Saturday, April 27, 2013

Kokopelli Trail: Day 1

Many virtual and paper pages have been filled with descriptions of both mountain bike touring and racing on the famous Kokopelli trail. I will thus spare everybody a boring turn by turn description of our first day of the tour, which started at the Loma trailhead and finished at the Bitter Creek mesa campground. An excellent guide to this route can be found here.

I will rather try to make some observations on how our first day on the trail went, sort of from an amateur sports psychology point of view. This is admittedly a very subjective point of view, because it stems from my own past experiences and reflects my own expectations about the ride. On a chilly morning, thirteen of us, equipped with the latest mountain bike technology, gear (detailed maps, gps navigation, cell phones), enough food and water, extra layers, tools, spare tubes, etc., were dropped off at the trailhead and started pedaling onto the technical Fruita trail system.

Photo by John Puziss
As I expected, all riders took of before you could say "front derailleur", our group of four being the last to go. I knew this ride was not a race, but I have to say, long mountain bike stage races provide one important factor: organization and discipline. If the stage starts at 8AM, nobody wants to be at the start line at 8:15, even if you are not that competitive or aim at placing at the top. Having bunch of riders behind you is also better than being at the tail, in case of mechanicals or such.

A touristy group ride should be casual, with time to chat, take photos, refuel and check directions. Yet the daily distance and the challenging terrain dictates that you keep focused on the goal: to get to the finish as soon as you can with as little energy wasted as possible. This focus is something I look forward to every time I go for a bike ride. The moment I get to the saddle and start pedaling, I try to block out all factors that are not related to my ride and which I think are distractions. I know that there will be lots of distractions and a growing discomfort as I get tired and hungry, but I focus on pacing myself, sensing my body, feeling the terrain under the tires and constantly rationing my strength, water and fuel. This mode actually puts me in a calm state and I usually don't think about what could possibly go wrong.

Photo by John Puziss
 During the first miles and several hours, our group could not reach a rhythm, a flow. There was lots of stopping for many reasons, to pee, to grab a bar (even the otherwise well written guide linked above suggests eating one energy bar every hour!), remove a layer, add a layer, check how much water is left in the Camelbak, text the last photo home, etc etc etc. First, I just could not understand what prevented us from just keeping to move forward, except the few hike a bike spots. Then, I started to realize that this must be a new and perhaps somewhat overwhelming feeling for my friends. Riding for couple of hours on your favorite trails is something most of us do often, but being out there with long distance to the camp on unknown trails could be intimidating. So I think that in situations like these, when the only sensible thing is to suck it all up and just keep spinning the pedals, our minds start to play dirty tricks. Anything but pushing the pedals feels more comfortable and so our brains, trained by so many days of our everyday lives to maintain the comfort homeostasis, push all the red alarm buttons and try to make us stop.

All in all, it was a hard day with plenty of technical riding and bike pushing up rocky slopes, with the bonus steep climb to the camp site. On this climb, no matter how much I wanted to tell myself "it is all in your head" and pacified myself with sucking on a sugary gel pack, I got off the bike and walked.

 The Garmin track is here. Total time 2 seconds short of 8 hours. Time actually moving, 4:02:50. See what I mean? In a race, we would not make the cutoff. On a vacation ride, we reached the campsite safely, in late afternoon hours, with enough time to set up camp and cook, but with four extra hours of wasted energy (since we all burn calories even when we are not moving) which would surely be needed somewhere over the remaining 120 miles of Kokopelli.


  1. Interesting thoughts Jan. Thanks for sharing. One of my favorite exchanges from that day went something like this.

    JB: We've gone only 10 miles in 3 hours and have over 25 to go. We need to stop taking so many breaks and limit breaks to 5- 10 minutes; JP: But I need to rest; JB: You can rest while you ride!

  2. You know Rob, we Europeans lack the American sensibilities... I hope my bitching in this post is not taken wrongly - in every ride, there must be somebody who plays this role. But I did not say "you can rest", I said "You can recover while you ride"! That's a big difference :-))