hoped that I hadn’t slowed an excessive amount of, and because the path leveled out in additional badlands close to river stage, I resumed pedaling with renewed vigor. My physique was feeling refreshed within the even cooler night air. The ultimate hours handed by shortly as I ate most of my remaining meals and started to fastidiously gauge simply how a lot power I had left in reserve. Ninety minutes out, I hit the ultimate singletrack and realized I nonetheless had practically 30 minutes on report tempo. I backed off only a bit – no sense in risking any consequential errors within the remaining technical miles. The paths wound alongside benches within the cliffy slopes excessive above the Colorado, the low night solar glinting among the many riffles and rapids. I paused to take a number of pictures earlier than persevering with on towards the top of the path. Just some minutes later as I sucked the ultimate gurgling ounces of water out of my final bottle, I may see the ultimate climb forward.
Reduction washed over me. Rolling into the trailhead car parking zone, I ended my watch at 11 hours 52 minutes, the first-ever sub-12-hour time on the path. I used to be proud to have set a brand new report, however I used to be way more happy to have executed a clean run on such a demanding and harsh route. I used to be capable of stay calm and refocus when my physique was giving indicators of being exhausted lower than midway by means of. I used to be handled to a chilly juice and a few water from a pair different riders returning to the lone automotive within the car parking zone, after which I collapsed on a picnic desk bench. Hitchhiking again to Moab can be a problem for the next day (certainly one of each sunburn and dehydration!). At that second, I wished to consciously soak within the exceptional feeling that arises when every little thing falls into place amid a sound plan, appropriately conservative confidence, and the utmost respect for one’s setting.