Kokopelli's Trail

During Thanksgiving 2014 Stefan (one of my high school friends), the same one who invited me to La Ruta, invited me to ride Kokopelli's Trail with him. The ride is supported by Bikerpelli. I completed the ride a few days ago; here I'll describe what it was like.

Summary: a tough effort, but fantastic and well worth the time spent preparing. It was the best (most epic, memorable and fun) bike event I've ever done.

  • 3 days of riding, about 6 hours per day
  • 140 miles over a wide variety of terrain
  • 15,000+ feet of climbing at altitudes from 4,000 to 9,000 feet
  • We rode a couple of optional scenic loops, which added a few extra miles.

    Here are my GPS tracks with distance and elevation details.


    I trained from Dec 2014 through April 2015, a mix of road and mtn biking, with running and strength training I had already been doing. By mid-April I was doing 50-100 miles of biking over the weekend, with another 40-60 miles from biking to work. Each weekend at least one day would be 50+ miles with 4,000+' of climb. This was just a little over what Bikerpelli's guide recommended. But I figured the more I trained the more fun it would be, and I needed a margin of over-training to compensate for the heat, sun and altitude compared to my Seattle area conditions. Later during the ride I learned how right this was. This training turned out to be enough, but only just enough.

    Day 0


    I traveled from Seattle to Fruita, CO, checked into the hotel, picked up my bike, which I had mailed to a local bike shop the prior week, and met with Stefan. We did a short local Kokopelli ride (Rustler's loop), then ate a big dinner and hit the sack early to get plenty of sleep.

    Day 1

    We ate breakfast at the hotel and met Bikerpelli's leading man Alex at 8:15am. Packed our bags and bikes in his truck and drove out to the trailhead. During registration & ride briefing we learned that this was the "technical" day. This, like much of what Alex said, turned out to be somewhat useful as a general guide yet also of questionable veracity.

    Each day follows a similar schedule:

  • breakfast, break camp, ride briefing
  • 2-4 hours of riding, main route with optional detours
  • lunch, rest, water and ride support
  • 2-4 hours of riding, main route with optional detours
  • make camp, dinner, and rest
  • The ride did start out technically easy and got progressively trickier. Yet days 2 and 3 had technical challenges that far exceeded day 1.

    Morning portion of day 1:


  • technical difficulty: easy-medium
  • physical difficulty: medium
  • duration: 4 hours
  • length: 25.5 miles
  • elevation: 3,500' up, 3,600 down
  • altitude: 4,400 low, 5,000 high

  • Most of the riding was on rocky dirt trails along cliff ridges above and next to the CO river, very scenic and fun sections and a few steep climbs with obstacles. Some areas riding on huge rocks with a few (but not many) hike-a-bikes. We also took a 5 mile detour for Steve's loop - scenic and highly recommended. We crossed Salt Creek on a small bridge, then had a steep, long hike-a-bike climb up the opposite ridge. As it opened to trail, it was still unrideable in parts, so we walked-biked until the summit, where the trail became easily rideable. The last few miles before the lunch stop was gravel fire roads running about half a mile S of and parallel to interstate 70, in an area called Rabbit Valley.

    Afternoon portion of day 1:


  • technical difficulty: medium-hard
  • physical difficulty: medium
  • duration: 1.5 (2.5?) hours
  • length: 10 (18?) miles
  • elevation: 1,600' (2,400'?) up, 1,300' (2,000'?) down
  • altitude: 4,400' low, 5,000' high

  • On this section, my GPS tracker wasn't running for the first hour or so, so the length & elevation shown above are less than actual. We followed the trail for about 30 minutes to the Western Rim Trail detour. This is highly recommended - don't miss it! Similar to Steve's Loop, but longer and more scenic. After this detour hooked back up with the main trail, we rode across varied terrain and passed a herd of grazing sheep. The last mile was a super-steep climb and short flat section to base camp.

    At base camp, we pitched our tent, tuned our bikes, met some of our fellow riders, ate a hearty dinner, and hit the sack early.

    Day 2

    Day 2 starts with fast easy miles, then a brutal climb with technically tricky parts in the afternoon.

    Morning portion of day 2:


  • technical difficulty: easy
  • physical difficulty: easy
  • duration: 3.5 hours
  • length: 36.5 miles
  • elevation: 2,600' up, 3,500' down
  • altitude: 4,100' low, 5,000' high

  • We started with a descent down a rocky fire road, then followed occasionally sandy fire roads through rolling flatlands. This was the fastest, easiest section of the entire Kokopelli trail, though not boring due to the great scenery. One part of the ride followed right next to the CO river, through foliage overgrowing into the narrow trail. The last few miles followed highway 128, reaching lunch camp just after crossing the CO river.

    Due to a Bikerpelli logistic SNAFU, we had to wait nearly 2 hours for the shuttle to continue the ride. This sapped our momentum and made the afternoon even more brutal due to the increased heat of the late afternoon. Fortunately, this turned out to be the only such problem in Bikerpelli's otherwise well planned and executed support.

    Afternoon portion of day 2:


  • technical difficulty: medium-hard
  • physical difficulty: brutal
  • duration: 3 hours
  • length: 13.5 miles
  • elevation: 3,100' up, 2,700' down
  • altitude: 4,700' low, 6,400' high

  • The shuttle took us up Entrada Bluffs Road to a peak from which we continued on our bikes. The climb was just brutal. At least 90* temperature, in direct afternoon sunlight, at high altitude. The climb was super steep with varied conditions from 20% grades of sand, or loose rocks mixed with sand, to even steeper rocky technical sections that most people walked. It lasted for about 90 minutes. This climb was every bit as tough the hardest climbs in La Ruta, though not as long. I reached points where I lost peripheral and color vision, which is my personal limit reminder that I'm about to pass out so I need to stop for a moment. But the scenery was jaw-dropping beautiful.

    The descent was fantastically fun! Rocky and medium-hard technical difficulty, I challenged myself and enjoyed riding over stuff I didn't think I could. Near the end of the descent we reached Rock Garden, super steep with loose, big rocks and virtually unrideable. Only 2 people I know of from the group of 90 rode down it. We walked. After Rock Garden, we had a steep technical climb followed by several miles of rolling fire road to the base camp. Upon reaching it, I felt totally spent. The afternoon climbs just wiped me out. The numbers don't give it justice, as they don't show the varied tough conditions of these climbs.

    Base camp was in a beautiful plateau surrounded by high bluffs peaking around 9,000' altitude. The next day, we would climb those bluffs and look down on this little plateau.

    Day 3

    Day 3 starts with 17+ miles of climbing to 8,600' altitude, followed by a long descent getting progressively more tricky and dangerous.

    Morning portion of day 3:


  • technical difficulty: easy-medium
  • physical difficulty: hard
  • duration: 4 hours
  • length: 24.5 miles
  • elevation: 4,800' up, 4,000' down
  • altitude: 5,500' low, 8,600' high

  • We followed a fire road for a few miles until the big climb started. The climb lasted for 17 miles over varied terrain:
  • Simple fire roads, downshift and spin
  • Sand mixed with rocks, rear tire spins out and you work twice as hard
  • Technical rocky sections, spin up and go fast to maintain momentum

  • After 2 hours of climbing we reached a false summit, descended a bit, then began the final climb. During this climb my butt got so sore, mostly bone pain from contacting the seat for so many hours over the past few days. We reached the true summit after just over 3 hours of climbing. After this was a fast, steep, smooth descent on pavement. One of the steepest descents I've ever ridden, I hit 42 mph despite the high rolling resistance of my big 27.5" x 2.4" wide tires. It would have been a 60 mph downhill on a road bike. Yet it had sharp corners rough and full of gravel, so we had to be on our toes braking for the turns. This led to lunch.

    Afternoon portion of day 3:


  • technical difficulty: medium-hard
  • physical difficulty: easy-medium
  • duration: 2.5 hours
  • length: 24 miles
  • elevation: 1,500' up, 5,800' down
  • altitude: 4,000' low, 8,400' high

  • After lunch we took the shuttle to the Top of the World, from which the rest of the ride would continue. This started as a rough dirt fire road which led into Upper Porcupine (UPS), which got progressively technical right next to a cliff dropping over 500 feet. Stefan and I reached a point where we were walking half the time because the trail was so technically challenging, with no margin for error (a mistake or fall could send you over the cliff), combined with being tired at the end of day 3 of a long ride so our balance and skills were not at their best.

    So we were walking half the time and knew the trail only got even more difficult when it merged into Lower Porcupine Ridge. So near where UPS merges into LPR, we bailed out on Sand Flats Road. This was a sandy smooth fast downhill grade, later becoming gravel, then pavement before dumping out into Moab, Utah. This was some of the best scenery of the entire ride. And it got really hot as we descended.

    On the way we visited Slickrock Trail, which is a famous mountain biking spot that I had never heard of. Imagine a skateboard park, made from natural rocks, for mountain bikers. There's a white dotted line painted on the rocks to mark a line to ride only a mile or two round trip. It has ultra-steep sections you can actually ride up so long as you can balance, due to the seemingly infinite traction of rubber on clean dry rock. I'd love to have something like this near Seattle!

    We then rode into Moab, through town to the CO River, where the final base camp was located. Here we had a cabin, ate dinner with the Bikerpelli gang, and had welcome showers and actual beds.



    The Bikerpelli experience is fantastic. Their rider guide is thorough and accurate. It's the best bicycling adventure I've ever done, and I'm looking forward to more epic rides like this. Here are a few tips I would highlight:

  • Give yourself at least 4 months to prepare and train harder than you think you need to.
  • Remember training is not just fitness, but also seat time to toughen up your butt.
  • Avoid sugar and gels: drink water and eat real food (like a Clif bar) hourly.
  • Carry at least 100 ounces of water with electrolyte and drink at least 1 qt per hour.
  • Use 50+ SPF sunblock on all exposed skin, and lip balm with sunblock
  • Make sure your bike is in top condition, with fresh brake pads & tires
  • Make sure your bike is properly fitted and comfy, especially your seat
  • Ensure your pack includes a spare tube, pump, patch kit, tools including chain tool, and derailleur hanger
  • Even if you're navigating by phone/GPS, have maps and compass and know how to use them. Anything can happen to electronics and it's easy to get lost, which is bad news in these desert conditions.
  • Use chamois butter! As sore as your ass will get, no need to add chafing to the soreness. And have fun with the endless run of jokes about greasing up your ass.
  • Other minor points of interest:

  • I navigated the route and recorded my tracks using ViewRanger on my Galaxy Note 2 running Cyanogenmod 11.
  • Kudos to the GN2's 3100 mAH battery! Each day my phone did about 6 hours of GPS and recording and had about 50% battery remaining each evening.
  • I took the photos using this same phone.
  • My bike is a Fezzari Timp Peak, which is strong, light, dual suspension, and ran flawlessly through the trip.