Zen On Dirt

Three Days on the Kokopelli

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Back in 2013, Semi-Rad.com wrote a blog post called ‘Make plans, not resolutions‘ which basically stated that instead of pulling the ‘Oh, I’d like to do this sometime’ or ‘Let’s get together someday’ BS that is so easy to do, one should make concrete plans, and then stick to them. The post really resonated with me, and since then, whenever someone says something along the lines of ‘I’d like to do this’ or ‘Let’s go on a trip together’ I don’t just say ‘Okay’, I say ‘Sure. Let’s set a date.’

And 9 times out of 10, once the date is committed to, the plan comes to fruition. Sometimes not in it’s original form, but something fun and memorable tends to happen.

So back in February when I was visiting 24-Hours of Old Pueblo and Rachel said, ‘Let’s go bikepacking’ and Beth said, ‘I’d love to do the Kokopelli’, I said, ‘Let’s set a date.’ We’d done three days on White Rim the spring before and had a blast.

After consulting with Alexis, we set a date for a three-day weekend at the end of April, ignored the direly cold weather forecast, took along our token male, Sean, and headed out from the Loma trailhead. Destination: Milt’s in Moab.

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I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Koko. After two completely disastrous attempts at going fast on it (Thanks mud, thanks stomach), I had a great three day bikepack on it with Bec and Becky last fall (Thanks friends!). But even with three days, it’s freakin’ hard. Billed as a “dirt road route” it never fails to hand my ass to me. Generally chaffed, hurting, and ready to never sit on a bike seat again.

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But I seem to keep going back. Because it’s beautiful. Because it’s remote. Because it actually is fairly entertaining riding the whole way, especially if you take single track options along the way. That’s another one of those added bonuses to not racing – taking the fun route is more important than taking the ‘real’ route. And largely because I have a quota of ‘Bad Life Decisions’ to make each year.

I jest. Koko is always a good life decision. Unless it’s rainy. Then it’s a very poor life decision.

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Our first day brought us through the fun single track of Loma, through the heinous hike-a-bike down to and up from Salt Creek, to Rabbit Valley where we picked up the first water cache that Alexis and I had dropped on our way to Loma, then onto Trail 2, Western Rim, up The Big Hill, and straight towards the La Sals until morning. Not really. Only until we found a nice campsite that was somewhat protected from the wind.

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The wind. The wind has the opportunity to make or break any Koko trip, especially in the middle miles from Westwater to Dewey Bridge. I’m not sure who had the Good Karma points stored up, but we got a ripping tailwind the whole way on Day 2. This is exceptionally amazing because the wind was blowing opposite of what it normally does in that area.

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We were very, very, very, very (very, very) lucky.

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Sand Canyon, I mean, Yellow Jacket Canyon, was beautiful as always. I love the contrast of the desert sandstone with the snowy La Sals. Surfing around in sand is always a lot of fun too.

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We picked up our second water cache at Dewey Bridge — so much better than trying to filter out of the Colorado River, and so easy to set up with a smidge of planning.

No one likes the next section of the route. It’s often called the Shandies, aka the Shitty Sandies. It’s a lot of up. It’s a lot of sand. And the bit of relief you get from the sand in Cottonwood Creek, you have to hike-a-bike out of. But it’s pretty?

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In my head, it’s the crux of the thing. Get up the Shandies, you get rewarded by a chunk-filled descent with amaze-balls views, and then you only have two more climbs which are even bigger to deal with before the final descent into Moab. (but we don’t talk about those climbs while trying to get up the Shandies)

Koko is rough!

We spent a freezing night camped above Rose Garden Hill and all had ice in our bottles in the morning. I’d spent the night rubbing my feet together trying to keep them from going completely numb. I don’t think any of us fared very well, and it was a relief when the sun finally made it’s appearance over the cliffs in the morning.

Water from Hideout, then heads down for climbing.

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Not really. We got a geology lesson from Alexis, found a fault line, spotted birds, and got our tired butts up to Polar Mesa. We knew the climbing for the day was almost over. A road closure on La Sal Mountain Loop Road would prevent us from doing the final climb to Sand Flats road. And in all honestly, I was pretty okay with that.

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Instead, we coasted down Castle Valley road (those towers are amazing!) and pulled together a fairly to mostly pathetic team time trial along Hwy 128, following the Colorado River straight into Moab. 15 miles, 1-mile pulls each, 3 pulls per person. At least it was entertaining for the most part…less entertaining when Rachel put the hammer down on her last pull and dropped all of us.

The Sand Flats finish to Koko is romantic for many reasons: the views, the massive downhill, but most importantly, because it goes straight to Milt’s. Our finish was less romantic, but still just as effective, landing us with a table full of milkshakes, fries, tots, and burgers in an incredibly reasonable (for Milt’s) amount of time.

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Scott and Denny met us with our shuttle vehicle that we loaded up with bikes and people for the trek back to Loma, picking up our spent water caches on the way. We schemed bikepacking routes for next spring. ‘Let’s make a spring bikepack an annual tradition!’

Yes. Yes we should. All we have to do is set a date.

Alexis and I were back in Moab before 10, thoroughly exhausted. I’ve never been so happy to have a warm and enclosed space to keep my toes warm all night.

Kokopelli. I always swear never again. But I’ll always go back. It’s just too special not too.

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