A long and winding (dirt) road

Like bustin' down singletrack? Well learn how to fix it up as well  Credit: Elden Nelson/Active.com
Part I: Meet the trail

The Kokopelli Trail is not something you just up and do. For one thing, its a long trail 142 miles, to be exact beginning at the Slickrock trailhead in Moab, Utah, and finishing up near Fruita, Colo. It retraces, more or less, a trade route used by Native Americans way back before the west was won.

For another, its out in the desert, often far away from phones (and you can forget about getting a signal with your cell phone) and car-accessible roads. If you run out of food and water or have a serious mechanical, youre in big trouble. You get injured and youre really screwed.

With the right amount of preparation, though, the Kokopelli Trail can be ridden. At least, I think it can. Although Ive tried it three times, one thing or another has always gone wrong. So now, at least in my mind, the Kokopelli Trail has stopped being merely a trail and has become something of an obsession. And now, Im going to share my obsession with you.

In this three-part series, youll get to know this famous trail, how to prepare, what gear to bring, and some things that can go wrong. And, if things go the way I hope, youll learn how it can be done in a single day. Which, considering that Ive never been able to complete the trail at all, may be just a teensy bit of a stretch.

Climb and drop, climb and drop
Connecting two mountain bike paradises as it does, youd expect the Kokopelli to be a mighty cool trail, and youd be right. With signposts every few miles, its not too easy to get lost, but not impossible, as youll read a little later. You kick the ride off on Sand Flats road (which, while definitely sandy, is not flatits a long, slow climb), then up some moderately steep singletrack. That pretty much takes care of your first morning and brings you into the La Sal Mountains. The transformation in the environment is pretty astoundingin a few hours youve gone from hot sandstone desert, to aspen-rich alpine mountains, with a good chance of rain or snow, no matter what time of year.

You wont have much of a chance to take in the view, though, because for the next few miles, youre on fast downhill pavement. Yes, part of the Kokopelli trail is paved. I know, paved? Just live with it. Actually, let me amend that to semi-paved. With all the potholes and deep cracks in this road, youll still be glad youre on a mountain bikea road bike would be in serious trouble here. And watch out for the hairpins.

Try not to die
Now, Ill let you in on a little secret. Most people ride the Kokopelli trail in the opposite direction of what Ive been describing to you. Im going to go out on a limb here and say that most people are dumb, because by going in the opposite direction, they miss downhilling from North Beaver Mesa to Onion Creek, which is a rip-roaring, rocking-and-twisting ride. Its five miles of twisty, ledgy, rocky downhill, and its not to be missed. Of course, youve often got serious exposure on at least one side of the road, and a bad turn or endo could bring on a severe penalty (e.g., death). So watch yourself, know your limits, and so forth. Basically, try not to die.

After this massive downhill wing-ding, you roll along for a bit, then make one short-but-steep grunt of an uphill. Congratulations. Youre now in Fischer Valley, about a third of the way through the trail. And since youve just been dropping, dropping, dropping, you can bet that its time to climb again. That climb is a doozy, and its name is Seven Mile Pass.

Stairway to heaven (or hell)
Depending on whom you talk to, Seven Mile Pass is either the best part of the Kokopelli trail, or the worst. Its certainly the most technical. You kick this section of trail off with a brutally steep hike-a-bike up a steep, boulder-strewn gully. Then, for the next seven miles, you climb up series after series of ledges. Alone, none of these staircases would be too terribly difficult, but the cumulative effect is pretty impressive. This is the section of the trail where you can tell whos been training in the gym, and whos been training on the mountain.

From the top of Seven Mile Pass, youve now got a four mile screaming-fast downhill on a dirt road strewn with loose fist-sized rocks. Watch your toes. Then its time for some technical canyon singletrack, emptying out at Dewey Bridge on the Colorado Riverabout the halfway point on the trail, and a good place to wash up and camp.

Spinning, spinning, spinning
While the first half of the Kokopelli trail is diverse, often technical, and has a lot of climbing, the bulk of the second half really blends into itself. Its almost all desert doubletrack and singletrack. Hours and hours of desert spinning is good for the soul youll get a chance to think, enjoy the view, count lizards, talk with your riding buddies. Youll also get a chance to run out of water if youre not careful, so bring lots three ounces per mile is a good rule of thumb.

The Kokopelli Trail does end with a bang, though. Once you reach Rabbit Valley, the trail turns from featureless desert road and doubletrack into wacky, wild, wonderful singletrack, especially the last few miles, where you drop down a very steep canyon and climb up the other side, via a beautifully-constructed trail known as Troybuilt. Then youre at the Loma trailhead and, voila, youve just ridden the Kokopelli trail. There, that wasnt so hard, was it?

Like hell it wasnt.

Next: Three tries, three failures. Dehydration, wrong-turns, ill-timed sprints, food poisoning, and a march in the mud.

Elden Nelson lives in Utah County, Utah, where he has out-the-door access to trails that would make your eyes pop out. Reach him at enelson@fawcette.com.

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