Friends and I actually motivated about three months ahead and planned a mountain bike tour of the Kokopelli Trail. Our crew had three couples; Robin and Heather our team leaders, Kevin and Anne, and my husband Chris and I. Heather volunteered to drive sag wagon, and I can’t say enough how much we all appreciated this generous gesture. Each day at the end of our ride she met us, like an angel, with our tents pitched and a fire burning. We chose to follow the sections as outlined in our guidebook1, and rode 25 to 35 mile sections per day for 6 days. We started our tour from Loma, Co. to Moab, Ut.
As you read this article, please keep into context that I am an amateur rider. I am also 4’11” and 90lbs, with little legs, as I relentlessly attempted to keep up with my taller friends. This was to be the first extensive mountain bike trip I had ever attempted. And while I trained as hard as I could in the time allotted, I knew that I was undertaking a venture that was going to be challenging. I set personal goals on this journey – to make it through to the best of my ability. To those of you who train for months and make this trail look easy, I commend you. This is my story…
8 October 2000
Time to go…
After all the planning and preparation and nervous exhilaration of the pending trip, finally the day had come. Chris and I tied up our last minute details and drove to Steamboat to meet up with the group and pack the trailer. We were all motivated and excited, and 4 of us left early afternoon to shuttle cars. Surprisingly, it only ended up taking us about 4 1/2 hours all the way to Moab. We pitched a tent at the Lazy Lizard youth hostel campsite so that we could awaken to one final shower, then we were off…
9 October 2000
Section 1: Loma to Rabbit Valley
We met up with Anne and Kevin for breakfast in the morning, and then proceeded on one final 2 hour drive to shuttle the car. We arrived at the trailhead at about 1:30, but unfortunately, the rest of our group didn’t arrive until about 2:30 with our bikes and our gear. Finally, about 3:00, we started off for our first section of riding. I was very anxious about starting that late, because I had been on technical rides in the past with a late start, and I could foresee potential hazards, i.e. getting caught in the dark without enough light, or ending up in some trouble due to elements or fatigue. I also knew that this trail was unfamiliar and difficult, which added to my apprehension. Nonetheless, we started off, so as not to get off schedule of our 6 days of riding.
We opted to stay together the first day, even though our crew of 5 had varying degrees of riding experience. I was glad in the end that we had made this decision, for various reasons that ensued along the way.We started our ride off from Loma, just west of Grand Junction, Co. There are many variations at the beginning of the trailhead, and our group chose to start on Mary’s Loop. The ride started out really well, with an easy degree of difficulty and breathtaking rim views of Horsethief Canyon and the Colorado River below. Robin opted himself as tour guide, and took photographs along the way. As for day one I started out self-assured and energetic. I was very grateful that, so far, I was keeping up with the team.
As the route started to turn to single track, it also started to get progressively more technical. We all knew it was going to get more difficult, as our guide had described sections as “grueling, hike-a-bike” single track.2 The writer of our map also said, “Sections of rock can be hard and abrasive, be considerate to others and don’t leave blood on the trail.”3 We all laughed as we read this, and complimented the map author’s sense of humor. Unfortunately, I didn’t predict at this time, the significance of this description. As we completed Mary’s Loop, we connected back to the main Kokopelli Trail for the second half of the ride.
Section one, in places, was fairly technical rim riding where a serious fall could have led you to plummet into the canyon more than 500 feet below. I was feeling pretty confident, even up to this point, which perhaps led me to push my limits greater than I should have. I guess part of me inside wanted to impress the group. I choose to give it my all, all the time, but in group sessions somehow I feel greater pressure. So as I barreled up a rock laden section of single track, I realized midway that I might be in over my head. My back tire caught between boulders, and I wasn’t going fast enough to ride it out. I ended up flipping over the front of my bike and landing face first into a rock. Fortunately, my right hand broke the fall just slightly, and I smashed my pinky and ring fingers between rocks. What I remember being most upset about at first was that I had broken our map writer’s rule – I got blood on the rocks.
I think I must have looked pretty gruesome and bewildered, because suddenly I noticed my friends rushing over to me. As I sat there on the ground attempting to regain composure, Kevin was immediately by my side with a first aid kit, wiping the blood off my chin. I was certainly humbled and disoriented, but my initial assessment was that I was more or less o.k. I thought for a minute that I might have knocked some of my lower teeth out, but they were all still there. My lip and chin were bloody and swollen. And although I looked like I had just been in a boxing match, I interpreted that it was a survivable wound. My fingers were black and blue and swollen, but I could still bend them, so I determined they probably weren’t broken. Emotionally, however, I have to admit I was pretty devastated. I had worked so hard for so long to be strong for this trip. Now here I was on the first day, busted up pretty good. I always have been very determined and tenacious. Some might even call me stubborn. So in the face of adversity even though I felt like bellyaching, I didn’t give up. I thanked God that I could still continue, picked myself up, dusted myself off, and got back on my bike.
As I rode on, I was really sore. My chin throbbed and my fingers hurt, but I was perseverant. I had been planning this trip for months, and I certainly wasn’t going to let a little thing like pain stop me. I rode on, admittedly much more conservatively, but I rode on, as the guide writer’s “grueling hike-a-bike” single track came to be. At the first hiking section I thought, “this isn’t so bad.” But the guide didn’t specify exactly how long and grueling this section was. It felt very intense at the time. I could see the look on my friend Anne’s face, which described my demeanor accurately, sheer exhaustion, but trying hard to keep our chin’s up through the journey. The technical descent finally led to a nice, soft, single-track section, then to a double track road. Our spirits were high as we determined that we had completed the technical part of our riding for the day. However, new anxiety ensued as we realized the sun was rapidly setting, and we weren’t sure exactly how many miles lay ahead of us.
Group morale stayed high as we cranked along the final stretches of our expedition in the dark. This stretch seemed endless, as I was cold and tired, and still sore from my wounds. But something inside me felt exhilaration as my fears of this ride as being unattainable slowly began to dissipate. I was riding this trail, and I was riding it well. This revelation helped me to crank on with impressive speed. We were blessed with a full moon, and one bike light in the group, and we eventually did pull up to camp altogether, and relatively all in one piece. My last thoughts as I drifted off to sleep were revitalizing and joyous, I had done it – I had completed my first day on the Kokopelli trail.
10 October 2000
Section 2: Rabbit Valley to Cisco
I woke up this morning not certain if it would be smart for me to continue. For some unknown reason, on adventures like this, I have a tendency to loose all common sense and good judgment. My friends looked at my fingers. They were brilliantly black and blue with discoloration, which was spreading down my hand. We assessed, again, by the fact that I could still bend them, that they probably weren’t broken. They suggested that I tape my fingers together, and to try not to crash too hard. Chris, my husband, who is a much better rider than I, offered to stick by my side for the day. The decision was made. I was going.
Fortunately for me, day 2 was a fabulous treat, which offered some climbing, but mainly easy, non-technical, winding dirt roads. One beefy ascent marks the middle of the route, but it is a wide dirt road, which is very do-able with a good set of lungs. I really enjoyed this day. My fingers had finally stopped throbbing. It was also very nice quality time with Chris, who was very patient with me as I grew slower towards the end. It wasn’t entirely my fault however, as gale force winds picked up throughout the day, and literally blew me (all 90lbs.) at times to the side of the trail. The wind became so intense, that I actually had to pedal going downhill. After what in the wind became a very long final stretch of our 35 mile day; I pedaled into our campsite, day 2 under my belt!
11 October 2000
Section 3: Cisco to Dewey Bridge
As each day passed, my body became progressively more sore. As I hopped into the saddle for day 3, I had no idea to anticipate how much the weather would affect us. It was cold and rainy, which was fine, because we were all geared up appropriately. But this section ultimately became very demanding, as the weather dramatically altered our riding conditions. The ride goes from pavement, to long, windy, dirt roads, to a small section of rim and trail riding. I enjoyed gazing along this trail at the beauty of the Colorado River beside me passing through, in sections, a valley lush with trees and vegetation. I would have thoroughly enjoyed this day, except that the rain turned our sand traps to mud, which actually caused our tires to stop dead in their tracks at times. So much mud caked on the wheels and the brake lines, that the tires literally couldn’t roll. We all carried on with a light-hearted sense of amusement at the whole situation, until about the millionth time that we had to clean the mud out of our rims with our bare hands. Then it started to become frustrating. Our bikes, gear, and bodies were covered in mud from head to toe.
To add to the excitement, we all had clipless pedals. Those of you who have them understand; they are rendered virtually useless caked in mud. I thought to myself, “I suppose if you want to be hard core, you have to anticipate these types of obstacles.” Nonetheless, I must admit, as we finally rolled into our campsite at Dewey Bridge I was very relieved. We utilized the Colorado River to our advantage and spent an hour cleaning the caked mud out of the amazingly infinite number of small nooks and cranny’s on our bikes. Then it was finally time to relax and enjoy each other’s companionship in front of the fire, as the sun came out for the rest of the day.
12 October 2000
Section 4: Dewey Bridge to Fisher Valley
Today, unfortunately, I was forced to admit that I am not invincible. I woke up this morning noticing that the blood under my skin by my fingers had spread halfway down my hand. They were still swollen, and now my wrist was sore from muscle spasms shooting up my arm, as I tried to overcompensate for the pain by leaning more greatly on my wrist. I was very determined from the outset that completing this ride was important. In that context, it was very hard for me to make the decision that I did, but I chose to take a day off. The guide had described this section as steep and rough ascents, with a technical descent. I evaluated that this section would probably further irritate my wrist, because descending was when it took the most pressure. I assessed that I’d rather miss one day, then take the chance of not being able to finish the rest of the trip. As I watched the rest of the crew ride on, my heart sank. It felt like torture, not being able to complete in full, the journey that I had invested into heart and soul. Preparing for months had somehow made this venture all the more important to come to fruition. I realized in the moment when I chose to take a rest day, that I didn’t want to. Something inside me, even if all my limbs had fallen off one by one, still would have wanted to press on. It’s a feeling that I can’t quite explain, or a sickness, but I’ve got it. I like to push my limits.
This trip was very important to me internally as well. It was something in life that I wanted to accomplish, not for anyone else, but for me. It was very frustrating facing obstacles that I simply couldn’t control. According to the rest of the crew it did turn out to be a good day for me to skip. Apparently the terrain was rough and steep at times, culminating into a steep, rocky descent. I would have found this very difficult in the shape I was in. To be honest our drive down Onion Creek road in our sag wagon had some elements of technical difficulty as well. Riding through the valley staring up at Fisher Towers and gazing at the sandstone bluffs helped to ease the sadness of missing a day as Anne (my riding partner), Heather, and I made our way around a training ride out from camp. We joked about how we gave the boys an opportunity to bond for the day, which again, helped me to remain distracted. I became reminded that the purpose of this trip wasn’t only for my personal goals, but also to spend quality time with this tremendous group of people I was with. I learned that I really love this group, and internal and external challenges aside, they made this trip extraordinary.
13 October 2000
Section 5: Fisher Valley to Castle Valley
I was really excited to get back on the bike today. I knew it was going to be a climbing day, what I didn’t know was how much my legs would hurt due to culminating soreness. I had failed to use my rest day to truly rest due to our need to ride anyway. So today, even on climbs that didn’t look intimidating, my legs felt like wet noodles. Fortunately, although steep much of the time, the riding was not extremely technical. I was grateful for this, because I thought I hurt well enough as it was. The views of the Polar and North Beaver mesas distracted me from the building fatigue in my body. Thoughts that went through my head as I rode; “This is really beautiful.” “This is really challenging.” “I hope I don’t bite it right now.” “Damn it, more climbing.” “My wrist hurts.” “My legs hurt.” “Wow, look at those views.” “Thank God for this Terry, Woman’s Liberator Seat, my butt is the only part of me that doesn’t hurt.” “I am so lucky to be having this experience.” “My life is so good.” “How much farther can this be?” “Ah, the campsite. Thank God!”
As I quieted the voices in my head, I was able to revel in the beauty of this climb. The climb overlooks mesas and sandstone bluffs, traverses through national forest, and culminates into an invigorating pavement descent. The descent provides an overwhelming view of the La Sal Mountains as you roll down into Castle Valley.
With each passing day I felt more and more proud. I had come this far. This was a genuinely great feeling. I lamented some as we reflected by our last night’s campfire. I was truly sad that this adventure, despite the trials and tribulations, was all too soon, coming to an end.
14 October 2000
Section 6: Castle Valley to Moab.
The home stretch…
Our guidebook described this last section as, “one more obnoxiously steep climb… culminating into a long, steep, jackhammer descent.” This was pretty accurate. I was happy as, ironically, my legs didn’t seem to hurt so bad today. Why, I can not tell you. Maybe it’s because the planets were aligned just so, but for whatever reason, I was grateful to have a second wind. I felt strong. Maybe it was because all the while I was pedaling, I knew that we had reserved a room in a Bed and Breakfast for tonight, and a soft bed was awaiting me. The faster I pedaled, I knew, the quicker it was that I would get to a hot shower. Trust me, by now, I could really use one. The climb was again accompanied by breathtaking views of Castle Valley and the La Sal mountains in the distance, as we traversed along the Porcupine Rim. As we began our descent the 2 track remained interesting enough to keep me from looking around too much. Once we hit the Sand Flats Road, I understood completely what “jackhammer descent” meant. I thought, at times, that I might literally bounce right off my bike. This was the first time ever, I actually considered turning in my beloved Single Track Trek 930, and trading up to full suspension. The one saving grace to my body was that this descent went pretty quick. And as I passed Slickrock trailhead, I knew this was real. I had done it. I had made it. Today I had completed the Kokopelli Trail! It was an exhilarating feeling of natural high.
It was the little things that made this trip so special. The biggest gift was Heather driving sag wagon – relentlessly continuing to greet us at the end of each day, with a warm fire and a bright smile. Robin photographed the entire event. Kevin contributed a wonderful sense of humor that kept us all light-hearted and smiling through the pain. He also contributed, to my eternal gratefulness, the alcohol swab that cleaned my face immediately after I fell. Anne was my riding partner and inspiration; as together we pushed limits that we never knew before we were capable of. Chris, my husband, has never made me feel so proud. Continuously offering support, encouragement and praise throughout my ride, he helped me to feel safe and capable of anything. These gifts were far from small, as they culminated into one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my life.
I am a changed person today, because of my venture on the Kokopelli Trail. I feel an overwhelming sense of calmness and peace that I can not completely explain. I absolutely have an internal glow. Before I left I had been very stressed out with events in my life. Suddenly, my perspective has shifted. For 8 days my life became very simple and pure. I breathed mountain air, I pushed my limits to extremes that I didn’t know I was capable of, I laughed with friends. I realized that my priorities are completely in order. I have never felt so alive, and so at peace.
To those of you who are left wondering, “Will she go back for section 4?”, of course. I am an adrenaline junkie after all. To those of you who wonder if you should go – “Carpe Diem!”
— Christine Adams, FTH Contributor
Some content taken from “Mountain Biking Utah” and “Map of Kokopelli’s Bike Trail.” By Greg Bromka and Rick Showalter.