The Kokopelli Trail and I have never gotten along particularly well. Putting that another way, it has handily destroyed me the past 3 times I've ridden it. The full trail runs approximately 135 from Moab, UT to Loma, CO with something like 17,000' of climbing, very little water, and no resupply. The varied terrain takes you up to the foot of the snowy peaks in the La Sal mountains, through rugged sandstone canyons, breezy desert mesas, and right down to the muddy Colorado River. For me, racing the trail has usually been a solitary experience due to a wise evening or midnight start time and the remote nature of the route.
My goal this year was to ride fast and feel good most of the time. Two years ago, I managed a 16-hour time during which I felt good for no more than 30 minutes. It was a pretty dang miserable day on the bike. This year, I also wanted to see how close to Dave Harris' very impressive 12:41 record I could come.
Eszter and I set off around 12:30 am from Moab and starting the climbing-heavy first 26 miles, which includes a 4000' climb immediately followed by a 2000' climb. The nearly-full moon shone down on me, glinting off my frame and rims. I turned off my light and was surrounded by the outlines of spectacular rock formations. Riding both climbs with just the light of the moon was absolutely spectacular. My head was enjoying things, my legs were feeling good as I floated up to 8000'. A turn onto pavement at that point marks a brief respite from the climbing - a 2000' paved descent. I turned my light on as bright as it goes and launched downhill. The cold air made me shiver, but I was too impatient to stop and put on any more clothing. I dove into the first set of switchbacks, and in middle of the second hairpin, I somehow horribly misjudged my speed and shot straight off the edge of the road, down an embankment, and into the woods! Miraculously, my bike and I were unscathed save a bruising a tree gave my elbow. I dragged my bike back up to the road and continued on, wide awake from adrenaline. That extra attentiveness helped me avoid hitting an elk a few turns later!
The early-morning hours of darkness flew by. I was making good time, my legs felt great, and the long, rough descents after all that initial climbing were a blast. I debated between riding my hardtail and my Spearfish, and I was very glad I had decided to go with the latter. I filled up two water bottles at the last reliable stream crossing that holds good water and pressed on. The first glimmer of light in the east excited me, and by the time I began the descent to the Colorado River at Dewey, the sun was about to pop up over the distant cliffs. That meant I was at least 90 minutes ahead of my pace from last time.
I don't particularly enjoy much of the second half of the Kokopelli. It's dry desert, a mix of rocky mesas and sandy 2-tracks, and the technical singletrack at the end is frustratingly slow and difficult after 120+ miles. My arms were starting to ache, and fatigue was beginning to settle into my legs. I forced myself to keep eating, but after being ravenously hungry for the first 5 hours, I was actually a bit worried about having enough food to get to the end. My water supply seemed good, and I knew that I'd grab a bit extra thick, brown water from the river in a couple hour just in case I'd need it.
The next few hours passed by uneventfully. An aggravating headwind persisted despite a weather forecast that suggested that there would be a tailwind there. My knee started to ache a bit, and my stomach stopped wanting food. I arrived in Rabbit Valley, ~2.5 hours from the end, and a minor meltdown ensued. My legs suddenly had no power, the mid-morning heat was already starting to get to me, and I was dreading the last part of the course. Dave's record, which previously had seemed to be just within reach, slipped away. I glanced back to the southeast and half expected to see Eszter closing in on me. I crammed down 250 calories of sugar and hoped for the best. My legs gradually gained some strength, and soon I found myself at the rocky, rutted, steep descent to Salt Creek. Skittering down it brought a smile back to my face, but the subsequent hike-a-bike sections stole it right back away.
I muddled my way through the last 8 miles of singletrack at a pathetic pace. I recalled suffering like a dog on these same trails last year during my first running race and was glad I could at least coast on the short descents. The area was crawling with other cyclists this time around, and seeing all those people was a bit of a shock after spending the rest of the ride alone with just the scenery and my thoughts. Minutes ticked by...the prospect of a 13-hours finish came and went. I pressed on, finally reached the last climb, coasted down the backside to the parking lot, and finished in 13:25 (managed to keep the stopped time to only 20 minutes!).
After running out of water a few miles from the end, all I could think about was a cold, sugary beverage. Lucky for me, Caroline had finished up her bikepacking trip in Moab and had just the ticket waiting for me in the car. Muscles on the verge of cramping, I lounged uncomfortably in the shade of the car, amazed at how horrible my body felt upon finishing. Eszter came in with a very fast time of 15:25 and was also very happy to be done. We both agreed (and hoped!) that the Kokopelli will be out of our systems for a while.