A Prairie Dog Companion - Kokopelli Trail with the Kona Adventure Team

Jun 10, 2017
by Spencer Paxson  


[San Francisco International Airport, May 24, 2017] *Ding*: "This is your captain speaking. It appears that the Power Take Off Module is malfunctioning, so we are going to ask everyone to get back off the plane and we will do our best to re-book you on another flight.”

Those aren’t very good words to hear while sitting on an airplane, especially when you are headed out for another round of the Epic Rides Off-Road race series, and another sweet trip with the Kona Adventure Team.

It all turned out to be a blessing, as I awoke at 3:30 that next morning with cold chills and a fever. Sidelined in bed for a day-and-a-half and then catching the late flight into Grand Junction Saturday night meant that I would have a 5-minute penalty for missing the Fat Tire Crit on Friday evening. That was fine by me though, and I saddled up and got through the 50 Mile Backcountry race as best I could. The rest of the team made up for me, with Spencer battling much closer to toward the front of the race, bouncing through the rough Tabeguache trail system to a top-15 finish.

The real treat (and challenge) was to come Monday, and that’s what I was really excited about.

Kris Sneddon and I had scouted the first few miles of the Kokopelli Trail years earlier, and we knew through grapevine chatter and online photo logs that the route was long, scenic, and a sort of 'rite of passage' ride. Other than that, the trail was an unknown quantity to us from the start.

All the ride reports advised doing the trail in 4-6 days and carrying tons of water. We planned on 2 days, brought some water purification tablets, and went for it.

It all pretty much worked out.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
The crew for the trip included team riders Kris Sneddon and Spencer Paxson, suspension sponsor and MRP Marketing Director Noah Sears, our photographer Patrick Means, and myself.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
Topographic maps are both a blessing and a curse. Visualizing a two-dimensional line on paper rarely correlates to the physical challenge that lies ahead. The beauty lies in putting the flat panel into reality and discovering the dissonance between Euclidian and topographic space.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
The first day of our journey was slated to be about 100 miles, and followed the Colorado River from the MRP Headquarters in Grand Junction all the way to the Dewey Bridge Campground in Utah. The views were spectacular. En route to the trailhead we saw scores of prairie dogs scurrying around. Thus we coined our trip's name: The Prairie Dog Companion. Stories from "Mt. Legsbegone" (credit to Noah Sears on that one), where the riders are flowy, the bikes are fast, and all the trails are above average.

Once again Spencer was on point, showing us that what looked impossible was, in fact, quite possible. Rock scramble gearing: 36t front, 11-40 rear.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
As we traversed the landscape it morphed and grew before our eyes. Time, wind, rain and sun sculpted the landscape, and was quickly turning us into the color of the earth as well.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
Some portions of the journey were just...long. The Kokopelli route is a mix of terrain, from serpentine and technical desert trail to open stretches of dirt road. To protest at the lack of shred on certain stretches would be to misconstrue the intentions of the trip: to go on a BIG ride.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
Ancient Hopi lore has it that the Kokopelli is the symbol of fertility. The phallic rock formations all along the route are a testament to the aptly named trail.


Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
As the day wore on, we began to catch glimpses of the La Sal mountains in the distance. They seemed far, far away. Our ultimate goal and the end of the trail in Moab was just on the other side.


Photos by Patrick Means. Kona Adventure Team Project. Grand Junction CO to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
As our water supplies dwindled, we came upon the only reliable water refill along the entire route at the Westwater Ranger Station. River rafters looked at us sideways as we ate snacks and gorged ourselves like parched wildebeest on the fresh, cool water.


Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
The final few miles of the day had us right along the edge of the Colorado River, being teased as we imagined camp to always be just around the next corner, or over the next rise. Spencer bolted ahead to scout it out and had to take a little time out when he saw what lay ahead.


Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
As the sun made its final approach to the horizon, camp finally came into view, and we were greeted by Sarah Allen, MRP Marketing Coordinator, with cold beer, fresh clothes and many hot dogs.


Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
A fire was lit, large quantities of food consumed, and stories from the day were shared and remembered.


Photos by Patrick Means. Kona Adventure Team Project. Grand Junction CO to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
A sudden wind storm kicked up as the light finally retreated for the day, and everyone scrambled into a tent and sleeping bag to sleep the sleep of the dead.


Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
Dawn broke beautifully and much too early the next morning. We lingered as long as we thought we could, nursing our coffee and freeze-dried eggs as the sun grew stronger in the sky.


"Simplicity is the whole secret of well-being...the sense of having one's life needs at hand, traveling light, brings with it intense energy and exhilaration." -Peter Matthiessen


Photos by Patrick Means. Kona Adventure Team Project. Grand Junction CO to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
Then it was time to chamois back up, fill the water bladders to brimming, and crank out the final 65 miles and 10,000ft of climbing over the La Sals and into Moab. A long, hot, 15-mile climb greeted us straight out of camp.


Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
The road then deteriorated in to some of the most technical jeep track any of us had ever seen.

Photos by Patrick Means. Kona Adventure Team Project. Grand Junction CO to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
We wondered aloud how any vehicle could pass the route, and not five minutes later a group of older gentlemen in Jeeps bounced slowly past us.

The day wore on, the climbs continued, and the mountains seemed as far away as ever.

Photo by Patrick Means. Kona Adventure Team Project.
A western collared lizard observes our toil through the desert rocks. 'Many have passed this way before,' it must be thinking...and not just mountain bikers. Later in the day, we spotted dinosaur tracks impressed in the sandstone, relics from an age some 170-million years earlier.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
The day had started with high hopes and motivation, but the roughness and slow going of the route had taken both a physical and emotional toll. Cresting a climb and having the La Sal mountain burst into view, we finally believed we were going to make it.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
We had heard that a portion of the route, the final climb from Castle Valley up onto Porcupine Rim, was closed due to road construction, but we remained optimistic that we would find a way. After staring down rock trucks coming at us at a million miles an hour, a backhoe operator advised us to hide in the woods for 20 minutes until they shut down for the day, then sneak on through while no one as looking.

Photo by Patrick Means. Kona Adventure Team Project Kokopelli Trail trip
The eerie ride up through the abandoned road works delivered us to the promised land, with views out over a lush, verdant green Castle Valley as our final climb came to an end, and we began to dream of the final 20 mile descent into Moab.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
The UPS section of the Porcupine Rim Trail is a classic, and we stopped to take in the vertiginous (and verdant!) views on the cliff edge and relish in the past few days of adventure.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
With the light fading, our water supplies exhausted, our bodies battered and Milt's Stop & Eat calling, we descended the Porcupine Climb to Sand Flat road and coasted the final stretch into Moab.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
Cheeseburgers, milkshakes and onion rings all around at Milt's Stop & Eat in Moab as our exhausted crew basked in the after effects of another unbelievable journey. We rolled up just in time, with less than 10 minutes to spare before they closed. A model end to our day.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
Huge thanks to MRP for hosting us for this adventure, to Sarah, who drove all our gear to camp, and Noah, who hung tough and got through his longest MTB ride ever. Thanks, guys!

Prairie Dog Companion - Kokopelli Trail with the Kona Adventure Team
Our ride as viewed from space.

Photos by Patrick Means Kona Adventure Team Project. A ride from Grand Junction to Moab UT along the Kokopelli Trail.
Gear Notes: Our trusty steeds for both the Epic Rides race prelude and the big Kokopelli ride: the Kona Hei Hei DL (except for Barry, who rode a carbon Honzo) equipped with 120mm MRP Ribbon fork, WTB Ci31 rims laced to Shimano XT hubs, Shimano 1x11 drivetrain, KS dropper posts, WTB Silverado saddles, and WTB tires (Ranger 2.25 and Riddler 2.25)

Follow the riders on Instagram for more!

Spencer Paxson: @slaxsonmtb
Barry Wicks: @wicknasty
Kris Sneddon: @krissneddon
Patrick Means (Photographer): @patrick_means


19 Comments

  • + 11
 What a great adventure. The photos are epic too. Thanks for the great story.
  • + 7
 This really is true Mountain biking at it's finest, A few mates traversing unbelievable terrain and doing big miles. Rad. ''Rock scramble gearing: 36t front, 11-40 rear'' what a machine. i need to get fitter.
  • + 2
 When you get that fit let Kona know.
  • + 5
 That was such a good time! Grateful for the opportunity to ride with these legends and show off my backyard!
  • + 3
 That ride is brutal over 3 days, and from Fruita. These guys are beasts
  • + 1
 Awesome write up and photos! I just did this ride 2 weeks ago, except over 4 days and with quite a bit more beer, but it was still amazing!
  • + 1
 you guys skipped the best part.... porcupine rim! Milts is delicious though
  • + 2
 That cliff picture is just great!
  • + 2
 What an adventure! Sounds like one that'll never be forgotten!
  • + 2
 Nice writing Barry. Glad you kept the rubber on the rim on this one.
  • + 2
 That looks hot, dry and tiring. Good riding.
  • + 1
 Just beautiful! If anyone heads out this way, don't forget to drop by Telluride- the lift assisted bike park is 100% free!
  • + 1
 Really? How is their bike park?
  • + 1
 @weezyb: yeah! It's no Whistler, but it also doesn't suck haha. I didn't get out there last summer, but I heard they made some additions. I'll make an update when I get out there later this summer!
  • + 1
 So good. Thanks for sharing!
  • + 1
 Now I want to see you gents do the CO trail
  • + 1
 Hehe, Dude.... Some people have it all????
  • + 1
 Well done, Gents!. What a suffer fest.
  • + 1
 Love these stories!

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