The Kokopelli Trail

Sometimes you accomplish a feat so bold you might never want to do it again. The feelings of exhaustion and accomplishment swirled around in my head as our group reached the final downhill into Moab. While my mind couldn’t stop thinking about salad and burgers-- I wanted a full meal of proteins immediately. Heather, Amanda and I had been out on the trail for two and a half  days in heat, bugs and dust. There was hike'n and bike'n, rock scrambling, water scares and long 50 mile days. Yet when we pulled into the shuttle companies lot, it was all smiles.

The Kokopelli trail is a mapped route that takes you from Fruita, CO to Moab, UT. It’s mostly dirt roads, but the technical sections really earn that classification. Logan from Bikepacking.com rates this trail as a 6.5/10 and 99% rideable. Even with mad skills we found this trail to be 89% rideable and a 9/10. The beginning is your test; Mary’s Loop is an advanced single track section just above the Colorado River. Front suspension, wide tubeless tires or even full suspension is highly recommended. I was on a REEB Cycles Dikyelous hardtail and it handled the trail great. It’s important to remember that this has some big elevation gains, so be comfortable with climbing at elevation and heat.

Our trip started out with a shuttle ride from Moab, UT to Loma, CO. It was 9pm before we loaded up our bikes and rode a few miles into cowboy camp, and dark when we called it camp time. The next morning we woke up to dawn hitting a beautiful canyon in front of us. We moved fast to pack and eat--getting on trail to enjoy the cool morning air on Mary’s Loop was important. As we hit the trail, nervousness set in around starting this journey on a brand new bike. My nervousness quickly faded, however, when I realized that this bike could do anything! It handled so well: fast on corners and rolling over, down and through anything. Later on, I came to conclusion that if I fell, it wasn’t going to be the bike’s fault. We rode on through sections of steep trail where we had to lift and push our bikes, but after we topped the last big Mesa it was on to some quick gravel miles.

Our first trail buddies showed up after Mary’s. They were a group of guys with sag wagon, not self-supported. They rode and chatted with us but to due the weight differences in bikes, they rode off trying to get more miles in. We ended not seeing them much until the last day.

The gravel miles were nice, they made us feel like we were getting somewhere. We made it to our first water drop and loaded up where Heather had stashed water for us ahead of time. Leaving yourself water caches is highly recommended on this route because there’s no water available on the route. Filled up, teeth brushed and stomachs full, we set out on the next 25 miles to our camping spot.

During the middle of mid-day route, Heather came down with some heat sickness. The heat, lack of water and high output of energy did a number on her. We took up some shade, using helmets for pillows. Heather drank some electrolytes and rested until she felt better. Her illness reminded us of an important lesson: always know your limits and take breaks for safety.

We made it to Cisco Landing with plenty of daylight to clean up in the river and stake out spots in the pavilion. Making dinner, recapping the highs or lows of the day and watching the sun go down is always a good closing to long day on trail.

The next morning we got up at the crack of dawn again. I choose oatmeal to eat, it’s my normal “I need a long, sustainable energy output” food. Little did I know that the oatmeal would haunt me all day. Pedaling out of Cisco we sang our favorite country songs along with a little AM radio and lots of laughter. The La Sal mountains were getting bigger and closer. Our first goal of the day was our water drop at Dewey Bridge. It seemed easy at the time, but by the time my nausea from breakfast kicked in along with  the climbing and heat for the day, it was starting to look a lot farther away.

By the time we  reached the bridge, I felt horrible. After finding our water, we picked the finest shade with finest cow dung to call it break. I brought CBD patches with me for possible knee pain, but they ended up saving my day by taking away my nausea. Unfortunately,  while relaxing in the shade, a swarm of  little nasty bugs bit us up. I’m still itching bites, so bring bug spray! One of the benefits of biking is that people with campers love to help out. We were able to get more water from a nice group above our premium lunch spot. People generously gave us little things that really meant more to us than they could imagine.

Our big day of climbing was hot and the climbing was brutal. Heather and I switched from riding to hiking while  Amanda rode most of the way. Shade was our friend, but it  also came with bugs, so it wasn’t too relaxing. We met a second group of guys and a solo rider on this stretch. The group was self-supported and one of them had a Surly Big Dummy, which is not ideal for this route. We didn’t see him again and heard later that he had to bail out by Highway 128. The next 15 miles to our camp spot were the hardest of the trip. It was already a long day with fierce climbs and hot hot heat but what followed was the most technical downhill ever followed by a 3 block section of rock scrambling down over boulders. After we finished the rock scramble, the conversation of “let’s make to camp” turned into “let’s just make it out of here.” We were all exhausted and wanting a sign that the day might be over soon. Dusting ourselves off and getting back on those bikes, we rode up and out and there it was: the valley!

We talked to the first campers we saw. They gave us water and a Powerade, which was slammed on the spot. They also gave us hope that our campground was near. We biked down further to see Jack, the solo bike camper we’d seen earlier, riding out to head back to Moab the fast way. We carried on to our road and were stoked to see a sign saying CAMPING 1.5 miles--we’d made it! On our way, we met another nice family of campers who gave us beer and more water. With one more hill to go, we pushed up to the top to find ourselves a nice, quiet spot with a small running creek we could filter. Despite the good campsite, I felt defeated and was feeling pretty low the rest of the night. A light rain blessed us and we all slept solidly.

As I woke up to our last day, I knew we were about to start the day with the most climbing. Figuring that nothing could be as bad as yesterday, we set out to finish what we started. The first round of climbing on gravel wasn’t as bad as the day before. With a nice pitch, I was able to pedal up more and feel like I was getting somewhere. Some of our trail buddies rode with us until our pace was a little slower. Our first long break was at a spot that was right in front of the tallest peak in the La Sals. We had been chasing this mountain range the whole trip and there it was. This felt uplifting, and my energy was renewed.

We biked to a vista, took our team photos and then charged to the summit of our first peak of the day. At our rest stop, Heather and I both ran into people we knew; the college that Heather teaches at was an on a field trip to this location. It also happened that one of the students was an old coworker of mine from San Francisco, who also bought one of my favorite bikes and still owns it (that made my day!).  As they drove away, we knew we had to get back to our mission. The funnest downhill awaited us. Long, big wide turns, smooth roads--I was free flying all the way down. But what goes down, must go up. Up we went, and up and up and up. I kept saying “at least we are on pavement.” Twisting and turning, we finally summited peak number two, 2,000+ feet of climbing. It was all downhill from here to Moab. I think this is the moment where many would cry out of joy, but all I could think about was food. The last part in to Moab is awesome: nice two track to road, passing by mountain biking classics, The Rim Trail, and Slickrock. I was highly anxious for that first sight of Moab. Hallelujah, there it was! We did it. We made it. Rolling into the tour company lot, we took a second to make our plan to get to food. We moved fast: showers, bird baths, bikes broken down, packed, all in 30 minutes. Heading out to the Moab Brewery was our easiest task in three days: drink beer and recover calories.

It’s been a week since this all happened and I still feel the strong emotions of this adventure. I was always feel them. Three women that had never ridden together and only knew each other from social media had just bonded on the hardest trails in two states. We worked so well as a team, and I couldn’t have done without them and am very happy to now call them friends. I also couldn’t have done this ride without the support of REEB Cycles and Green Guru Gear. Always support your local bike companies. This trail will leave its mark in my heart and I am ready to move on to the next adventure.



Photo rights c Jillian Betterly Photography 2016

Camera: Olympus SP35 Film: Kodak Portra 400