Multiday race reports, Trip Reports » Kokopelli Trail: Reloaded


12:30a, Sand Flats Road. I’m thinking about pulling the plug. I’m pedaling along, but my body cries at any exertion. People are all around me, with bright lights bobbing, casting shadows. I can’t see the mountains, cliffs, rocks, road. I don’t have the strength to drop them, so I fall back, only to get caught by other riders.

The mistake was eating a Navajo taco in Kayenta, AZ. My apologies to anyone riding nearby. The sounds and smells emanating from me were terrible. Stomach pain and discomfort is one thing, and something I deal with all the time on rides, but before long it was clear my body was shutting down.

I reached the top of the first climb (8200′), shell shocked. I waited for a few riders to come up so I wouldn’t blind them before I turned my bike downhill. One woman, Erika I think, tried to convince me to continue to at least Fisher Valley. “I appreciate the encouragement, but I know what I’m doing.” I had lost the ability to get myself out of the mountains, and continuing on would have likely meant leaning on someone else (either riders, 4x4s or SAR folks).

Before long I saw an LED light. It was Lee, off in the bushes. He too had fallen victim to the same Navajo taco. After laughing about our fate and staring at the moon, we rolled back down to Slick Rock.

We followed the race by car a little on Saturday, shrouded in the deep fog of ignominy. These riders were so strong and we were so weak. The Kokopelli suddenly seemed so hard, so long, and so impossible. Even though there was a definable cause, in the end it’s just an excuse and the facts stated DNF. I saw Jon B. finish strong, but was too drained to stick around any longer.

Deep sleep at Super Ocho in Fruita. Sunday AM we headed over to casa Curiak. We rode some of the best bikes on the planet on some of the best trails on the planet (2 Levs, 1 Behemoth and the Lunch Loops, respectively). It was the best ride I’d had since the AZT 300. I felt like a million bucks, relatively speaking. The big wheels in my head began to turn.

Hurry up Mike

Actually, he was nearly always in front, and I lost count of the number of moves he cleaned that I didn’t even touch

Monday dawned with much uncertainty. Hours passed as Lee, Mike and I threw around ideas and waffled on them. Full koko? Half? Forwards? Reverse? You drive here, I drive there. My head was spinning.

Waffles flattened to pancakes. A plan had been formed. Almost. Mike would drive my car to either Moab or Dewey (his choice) and we would drive his to Loma. “It wouldn’t be spring without riding the Kokopelli.”

Lee and I rolled out of Loma at 6pm. It was toasty, but ’twas nothing for a couple of AZ boys. The singletrack was a hoot, start to finish. “What a way to start the race.”

Lee Blackwell on the start of Mary’s

I expected a lot more hike-a-bike down and up Salt Creek. In less than two hours from the start I was on the smooth double track to Rabbit Valley. Too easy..?

Evening light beckoned me to pick up the pace as I flowed without effort or thought. There’s so much happening at sunset, and there’s no better way to experience it than from the seat of a bike, rolling over ridges and through valleys.

Evening light

Evening light

I knew route finding would be difficult once darkness fell. The moon would not be up for at least three hours. Like many other KTR riders, I had only ridden the very start and very end of the course before.

Castle Rocks. The last turn that was obvious

Kokopelli signs were easy to pick out by headlamp, but arrows to campsites threw me, as did several unmarked intersections. I never really rode any off trail miles, but I spent some time scratching my head.

Without the moon I had no bearings and no way to predict climbs, descents or turns. I had studied the course, but I was now riding backwards. I thought the Bitter Creek (tumbleweed) section was going to be downhill for me. Once on the top the trail made no sense. I followed it OK but I couldn’t understand how it kept climbing.

I dropped to Westwater to gas up on water and look at the stars. River rats were partying and the rangers came out to chat. The number of stars I could see was just incredible. I was almost glad the moon wasn’t up…. until I started riding again.

Found the hidden turn at the trestle, off to ride some really cool double track next to the railroad tracks. I guess life as a rodent in the Westwater desert is hard. Every kangaroo rat and rabbit seemed to have a death wish. I had so many close calls that I lost count. I couldn’t tell if I was hitting the rats (and I was doing everything I could, short of crashing myself, to avoid it), but I was fairly sure I got at least 3 rabbits. Why, oh why, are they so stupid? Does the area under my cranks look like a good place to run for?

I was feeling terrible about the carnage I was leaving on the trail when I saw a bobbing light ahead. It was the maestro himself.

Master Curiak

Conversation with Mike included an admission that he was screaming like a little girl through Yellow Jacket, and a strong recommendation to fill my jersey pockets with rocks. I guess you had to be there. It was great to see him and chat a bit. I could tell he was really enjoying the night. After getting gut-bombed at Taco Bell he decided half of the Koko was enough, so he had started at Dewey @ 9pm (he was making much better time than me).

The moonrise caught me thinking about the rhythm of the planets and universe. Living in our little boxes and sleeping through {sun/moon}{sets/rises} all the time makes it easy to forget how amazing our planet is. I love staying awake through a night, outside, as the earth rotates out of and into the sun and moon’s influence. Just like you can’t understand a climb or descent by looking at it on a map or profile, you can’t understand this rhythm until it actually effects you. I was cherishing every bit of sunlight (reflected or otherwise) out there.

Moon rays on the Colorado River

Mike had warned me about the sheep dogs after the pavement (thus the rock suggestion). I did grab some rocks before cresting the hill with speed and adrenalin. Sure enough, all three pairs of dog eyes were about 100 feet off the road, on the left side, just where Mike said they would be. I kept my light in their face as I pedaled by. Not a single bark.

The singletrack by the river was sketchy in the dark. Exposure, pits to fall in and false turns made it a short challenge.

Yellow Jacket kicked me in the nuts. I couldn’t believe how much it kept climbing. I got stuck on a few rock shelves with no road to follow, only a cliff. Sand wasn’t too bad, but the technical nature kept me on my toes. No doubt my difficulties here were due to the fact that it was approaching 2 am. I realized that I had been through 1) food poisoning 2) 45 miles of painful riding at midnight 3) no sleep Friday night 4) a four hour ride at the lunch loops — all in the last three days. I gave myself a little more credit, and felt better about the slow pace.

Meeting Mike had been a boost in spirits, but it also meant I now knew something: my car was at Dewey. I could easily pull the plug there, wait for Lee to arrive and be off the course. I can’t say I wasn’t tempted, but I knew it was only night time depression. I knew I’d be clicking again by sunrise.

Actually, it would be earlier than that. I loved the 2wd climbing away from Dewey. Mike told me it was on this climb that Gary Dye coined the term “shandy.” I didn’t find it distasteful at all. My wheel slipped around some, but I got into a wonderful, seated climbing rhythm. The moon was high enough now to show me all the canyons and rock faces with great detail. I kept my lights off most of the time.

Cottonwood canyon was a surprise. I didn’t think I was anywhere near it yet, but it was a cool diversion and break from continuous pedaling.

More great climbing to the high point above Fisher Valley. The sun rose here and it was not a second too soon. I was about to hit the insanely fun, technical descent along “another” Cottonwood Canyon and Rose Garden Hill. Holy hell was I having a ball. I didn’t expect anything this challenging and high speed. Ear to ear grins.

I walked the first bit of Rose Garden, then hopped on to slide down the rest. I was surprised when the climb out the other side rolled out without a dab. Sweet.

Arctic air had settled in Fisher Valley, where I stopped to add warmers. I felt like I had the whole place to myself. After Loma I hadn’t seen a single soul on the trail (with the exception of Mike). I didn’t see anyone until I hit pavement in the La Sals.

Fisher Towers


Now I was on the big push to the alpine. My legs craved the climbing and my lungs wanted to taste the alpine air. My stomach, on the other hand, had been a wreck since mile Salt Creek. I don’t know if it was lingering effects from the Navajo Taco, but I could not put enough food down. I wasn’t riding fast but was in a perpetual state of bonk. Eating would bring mild nausea, which I knew was better than letting a big bonk settle in. It was a constant struggle, moreso than in any previous long ride, but I just dealt with it and focused attention elsewhere.

Like, on the developing alpine scenery. Climbing up North Beaver Mesa was a continuing treat. Views and cool mountain air kept me rolling along.

La Sal ridin’

I stopped to check out Fisher Creek (Grand Loop recon) and filled up a bottle “just in case.” As I sat next to the rushing creek I realized I really didn’t want the ride to be over. I was having too much fun, especially now that I was up in the trees. I thought I might take a spin down the road to Gateway to continue on with the GLR course. I didn’t want to ‘turn in’ a slow time, so I pedaled by instead.

Porcupine Rim

I blasted down to 6500 feet, ready to face the last 2000 foot paved climb. Or at least I thought I was ready. It hurt. My knees ached for the first time. Riding the KT ‘forwards’ (the race is backwards) means you do the majority of the climbing after 100 miles on the bike. On the other hand, water and heat are much less of an issue.

I was going so slow I felt like I was riding through tar. A little later, I was.

Road crews were painting fresh tar. Lucky me.

I blasted down the upper porcupine 2-track, taking way too many chances. I was focused on a single goal:

The heat became relentless as I descended Sand Flats. Mid 90’s. I rolled by Slickrock at 12:29, making my total time 18:29. I kept the same pace in through town, straight to Wendy’s and salvation.

I owe Mike big time for the help in getting me back out on the course after the first failure. Mike, thanks for the ride (lunch loops), shuttle car drop-off, batteries, cliff bars, KTR in general, house to stage from, the usual inspiration and kick-ass example, the conversations, the sheep dog warning and everything else I’m forgetting. You rock, plain
and simple.

Lee finished up in Dewey at eight in the morning. He hopped in the car and was there to meet me in Moab. Thanks for the ride and the trip, Lee. It’s always an adventure with us, isn’t it?

There’s been some talk about failure here on the endurance forum lately. I don’t have much to add, except that failure makes redemption possible, and the taste of redemption is sweet. (Even better than a frosty).

–Scott Morris

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