FKT: Peter Bakwin - Kokopelli Trail (CO, UT) - 2004-05-23
Here's Peter Bakwin's report on his FKT run with Stephanie Ehret:
For a few years Buzz Burrell and I talked about running the Kokopelli Trail in one push. Somehow, we never got around to it. Then, in April 2002, our friend Paul Pomeroy ("The Inscrutable Po") drove the route one Friday laying caches of food and water, then got up the next day and ran the whole thing solo in 37h33m. We were impressed! Paul's typically low-key report is here.
Flash forward to May 2004. Stephanie and I have a free weekend and somehow recruit Kevin Taverner to drive support for us. Without anywhere near adequate consideration or study of the route, we decide to give the KT a try. Oh boy, here we go!
We drive from our home in Boulder, Colorado, on Friday afternoon and camp at the Loma Boat Ramp. Its a noisy spot close to I-70 and (we discover) a popular party spot for the local high school kids. But its works. We wake up at 4:30 a.m. and are running at 5:31. The morning is pleasantly cool and the desert is very beautiful with many wildflowers in bloom. This section has some of the best singletracks of the whole route, and is very popular with mountain bikers, but it is early and we do not see anyone. These trails were included in the route of the old Kokopelli Marathon and 50 km races, and we reminisce a bit as we lope along the canyon rim past lovely yellow and purple flowers.
At 12 miles the trail pops out onto a gravel road on a bluff and we hit our first aid stop. Kevin has everything unloaded from the 4Runner and spread out for us to immediately grab whatever we want. He's fantastic! Kevin should hire himself out as professional support crew.
Jogging along the gravel road to Rabbit Valley (20 miles) we catch a view of the snow-capped La Sal mountains looming impossibly far away to the southwest. We nearly lose heart with the realization that our destination is on the other side of that distant range!
In the next section it starts to get hot and there is a very dry wind. We are both feeling pretty intimidated by the distance. What the hell have we gotten ourselves into? The trail makes a big loop to the north, and we seem to be getting nowhere. We meet Kevin again at the Westwater Road. Ice-cold and sweet Arizona Iced Tea tastes wonderful! We are trying to settle into the day but having some difficulty. I am clearly tired from running the Massanutten 100 mile two weeks ago, and Stephanie is, well, I guess just not warmed up yet.
At 40 miles we leave the Westwater Road and are back on a dirt track along the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Gradually our spirits improve. Yes, we have a really, really long way to go, but we are shuffling along and making decent time, averaging about 5 miles per hour. "This thing is too runnable!" Stephanie exclaims. We need more walking breaks.
We run across wide open desert country near Cisco, Utah. Some dry storms kick up, cooling things nicely, but we are battered by wind. Swaths of the landscape are carpetted with orange-red flowers. The La Sals loom far away, but noticeably closer and we are running right towards them.
At McGraw Bottom (63 miles) we see Kevin again and then cross Highway 128 and ascend the longest climb so far, still quite gradual. This is followed by a long, sandy downhill past beautiful Entrada sandstone bluffs.
We make it to the historic Dewey Bridge over the Colorado River just before dark. Built in 1916 this bridge was considered an engineering marvel. The old bridge remains for foot and bike traffic, while a new bridge has been constructed for cars. Kevin has some nice hot soup and the usual turkey and avocado sandwiches ready for us. At this point we are roughly 4 hours ahead of Paul Pomeroy's time from two years ago, but we know there is still a long way to go.
We alternate walking and running up the Entrada Bluffs Road as the daylight fades. The sky is so clear that at 10 p.m. we can still see the faint glow of the setting sun. As the stars come out the wind dies and the desert air cools rapidly. The long climb up this gravel road is punctuated by two steep, rocky downhill sections that are brutal on our tired legs. The second, which loses over 1000 feet into Cottonwood Canyon, is especially nasty. Travel is extremely slow and it takes us over 5.5 hours to complete 18 miles from Dewey Bridge to Fisher Valley. The guidebook says this is a very beautiful section, but there is no moon and we can see nothing but what is illuminated by the dim glow of our flashlights.
We toil on and on, with little idea of where we are or how long until we will see Kevin again. We have climbed over 5000 feet since leaving Dewey Bridge. We are down to our last sips of water and a couple of Clif Shots when we finally encounter Kevin on North Beaver Mesa. What a relief!
After a good recharge break we hit the road again. 103 miles down! Soon it begins to get light and we hope the new day will bring renewed energy. Stephanie is having some trouble with her vision and we are both suffering from nasty chafing. Still the road seems to go only up & up & up. As some energy returns with daylight and more food we are able once again to run the more gradual climbs. The landscape is dramatically different from that we left in the low-lying desert. Now we have lovely, sparse juniper forests, and the snow-capped La Sal Mountains loom immediately above.
We top out on Fisher Mesa at 8500 feet and the road, now paved, immediately plunges down 2000 feet in 6 miles to Castle Valley. It's nice to be able to make good time, but I keep thinking this fast running on steep pavement may spell the last gasp for my tired legs.
We reach Castle Valley a little after 9 a.m. Paul did the final 21 miles in just about 5 hours, and we are hopeful we can come close to this split. We have another 6 mile climb on paved road before the final huge downhill into Moab. It feels good to walk and enjoy the expansive views of the Castle Valley and the jagged Porcupine Rim to our right, and the La Sals to our left. My stomach has been difficult for some time, but I keep forcing down what I can and it seems to be working.
We see Kevin one last time where the Kokopelli Trail leaves the paved La Sal Loop Road on a rough OHV track. Now the fun begins, a 15 miles downhill losing 3,700 feet! We crank down the lovely OHV track along Porcupine Rim, past some derelict mining equipment, and pop out onto the Sand Flats Road. The road drops into Rill Canyon and the classic desert scenery returns with lovely sandstone bluffs and spires. The Moab Valley is spread before us, beaconing.
The parking area for the Porcupine Rim mountain bike trail markes the final six miles, all gradual downhill. But, suddenly and out of nowhere there is a sharp pain in the 5th metatarsal of my left foot! Six miles to go and I am reduced to a hobble. I sit down and Stephanie massages my foot, then I replace my shoe with the laces very loose. Still hurts. I take off the shoe again and remove the arch support insole to relieve pressure from the lateral side of my foot. Still hurts. Screw it, let's get this thing done. The pain and slow pace are very frustrating at this point, but we amble along the smooth road.
Finally the Slickrock Bike Trail parking lot comes into view! Less than half a mile to go and tears well up in our eyes as the pain and fatigue of the last day and a half melt away into the desert and we run like horses to the barn. Holding hands we cross our imaginary finish line laughing and crying hysterically. Kevin is there, of course, and its big hugs all around. "Wow, that was a big one," I say, looking at my watch. "Let's go get a shower."
The Kokopelli Trail is a great, classic route! It has been a target of mountain bikers for years, but is rarely run in its entirety. At roughly 140 miles it is definitely on the long side to run in a single push, but yet short enough to do with only one night out if a concerted effort is made and adequate support is available. This desert country can be very hot in summer, and the best season is probably April and May. Earlier than that there could be snow at the higher elevations in the La Sals. Fall is also good but of course you have less daylight. The Kokopelli Trail would be very difficult to do unsupported since there is no ambient water available on most of the route. Much of the trail is very accessible via 2WD vehicle, so support is not a big problem. Paul Pomeroy did the whole thing with only 5 resupply stops (which he laid out himself the previous day), while we had many more. Nevertheless, there are still some difficult spots, and we had one tough section of about 24 miles at night with no support.
We used a guidebook for the trail by Peggy Utesch that I found on my bookshelf. This guide is might still be available, but it might also be somewhat out of date. It has detailed description of the route as well as maps. The Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA) has a brochure with general map and route description. The trail is adequately marked with BLM markers and we never had any trouble following the route.
Distances are based on the COPMOBA brochure.
|Cisco Boat Launch||56.9||6:32||16:01|
|Slickrock Bike Trail||142.0||5:10||14:19|
TOTAL TIME 32h47m41s
*TOD = Time Of Day