The ‘07 Kokopelli Trail Race, Part I: Midnight ‘Til Dawn

05.21.2007 | 1:25 pm

The Kokopelli Trail Race this year was a remarkable event for me in many ways. It was the longest (in time) ride I’ve ever done. It was the first time I’ve done an unsupported endurance ride. It was the most scared I’ve ever been on a ride.

And, by far, it was the most epic ride I’ve ever been on.

By a lot.

In other words, I’ve got a lot of story to tell, and I hope you won’t mind if I take a few days to tell it.

Meet Your Friendly BLM Representatives
The ride started — or nearly failed to start — with a little bit of drama. At about 10:30pm Friday night, about 50 of us gathered at the Loma trailhead to participate in what could hardly be called an organized event.

And that’s when the BLM agents rolled up, asking for Adam Lisonbee, our ringleader.

Without a heartbeat’s hesitation, we gave him up.

For the next half hour, everyone in the group argued whether what we were doing required a permit. Our point was that there was no registration, no fee, no list of participants. We were just a rather large group ride, with some (but definitely not all) people hoping to go fast.

The BLM’s argument was that we were a little too big and a little too organized (there was a web page, an organizer, and a name for what we were doing) to be called a group ride.

The argument went in circles, with nobody conceding anything. I stood in the back of the group, torn between wanting to get riding and the weaselly hope that the whole thing would get canceled, because then I’d have an ironclad excuse for not following up on my boast that I would do this ride.

Fortunately / unfortunately, the BLM eventually got tired of arguing, wrote Adam a ticket (which we all chipped in to cover), and then skulked around the parking lot until midnight, which is when we all took off.

The Gear
So, what do you carry if you’re planning to do a 142-mile mountain bike ride, completely self-sufficiently, through both the night and heat of day?

Well, I wore bib shorts, a sleeveless jersey, a short-sleeved jersey on top of it, arm warmers, and knee warmers. Here, you can see me guiltily suiting up, while Kenny looks on angrily, wondering why I’m wearing knee warmers after he’s heeded my advice to destroy his own. 

For food, I packed 18 packets of Clif Shot Bloks, 6 Honey Stinger protein bars, and a gallon of water (100oz Camelbak bladder and 2 large water bottles mounted on the frame).

For light, I used a CygoLite Dualcross 200, rented from a local sports store, and a LED headlamp, which made wearing my helmet very uncomfortable.

I was keeping it simple.

Terror and Pain
Starting the Kokopelli Trail at midnight from the Loma end of the trail means that you are going to ride every bit of the technical part of the trail at the very darkest part of the night. Even so, it was a warm night, and I took off my knee warmers within fifteen minutes of starting the ride, never to put them back on again for the remainder of the race.

Stupid kneewarmers.

Anyway, the first section of the KTR is called Mary’s Loop. It’s not too bad, even in the dark. Still, I was spooked, thinking frequently that this was the trail from which my sister had taken an 18-foot drop while mountain biking in the daylight.

This trail leads to Troybilt, which is a terrific trail if you know it well, and if it’s daylight. I, alas, do not know the trail well, and there was only the tiniest sliver of moon, which supplemented the bike lights not even a tiny bit.

And that’s when the worst moment of my whole day happened.

About an hour into the ride, I was riding along Troybilt, finishing up a fast downhill section. It emptied into a dry riverbed, which sorta-kinda-but-not-really looked like it was the trail. I followed it for a moment, but didn’t see enough tire marks in the sand to convince me I was on the right track. I turned around and followed it in the other direction.

I couldn’t find a trail anywhere. I was lost.


I started a slow walking spiral, looking for something that might be a trail. And, in a few minutes, I found it — the reason I hadn’t seen the trail before was that it started up on a ledge about three feet above me. I had to lift my bike onto the trail to continue.

What a relief. I wasn’t going to DNF an hour into a race just because I couldn’t find the trail.

I hoisted my bike up onto the ledge, then held it in place with my left hand while I stepped up onto what would have to serve as a step.

And then the hard plastic cleats on my bike shoes — relatively new bike shoes, which I have been riding for only a month or so — slipped. I tumbled backward, scraping up my right knee. Twisting around to the right, I put out my right arm to protect myself.

You know, no matter how many times I dislocate my shoulder, it never gets old.

I stumbled around for a few minutes, angry, hurt, and feeling very alone. To make matters worse, my arm wouldn’t go back into the socket easily like it usually does. It took several tries, and hurt much worse than usual when it finally seated itself.

My shoulder would throb the rest of the day, making ugly, muffled popping sounds at strange, unexpected moments.

Once I had myself back together, I hoisted my bike — which had fallen to my side when I fell — back onto the trail, I didn’t even look at it to see if it was OK. I just got back on and started riding.

Or rather, I got back on and tried to start riding. Unfortunately, the chain immediately got sucked between the spokes and big cog. I got off, got the chain back in place, and started riding again.

Same result. OK, something’s definitely wrong.

Peering at the rear derailleur by the light of my headlamp, I could see: the derailleur was bent and cracked. I tried shifting it, but except for the fourth ring, it hopped all over the place.

My bike was now officially a three-speed. I was screwed.

“OK, fine,” I thought. “Now I’ve got three legitimate reason to quit the race: broken bike, cut up knee (I knew I could play it up to make it sound like it was more painful than it really was), and dislocated shoulder.”

But first, I needed to get to a place where I could bail out. I figured that Rabbit Valley, about twenty miles into the ride, would be a good place to quit — it was close to the freeway, and there was a good chance I’d get a phone signal.

Meanwhile, I may as well keep going.

New Hero
After I finally picked my way down the canyon and up the other side to the big open frontage road that leads to Rabbit Valley, I started thinking about what it meant to quit. It would be the first time I had ever quit any race. I didn’t like the thought of that. More importantly, though, right now my wife is having to be tough every single day of her life. If I quit this race even though my bike was still rolling, even though my shoulder was back where it belonged, even though my knee injury was purely superficial, how tough would I look?

I decided to keep going until / unless my bike truly could not be ridden. And I looked at my new pink headset dozens of times throughout that day to remind me of that.

There was a time when I looked to Tyler Hamilton for an example of being strong through pain.

Now I just look to my wife.

Rabbit Valley is an ATV paradise, criscrossed with dirt trails. Some of them are marked. Other times, I had to use my very best Boy Scout skills and try to figure out which way the Kokopelli trail went. Mostly, I did this by getting low to the ground and shining my light at the trail. The shadows of all those bike tracks showed up more clearly that way.

And, to my credit, I never got lost for more than ten or twenty yards at a time on this ride.

At one of the moments where I needed to stop and assess which trail to take, I happened to look up.


I had never seen the stars so clearly. So I took a moment and enjoyed it. Then I rode for a few minutes and did the same thing. I don’t get to see the Milky Way so brightly very often, and it was definitely worth taking the time to look.

By 4:00am, I was marching my bike up a steep climb out of Rabbit Valley and to the plateau that drops to the next big section of the ride — Westwater to Cisco. While hiking, I noticed that what had started as faint discomfort from my shoes was rapidly blooming into full-blown pain. If you want to imagine how it felt, imagine taping a pencil right where your feet press against the cleat of your pedals. It wouldn’t hurt at first — you’d just say, “hey, there’s a pencil in my shoe.” After a while, though, it would hurt a lot.

As the day progressed, the pain in my feet (both feet, same place) would become the single most prevalent feature of the ride.

For right now, though, I was just marching my bike up. And then I slipped and fell, tumbling in a backwards somersault. I stood up, praying nobody saw. Nobody had (that I know of). So I put my Camelbak back on.

And then I quickly took it back off.

Evidently, my roll in the grass had left the mesh back of my Camelbak full of goatheads.


With nothing else to do, I spent ten minutes picking them out as best as I could. But I’m sure I’ll never get all of them out.

A Gift
By the time I got to the plateau that leads to Westwater (now approximately 35 miles into the race, I think), I had made a judgment call on lights. First, the Cygolite DualCross rocks, and I want one. It provided useful light throughout the entire night and beyond.

Second, the headlamp sucked. I no longer wanted any part of it. So I took it off — the batteries still good, the headlamp in perfect working condition — and hung it on the branch of a tree sticking out into the trail. The next person who comes along that trail gets a free light. Lucky her / him!

I rolled to the point where I needed to either head to Westwater and fill up with water or continue on to Dewey Bridge. I had plenty of water, as far as I knew, so I parted company with a couple of guys I rode and talked with for about an hour — guys who I could not now pick out of a lineup, because all I saw of their faces was bright headlamps.

It was starting to turn light, which somehow made me more comfortable about getting out the iPod (riding in the dark with one would have eliminated one too many senses). I left the lights on, curious to see how long they’d burn and figuring that number would be useful to mention in this blog when I strongly recommended the CygoLites for endurance nightriding (about nine hours, with the final two hours at full power).

I ratcheted up to the big ring and started pedaling along the fast, rolling, sandy singletrack, singing along with Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

Forty miles down, 100 to go.


  1. Comment by jill | 05.21.2007 | 1:37 pm


    Impressive to get back up after a crash like that and now let it derail your whole ride. I think somewhere in there it says a lot about how strong Susan is.

    I like the cliffhanger. I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

  2. Comment by Clydesteve | 05.21.2007 | 2:10 pm

    I understand the irritation of being lost. I got very good at orienteering and developed a love affair with maps in order to avoid that feeling that I felt a few times too many when I first learned to hunt by myself at age 13. but being lost & hurt is worse. Well done at not bailing. I like that you focused on your brave wife for inspiration.

    right on!

    New shoes, huh? Is there going to be a review?

    mmmmm, goatheads…


  3. Comment by Clydesteve | 05.21.2007 | 2:25 pm

    how many teeth on the 4th ring? 22-33-44 up front?

  4. Comment by Mrs. Coach | 05.21.2007 | 2:56 pm

    “There was a time when I looked to Tyler Hamilton for an example of being strong through pain.

    Now I just look to my wife.”

    I got all choked up. You guys are lucky to have each other. You seem like a great team.

  5. Comment by Mrs. Coach | 05.21.2007 | 3:00 pm

    Not to mention Tyler’s a doper.

    Actually, your wife probably is too now.

  6. Comment by Lisa B | 05.21.2007 | 3:12 pm

    Um, did you shave your head?

  7. Comment by Tg | 05.21.2007 | 3:43 pm

    FC-awesome accomplishment!! I can’t wait to read the next installment.

  8. Comment by Tg | 05.21.2007 | 3:43 pm

    FC-awesome accomplishment!! I can’t wait to read the next installment.

  9. Comment by Boz | 05.21.2007 | 4:51 pm

    Nineteen hours of pain. How nice. Plus the shoe problem. Hmmm. I think I’ll go get hit by a car, then head to work. Sounds like a good plan.
    Actually suffering is a major part of cycling. Going to the pain cave once in awhile is good for the soul. Or is that sole(s) ?

  10. Comment by Amy | 05.21.2007 | 5:15 pm

    Wow…what a ride! I can’t wait to hear about the rest!

    I’m a runner, not a cyclist, so I don’t know much about bikes, how many gears you’re supposed to have, and what on earth is a goatshead?! However, I do know snacks, and ordered a case of the Peanut Butta bars from Honey Stinger based on your enthusiastic recommendation. I’m planning a 50 mile trail run this fall….

  11. Comment by Al Maviva | 05.21.2007 | 5:36 pm

    I’ve always thought something was familiar about your writing and general riding style. Reading your apparently aimless wanderings today, I now realize what it is, that seems familiar.

    You’re like a one-man wandering tribes of Israel on a bike. Y’know, after they pissed God off, before they got to the Promised Land. *Those* wandering tribes. “Crap, Moses… I fell off this rock and have goat heads – the heads of real goats – stuck in my back. You got some Brave Soldier?” “Hey, Japeth… you ever look at the stars? It’s nice out here. What’s that? Yeah, I know… it’d be nice if we had water more than once a month. But you can’t have everything. You got a spoke wrench for this chariot wheel?” “Yo, Rachel… check out this manna. It’s *just* like the manna we had yesterday… tastes kinda like 90 packets of Clif Shot Blocs… maybe God can send us the Cran-Razz flavor manna tomorrow. I’m getting really frickin’ tired of the Lemon-Lime. Hey, was that our friends the Izedin that just blew by us? Maybe we’re on the wrong trail. Y’know, if He’s all powerful, it seems to me he could have given us a better map. I mean if those idolaters can find the trail… Hey, it wasn’t my fault Moses chucked the stone tablets… don’t blame me, it was your stupid golden calf. I told you to get the sterling silver. Hey, look at this cool pink shepherd’s crook…”

    Just kidding, I think. The rambling narrative is pretty funny. Plus it’s an interesting story. How does it end?

  12. Comment by Amy | 05.21.2007 | 6:40 pm

    Aha. Goatheads.

    The nutlets or “seeds” are hard and bear two sharp spines, 10 mm long and 4–6 mm broad point-to-point. These nutlets strikingly resemble goats’ or bulls’ heads; the “horns” are sharp enough to puncture bicycle tires and to cause considerable pain to bare feet.

  13. Comment by heartcondition | 05.21.2007 | 7:04 pm

    What does BLM stand for? I can come up with a few guesses, but doubt that they are right.

    Can’t wait for the other installments. Sigh….. Patience is not one of my strong suits.

  14. Comment by MTB W | 05.21.2007 | 7:33 pm

    Boo, hiss to the BLM. Don’t they have something better to do?

    Anyway, great story. It’s an epic ride already and we’re less than a 1/3 of the way done (as I read the story, I kind of felt like I was there, experiencing the pain, frustration, beauty but at the same time, glad I wasn’t!) Glad you didn’t quit where lesser men (hmm, that would probably include me) would have. Can’t wait for installment II.

    BTW, very cool choice of music. Did you leave the knee warmers behind as a “gift” too? I’m sure if they would have been fluorescent green, they would have been snagged immediately.

  15. Comment by Born4Lycra | 05.21.2007 | 9:03 pm

    Ride on!
    can’t wait.
    Same Fat time
    Same Fat Channel

  16. Comment by chtrich | 05.21.2007 | 9:12 pm

    BLM = Bureau of Land Management

    Fatty – Great start. Glad there’s more to come and you didn’t DNF.
    Looking forward to part 2 & 3

  17. Comment by Weean | 05.21.2007 | 11:30 pm

    Month-old shoes? OK, so they’re not brand-new & therefore don’t break Fattys cardinal rules of racing, but c’mon!

    And I’m glad Amy got here before me to both question and answer the goatheads. I had visions of you tumbling over a pile of genuine goats skulls.

  18. Comment by bikemike | 05.22.2007 | 3:09 am

    wow, this is just like The Lord of The Rings Trilogy. I’m sure glad we don’t have to wait a year between episodes. when do you come across Orcs on the trail? did you see any talking trees?

    your not quiting is inspiring beyond words, Susan must be very proud. Your shoulder must really hate you now.

  19. Comment by Highwaymunky | 05.22.2007 | 4:47 am

    Great post man. Looking forward to the next installment.
    Keep grinding away fatty.

  20. Comment by SpikeBlue | 05.22.2007 | 4:47 am

    “Now I look to my wife.” Awesome.

    We want a full on pic of the shaved head. Did you leave the dastardly goatee that Kenny has?!

  21. Comment by bici beeyatch | 05.22.2007 | 7:55 am

    all that in the first forty miles! can’t wait for the next hundred. MTB W said it well, i too felt like i was there and glad i wasn’t. i was reading as fast as i could saying oh no, oh no, Oh No! good on you for keeping going. you and susan both are my role models now. ptooey on tyler and floyd. (are you following THAT circus?!) can’t wait for the next chapter of the epic. are you writing it sitting down, or is your butt too sore? 20 hours on a bike, owww

  22. Comment by jill | 05.22.2007 | 9:00 am

    Wow Elden … closing quote in the article. In the reporter vernacular, that means you had the most profound thing to say.

  23. Comment by MTB W | 05.22.2007 | 9:24 am

    Jill, thanks for the link to the article! I think we now have bona fide celebrities in our midst. Fatty and Kenny, can you sign my fatcyclist jersey?

  24. Comment by dpcowboy | 05.22.2007 | 9:44 am

    …thanks for the story….can’t wait for more.
    New shoes? Really? You should know better.


  25. Comment by Al Maviva | 05.22.2007 | 9:54 am

    “Not thinking is what you want,” said Elden Nelson.”

    Well, Elden, sounds to me like you have a new motto there. “Not thinking.”

  26. Comment by Erin | 05.22.2007 | 10:21 am

    BLM = Bureau of Logging and Mines.

    that’s a joke, except that it’s not.

    bitting my nails here, Fatty.

  27. Comment by Jose | 05.22.2007 | 11:55 am

    How about “spalming” is what you want?

    Come on Elden we are dying for part II, hurry up!

  28. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Where Would You Go? What Would You Carry? | 08.28.2007 | 9:35 pm

    [...] It took me exactly six seconds of wearing this pack to realize I would have killed to have this pack when riding the Kokopelli Trail Race a few months ago (and in fact, I did contact Jeff about getting one of these before the race, but they weren’t available yet). [...]

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    [...] of them, every 40 minutes, indefinitely — or at least for 20 hours, which is what I did when racing the Kokopelli Trail last year. That’s 200 calories every 40 minutes: a nice, constant flow of calories going to my [...]

  30. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » An Open Letter to Specialized | 04.12.2009 | 9:52 pm

    [...] A lot of you seem to be in love with Sidi Dominators. I’ve tried them, and I’ve suffered mightily. Perhaps I needed the wide version? The fact that the massively wide toebox Keens have fits me [...]

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  32. Comment by Doll | 04.14.2011 | 10:05 am

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  35. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Oh, So THAT’S Why It’s Called “Endurance” Racing | 07.25.2011 | 5:24 am

    [...] signing up for it (this year will be my 15th consecutive time). I wouldn’t have raced the Kokopelli. I wouldn’t do eight-hour training rides most weekends during the [...]


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