The bikepacking community is a small one. The component of the bikepacking community that enjoys riding rough, technical trail is even smaller. The female subset of that group is minuscule, so I feel pretty lucky to get to call several of them my friends.
I was perusing The Facebook one day when I saw my friend Becky comment on a post that she and her friend Bec were planning on bikepacking the Kokopelli Trail the following weekend and were looking for a conditions report. The Kokopelli Trail is a 142-mile traverse connecting Fruita, Colorado, with Moab, Utah. It’s billed as a jeep road route, but in reality, it is a mix of singletrack, jumble-track, smooth dirt roads, pavement, sand, and in our case, mud pits.
I knew both Bec and Becky were strong riders, having both finished the Colorado Trail Race in the past, and I was yearning for some quality girl time.
I invited myself along, offering up a boyfriend shuttle driver. Luckily, they accepted my invite.
We escaped the snowy mountains of Colorado on a Friday morning, headed for the relatively warm desert. After the appropriate amount of fiddle-farting around at the trailhead, as none of us had been bikepacking in several months, we handed the car keys off to our shuttle driver and pointed down the trail at the entirely reasonable time of 1:30 p.m.
The first 15 miles of the trail are the slowest. Leaving the Loma trailhead outside of Mack, the route follows Mary’s Loop to Troy Built, then beyond.
photo courtesy of Becky Sears
Beyond to a hike-a-bike down to Salt Creek.
And then to a hike-a-bike back up.
The route is very much not a jeep road through this section. Even though we were paralleling I-70 within a mile or two throughout this section, it felt suitably remote, even when we hit the more maintained road that would take us to Rabbit Valley.
The Kokopelli Trail uses a variety of jeep roads through the valley that tend to be sandy. The energy-sucking sandy roads also parallel Trail 2 and Western Rim, two pieces of singletrack that are worth a ride at any time. It was an easy decision to make to skip the official route and increase the fun factor.
There are few places more magical than Western Rim at sunset, and we settled on an east-facing flank of it for the night.
Becky wondered what we were going to do all evening since it got dark before 6:30 p.m. in late October. Talk and eat, of course! We made it till nearly 9, watching the full moon illuminate the surrounding canyonlands as it made its way slowly over us, before calling it a night.
photo courtesy of Becky Sears
I’ve bikepacked plenty in my life, with a wide variety of people, but never have I felt such support for the plight of having to put on a damp sports bras in the morning. There’s something special about girls’ trips.
We finished off Western Rim in the morning sun, traversing through the rest of Rabbit Valley and down towards Westwater boat launch by mid-morning, the La Sals outside of Moab getting closer by the minute. It was strange to go from complete isolation to one of the more popular boat launches on the Colorado, with boats scattered everywhere, campers, boaters, and a strong cell-phone signal to boot.
We hit our first major mud just past Westwater. It had been raining for days prior, and we’d been warned about potential mud. I knew it well; I’d raced the route the day after a storm many years ago and wallowed through endless puddles of mud then. Luckily, this time, we were following a pair of fatbike tires and at the end of each puddle, they’d left a mud stick that they’d used to scrape mud from shoes and bikes. They’d also left tracks that left very clear signals as to whether a semi-wet spot was safe to ride or not. We thanked our imaginary fatbike friends every time they went through a bog that we were able to avoid.
The route becomes chunky again as it passes through sheep territory, where aggressive sheep dogs are known to harass riders occasionally. Late in the season, we had the place to ourselves.
Through McGraw Bottom, we started the final slickrock climb towards Yellow Jacket Canyon, affectionately known as Sand Canyon in my book.
It’s my favorite spot on the whole route.
We soon found ourselves at the remains of the historic Dewey Bridge, which was once restored and then promptly burnt down a few years later by a kid playing with matches.
From Dewey, the route went up.
We found our fatbike friends occupying a beautiful little campsite, and we thanked them in person for the mud sticks. They’d started earlier in the day on Friday than us and had encountered heinous mud. We knew, we’d seen their dried tracks.
We continued, determined to do a bit of night riding to help make the final day of our journey a little bit shorter. Becky had to be back in Steamboat teaching at 8 a.m. Monday; time was tight.
Bec and I both had strong lights, Becky was equipped with one suitable for dirt road riding. When the trail went downhill and turned into a series of ledges and chunk, we placed Becky between us, Bec leading the way, illuminating the trail, me behind trying to ride off-set to prevent shadows. It worked brilliantly, and when we finally stopped, Becky exclaimed, "You guys are awesome! There’s no way I’d do something like this on my own, and it’s so great to have friends who’ll go along with crazy ideas." This is somewhat paraphrased, but whatever she said, it gave me the warm fuzzies inside.
Girls’ trips are awesome.
We spent a cold night high above Fisher Valley lamenting that with lightweight bikepacking, you really can only take along just enough to stay alive. Comfort, at least in late October, is out of the question.
The damp sports bras in the morning were heinous.
We rolled down the remainder of the descent in the morning, walked down Rose Garden Hill, filled up on water in Cottonwood Creek, and headed to Fisher Valley where we started Climb No. 1 of the day.
At the top, we raided my bag of Peachy-O gummy candies. "We ate all of our good food," Bec and Becky lamented. "All we have left is the healthy stuff." Bec traded me a Bonk Breaker for candy … a Bonk Breaker that I’m guessing I’ll carry around as emergency food for quite a while.
A descent into Castle Valley and a climb on the La Sal Scenic Loop put us at the top of our final piece of singletrack.
From the end of that, it was a long 8-mile coast down Sand Flats Road down to Moab, marveling at the rock formations that make the area so unique.
It was just after 4 p.m. when we rolled into Milt’s Malt and Burger Shop, the quintessential Moab eating establishment. Malts, burgers, and tots, we waited for our shuttle car, tired and satisfied.
After two attempts to race the route, this was my first time getting to stop and smell the roses, and to see the entire route in the daylight. Plus, we got to spend three days talking about girl stuff--like new bikepacking routes, advances in suspension design, and, of course, strange boy behavior that none of us had an explanation for.
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When Eszter Horani was in second grade, living in Tucson, Ariz., her dad bought the entire family Schwinn mountain bikes; she’s been riding ever since, dabbling in racing disciplines from road, to cross, to track and mountain biking. Most recently she’s loving adventurous long rides, bikepacking and exploring the world from two wheels. zenondirt.wordpress.com