Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Kokopelli Trail: Day 4

Guest post by John Puziss.

After a frigidly cold night, I awoke to find frost coating the inside of my tent.  Temps over the past few days never got above the mid 50’s, and with snow and rain on and off yesterday at our campsite 8500’ up in the La Sals, I was beginning to wonder what happened to the sunny desert biking vacation I had been dreaming of since December.  Fortunately, today would bring a welcome change, a perfect bluebird day on some of the best trails in the US. 
After wolfing down a breakfast of bagels and sweetened chai tea (great suggestion, Jan!), we broke camp, geared up, said goodbye to Rob (who was taking the road into Moab to meet his friend “The Doctor” and headed out for the day’s ride, our last on the Kokopelli Trail.  We started off with a screaming descent for 5 miles on pavement, hitting speeds up to 46mph and losing about 2000’ in the process.  Wow, this is easy!  Then we hit the brakes and turned onto La Sal Mountain Loop Rd.  Uh oh, now we reverse the process: 5 miles and 2000 vertical feet of climbing.  I pedaled about a 1/4 mile, quickly began panting and overheating, so I stopped to ditch a layer and smear on some sunscreen.  Finally, a day warm and sunny enough to ride in just a jersey!  
 Back in the saddle, I quickly settled into a climbing rhythm.  Head down, breathe, turn the crank, repeat.  And repeat. And repeat.   Doug’s words echoed through my head: “I got a great view of my top tube”.  So I forced myself to lift my head and look around.   Wow… stunning alpine scenery rolled by me, with expansive views off to my right of the Moab valley and Fisher Towers miles away and several thousand feet below.

 I looked ahead and saw the other riders in our group spread out before me.  Despite the altitude, I felt surprisingly strong… or maybe not so surprisingly, since I had taken a rest day yesterday.  The road peeled by underneath me as I breathed, pedaled, took in the views, and gradually reeled in the riders in front of me.  Finally, after over half an hour of climbing near the redline, we crested a saddle and coasted through a long flat stretch.  Near the top?  No such luck… still about 700’ of climbing to go.  Gasp.  I used the reprieve to rest and gather my strength for the final push.   Back on the incline… breathe, pedal, head down, shift gears, breathe, pedal.  I looked up as we entered a grove of aspens.  Only Jan and Nathan, a very strong rider from SoCal, were ahead of me.  And then only Jan.  And then no one… huh? That rest day was definitely feeling like a good decision!  An hour after the start of the climb we reached a long flat stretch, and then a sign on the right pointed to the continuation of the Kokopelli trail.  I got off the bike to wait for Doug and Jan, throwing on a shell and taking in the jaw-dropping views. 

The three of us wolfed down some snacks, snapped some pics, and set off again… sloooowly.   The mud for the first half-mile of jeep road was thick, sticky, and nearly impassable.  Mud flew from our tires as if sprayed from a hose.  Jan and I waited for Doug to clear the mud off his bike, and then we rode onto the next section of trail- UPS (Upper Porcupine Singletrack).  Now the real fun started! 

The trail unfolded, sandy singletrack winding through juniper and Ponderosa Pine, connecting challenging sections of slickrock.   I flew along the trail, grinning like a maniac, powering up short ledges, teetering around tight switchbacks, puckering up as I rolled down incredibly steep ramps of sandstone, where all I could do was brake, throw my butt behind the saddle, and hope for the best.  

Another break to take in the scenery and down a few energy bars, then onto LPS (Lower Porcupine Singletrack).  The trail emerged before us, a writhing snake of singletrack and slickrock, now undulating through a desert ecosystem as we dropped in elevation.  Some sections of trail brought us to within mere feet of the edge of the mesa, a cliff with hundreds (thousands?) of feet of air below.  Don't look, just focus on the trail!   After a few miles of this, we came to the start of Porcupine Rim proper. 

After a brief lunch break, we motored along the jeep road that makes up the first half of Porcupine Rim.  The speed through here was almost unbelievable.  Despite the bone-jarring terrain of broken rocky ledges that went on for miles, the elevation kept dropping and we flew along, bouncing over jagged rocks, shooting over ledges, and carving through corners.  After jack-hammering down this trail, we emerged onto the Porcupine Rim singletrack, near the bottom of the mesa. 

I had ridden this years before, but for some reason had blotted it out of my memory.  Now I remembered why- Holy Crap, this trail had some wicked exposure!  I hiked-a-bike for short stretches at least a half dozen times as the trail presented some technical obstacles a few feet from the edge of a precipice, where any mistakes could be very costly.   The trail continued to descend, a sandy ribbon through a crazy Dr. Seuss landscape of towers, mounds, and creamsicle colors.  And then, we were on the road, a few short miles from Moab, a cold IPA, some hot nachos, and the end of an incredible journey.  Day 4 GPS track here.

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