Mountain bikers try to conquer Kokopelli's trail

A view of the behemoth Kokopelli Trail  Credit: Elden Nelson/
Miss part two of this story?

The last we checked, Mountain biker Elden Nelson and his group were halfway through Utah's 142-mile Kokopelli trail. However, Rocky and Doofus were having a barfing contest. It wasn't looking good. But after a good night's sleep they got their second wind, briefly.

The next morning, to my amazement, both Doofus and Rocky announced they would finish the ride. We got on our bikes and headed out. In spite of the relatively easy trail, Rocky and Doofus moved slowly, Rocky still frequently marking the trail with his vomit.

Rocky wasnt named for the legendary boxer
This time we had stowed water at the Westwater ranger stationthe hundred-mile mark. We refilled, then continued on, ready to do the last leg of the race. Rocky was getting worse, though, and announced that he couldnt go any further. He got out Shanes cell phone — which, amazingly, had a good signal — and called for a ride. We said goodbye and went on.

As we went on, Bob and I felt great, but Shane and Doofus were getting progressively slower, alternating between pedaling in granny gear (on level ground) and walking their bikes. Bob and I found ourselves waiting much more than riding. Youve got to admire their tenaciousness, Bob said. I agreed.

At about mile 115, I looked back and noticed that Shane had made a wrong turn. Leaving everyone else to wait, I took off after him, catching up. You made a wrong turn, I told him.

No, I can tell thats Rabbit Valley just over the ridge, he said defiantly and determined to go on. It took ten minutes to convince him. Thankfully, he finally came along. And good thing, too — we wouldnt get to Rabbit Valley for another four hours.

Finish line in sight
Finally, we were within twelve miles of finishing. I couldnt believe it. I had gone through all my water while waiting, but didnt care. We were going to finish. Thats when Shane and Doofus dropped the bomb: Were not going any further. Were out of water and exhausted. Theres no way we can make another 10 miles."

There was no changing their minds, either. Shane had the cell phone and was the one who had arranged for pickup when we got to the end of the trail. Without him, Bob and I might finish the ride, but then wed be stuck at night at a trailhead in Loma, Colorado, without a ride back. We were screwed, and that was that.

Bob and I still get worked up when we talk about the 1998 Kokopelli ride. We couldve made it. We shouldve made it. But we didnt make it.

1999: Rain, rain, go away
In 1999, Rocky and I tried once again. This time we made sure that everyone coming along — Brad, an expert racer, and Alan, a competitive water-skier — planned adequately. We moved the date to earlier in the year, so it wouldnt be so hot. We left nothing to chance.

Then it rained. And rained. And rained.

We had pretty much decided to abandon the ride, but Brad would have none of it. Lets at least see what the trails like, he said. Fair enough. The first five miles of Sand Flats road was fine, toothe rain packed the sand and made it easier than usual.

Then we hit clay. My wheels were the first to lock up, thanks in part to big knobbies and low clearance. It wasnt long, though, before everyone was jammed. Everyone wanted to cut their lossesexcept Brad. Lets just see if things get better once we turn off Sand Flats, he said.

When we turned off Sand Flats road onto singletrack, I could tell it wasnt going to get better. In fact, it immediately got much worse. This trail, which is steep and challenging under the best of circumstances, was goopy with mud that immediately jammed our drivetrains. Lets go home, I said.

Oh, come on, said Brad. He can be persistent and persuasive. So we moved on.

Then, when we reached the La Sal Mountains, it stopped raining. However, it started to snow. Knowing that Brad wouldnt let a little thing like a blizzard stop him, we just kept going.

Beaver Mesa was a different matter. Our wheels sank inches into the mud. We were hours behind schedule — even if we made great time for the rest of the day, it could be past dark by the time we got to Dewey Bridge. And if the mud was bad on the descent into Fisher Valley, there would be no bailout — wed be truly stuck in the middle of nowhere. Were done, said Rocky.

Lets just see if it gets better beyond that ridge, said Brad, Ill be back in a minute. He then took off without waiting for an answer. We waited for five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen. Finally, I said, Ill go look for Brad. I headed out, sometimes riding, mostly portaging. Every minute or so, I yelled Brad! Finally he heard and stopped, then came back. He had apparently forgotten about the be back in a minute thing. Lets go, I said.

Finally, Brad gave in.

We took the road back to Moab, my odometer showing we had done 82 miles that day — not half bad, considering the terrain. Everyone agreed we had done the right thing by getting out while we could. Everyone, that is, but Brad.

2000: Will we ever learn?
This year, believe it or not, were going to try again. This time, only fast guys are invited, because were going to try to do this ride — which weve never completed in two days — in a single day. If doofus comes hell be on his own. That means 142 miles — most off road, much of it technical, and more than 13,000 feet of climbing.

Were going to stash food, water and lights in key places along the trail the day before, so we can ride light. Were going to go early in the year, so it wont be hot (but we know better than to even start if its raining). And this time, this time, well finish.

Yeah, sure we will.

Stay tuned: Look for the fourth and final installment of our battle with Kokopelli early this May. Presuming, of course, we survive.

About the author: Elden Nelson, in spite of what he writes, really likes all the guys he rides with. He just really wants to finish this trail. Reach him at

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