A few years ago I yearned to plan my own bikepacking trip. I was intimidated since I had very little experience and even less bike maintenance knowledge. But I then realized I didn’t need to be an expert to try something new. I surveyed several girlfriends via text message, “Hey, you wanna bikepack the Kokopelli Trail with me in May? 142 miles, 4 days, 15% single track.” The Kokopelli Trail is a historic and iconic route that spans 142 miles from Moab, Utah to Loma, Colorado. Though it only hosts 15% single track trails, much of the terrain sits on old jeep roads that are rocky and rough. My friend Hedda, who had done a fair amount of road bike touring said yes without hesitation. Her only caveat was that she only had three days, so we committed to biking 100 miles of the iconic trail.
For a few months I obsessed over logistics when I probably should have been doing my chemistry homework. I acquired a few maps, researched the water stashes (it’s the desert, after all), shopped for lightweight gear, and created packing lists and repair kits. I tried to educate myself on some advanced bike maintenance topics, and I decided we would eat dehydrated meals rather than the elaborate camp-cooked meals I usually preferred on my backpacking trips to save ourselves some weight.
We met in Rabbit Valley and spent the sunny desert evening before our departure fitting the bags onto our bike frames, we biked the loop road around our campsite, packed the bags in different ways, and sorted our food and gear. We talked about the route and followed the line on the map with our fingers. We laughed and caught up on our last four months of life since I had moved to the other side of the state. The next morning we parked the car in Moab and pedaled up into the slick rock desert aiming for the snow-covered La Sal mountains. A road would lead us to a saddle where we would set up camp for the night.
“Wooo Hedda! We are bikepacking!” I yelled as we biked away from the car.
Whenever I begin an adventure, I am prepared for what is planned. But there is always an uneasy feeling in my gut. Any unplanned obstacles and unforeseen events become mini adventures within the adventure. I did my best to shake these thoughts, which was easy to do as Hedda and I pedaled and giggled up the road.
Adventure within the Adventure #1
We biked and chatted for a while, and suddenly we began a rapid descent. We whipped around corners and let the weight of our bags push us along. Something seemed too easy, and I felt uneasy when I saw the La Sal mountains far off to my left. I braked to a stop in the middle of the empty road and yelled back to Hedda, “I think we are going the wrong way!”
We checked the map, but we couldn’t figure out exactly where we were. I remembered I had Mountain Bike Project on my phone, so I pulled up “Kokopelli Trail” and there we were, a little blue dot, off the route. In a quick decision, we decided a few backroads looked faster and more direct than backtracking to the trail. I won’t say this was a poor decision, but it did involve a lot of unnecessary bike-pushing and hiking straight uphill to the mesa above. When the little blue dot representing us made it back onto the route, I felt relieved, we were back on track.
Adventure within the adventure #2
After our off-route adventure we aimed for La Sal Loop Road, a paved road that would take us first down, then up, to the saddle of the La Sals. When we reached the junction, a large “Road Closed” sign blocked our path. Behind the sign, the road was completely torn up. We looked at each other and agreed that “Road Closed” must have been for cars, right? We started to descend down into the construction zone, and we walked and picked our way through the debris. Eventually we saw some construction workers in white helmets, we smiled and waved — they shook their heads. One walked toward us, gesturing for us to go back up the hill. “But we are biking the Kokopelli Trail,” I said. He laughed, and didn’t seem to care about the Kokopelli, “You can’t come down here, sorry. It’s a liability.”
Marching back up the steep hill with our bikes I shook my head, “how could we have known about this?” Cranes and chainsaws echoed down below as we mumbled and grumbled about how we could have just walked our bikes along this road, it’s not that long, who cares? The gravel crunched beneath my feet and I asked Hedda, “Should we just wait until they leave?” We consider it as we keep huffing uphill. At the junction we promptly plopped down and ate some snacks while making some calls to the local guiding companies. “Yeah, it’s closed,” one guide told us over the phone, “you’ll have backtrack and drive through Castle Valley.” We made the decision to camp at Porcupine Rim for the evening, we took in the desert sunset, and we enjoyed the beauty of a cold desert night.
Adventure Within the Adventure #3
The next morning, thirsty after our misfortune, we were grateful for the water jugs we left in the car the day before. We drove out of Moab and around through Castle Valley to the top of La Sal Loop road; the route we had seen from Porcupine Rim the night before. Once our bikes were unloaded and packed, we looked at each other and laughed. “Ok! Here we go, Kokopelli Trail, woohoo!” We descended from the aspens and mountains down to the desert floor, passing guided groups biking in the other direction. “You girls are crazy!” they’d say when they saw the bags full of gear strapped to our bikes. We biked in and out of hot canyons and by mid-day we started looking for water at a small spring my friend told me was running the week before. We stopped and searched in the canyon, thinking we would hear a trickle. We never found it, though, and I tried to hide my anxiety knowing our detour to our car this morning might have saved us from a scary adventure in dehydration.
The day was only 35 miles, but with huge hill climbs, rugged terrain, and heavy bags – it turned into a nine-hour day. My shoulders hurt from the constant hike-a-bike sections. Most of the trail seemed to be uphill. Through the pushing, hiking, and climbing – Hedda and I grew silent. Eventually I looked over at her and said empathetically, “Hedda, I’m sorry!” She smiled, “Steph! I knew I signed up for a type-two-fun-adventure. I expected I would suffer.” I smiled. I was happy to have Hedda here, she was calm and competent, a good buddy to have along on a sufferfest.
Adventure Within the Adventure #4
We rolled into camp wrecked. Nine hours and 35 miles in the hot desert sun deteriorated our energy. We sat in our tent with our feet stretched out of the front door as we ate our rehydrated dinners and watched a crew of raft guides disembark from their bus to set up camp. They offered us dinner and beer, we told them we didn’t really want to move.
As I laid lazily in the tent, Hedda stepped outside to fiddle with her bags. I heard a quiet giggle. “What are you laughing at?” I asked. She giggled some more, “uh, Steph…I hate to tell you, but you have a flat tire” I sigh. Well, I thought, of all our adventures within the adventure up to this point, it seemed like the most benign inconvenience. I left the flat until morning.
Day three failed to deliver any adventures within the adventure. We sailed along the roads and biked on the trail paralleling the Colorado River. The single track flowed through large swaths of sage, after two days, we were finally moving. By mid-day, the adventure was over, we were at our car changing into sundresses. We loaded our bikes, and started driving back to La Sal Loop Road to grab my car, laughing reminiscing about our adventures within our adventure.
Stephanie currently calls Missoula, Montana home while she pursues a masters in Environmental Studies and Writing at the University of Montana. She spends most study breaks on her bike exploring the new to her trails, usually with her girlfriends. She’s slowly considering planning a bike trip back home to Colorado when she graduates next year.