150 miles of empty sky and wide-open trails

Lachlan Morton set to tackle famous Kokopelli Trail

In the middle of our interview, Lachlan Morton’s phone cut out. 

 

“Sorry about that, mate. Phone overheated.” He was in western Colorado, scouting the latter part of the Kokopelli Trail. It’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoons this time of year. And dry. The pale blue sky presses into the sun-bleached horizon, and the Colorado river runs below ribbons of red rock. 

 

Morton will ride the legendary Kokopelli Trail on Saturday, from Moab, Utah to Loma, Colo. Most riders make a tour of the infamous route, taking 3-5 days along the way. Morton, in contrast, hopes to get it done in a day. Hear from him below on why he’s off on such a riding quest and what he learns about himself on the long, solo adventures.

 

Background

 

Tell us about the Kokopelli Trail. Why did you decide to have a crack at it?

 

It’s a trail that runs from just west of Fruita, in the Grand Junction area in Colorado, all the way through to Moab. It skirts along the Colorado River for parts of it, and heads up over to La Sal Mountains near Moab. It’s about 160 miles with a mixture of single track, jeep roads and sandy double track. 

 

It’s a pretty well established mountain bike route, in the US at least. I’ve always wanted to ride it. Even though it’s only four hours away from where I live, I’ve never really found the time to do it. So when we realized that we were looking at two months of lockdown, I felt like I wanted to have something to look forward to to keep me motivated. A light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. It also helps that it’s close to home and it’s something I can go do while still staying pretty well isolated. 

 

What are the distinctive features of the trail? What do you think made this one in particular seem appealing to you?

 

I like the idea that it’s doable in a day. There aren’t any resupply spots, or towns along the route. There really isn’t anything along the way. You’re just bouncing from trailhead to trailhead and you’ve got to source your water from the Colorado River. The water aspect is definitely going to be the most challenging part of this. I’m going to have to make sure to carry enough water and be able to refill and filter the water. In that regard, it’s not like I’m passing through a bunch of towns which is kind of important at the moment. I just really like the idea that it’s a really big day out, but it’s only one day out. If everything goes as planned, that is. Also, anytime you ride in the desert, it will be special for various reasons. I’m looking forward to discovering that section of the world because it’s pretty remote, pretty isolated and if it wasn’t for a trail going through there we would never see it. 

 

For most people it can take 3-5 days to complete the trail camping along the way, with a very fast time under 16 hours total. Are you going at it with the intention of setting a “best known time” so to speak?

 

No, it’s definitely not my reason for doing it. It’s just kind of the way I like to do these kinds of things. The way I get the most enjoyment out of stuff like this is by having a really light setup. In order to have a light setup, you have to do it fast, otherwise you need to carry your camping set up. So if you want to get away with only carrying the bare minimum you kind of have to do it fast. So no, I’m definitely not setting out with a goal of trying to beat this record or anything. This is just the way I like to do these kinds of rides. 

 

I also have a huge amount of respect for Kurt Refsnider, who set the men’s record (11 hours 52 minutes). He’s really experienced at this sort of thing, whereas I’m just trying to get my first route under the belt. But also, you’ve got to respect the demands of the trail. Just because you can do it in 12 hours, doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are a lot of different things that can go wrong. You’ve got to be willing to say at a certain point ‘ok this is going to take me two days’. At the end of the day, you want to be safe doing it. I’m not going to take any risks on the technical stuff and basically dial everything back 20 percent from what I normally would. 

 

I’m just really interested in the challenge of it. Every time I take on one of these big rides I learn 10 things I wish I had known before I set out. But that’s also the appeal of it. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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What’s your gear set up in case you do end up having to spend the night out? 

I mean, it’s pretty warm. So you don’t really need to carry a sleeping bag. An emergency bivy is all you really need. I’ve also got a Garmin inReach, which will keep my location known to people who are following, so if I do run into trouble, I can send out a note and let people know where I am. To be honest, water is the biggest thing you can mess up, either underestimating how much you are going to need or not finding areas to refuel. Generally you want to carry as little as necessary and just try to make it to each refueling point but given the fact that I‘ve never ridden the full trail, I’m going to play it pretty safe and make sure I have as much water as I can carry the whole way through. Outside of something mechanical, I think that’s going to be the thing that could bite me. 

 

How warm is it supposed to get?

I’m going to start in Moab and end in Fruita and realistically, the last hundred kilometers is where I’ll hit the early afternoon sun. It’s probably going to be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit out there. I was out riding this morning around maybe 11 am, and today is a cool day mind you, but it was already close to 100 degrees. It’s also very exposed so you have the full heat of the sun beating down on you. There’s really no hiding especially when it’s as dry as it is up here. Even today when I was out riding I realized that water is going to be absolutely key. 

 

What’s the game plan?

I’m thinking I’m probably going to leave Moab around 3 am. I did another little ride on the course Thursday to dial this in, but the plan at the moment is to leave around 3. You start with a big climb anyways, so the first two hours will be in the dark but you’ll be going uphill and you’ll be riding for around six hours or so before you really start to feel the heat and then you’ve got to deal with it. Originally I wanted to do it in a way that would allow me to get daylight throughout the ride, but having been out there today and feeling the heat, I realized if I could buy myself some time in the cool I should probably do it. 

 

What’s the support looking like? 

My dad loves this sort of thing, so he wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’m going to drive down with my dad and we’re probably going to car camp somewhere near the trailhead. Once you set off, there are only a few spots along the trail where people can get you, so it really is a self-supported effort. I’m planning on not seeing anyone and just carrying everything I need from the beginning and relying on the rivers I cross for water. I’ll have the Garmin inReach tracker with me. It’s nice to have that peace of mind with me so that I know I’m not totally alone. 

 

Describe what these longer rides are like for you mentally?

You always end up going to a place mentally that you would never reach in your day-to-day life. When you go to those ends of your physical ability, you always learn something different. I also think it’s a good refresh when you come back to normal life. When you go out, push yourself, and keep extending your ability to tolerate discomfort you always come out with a renewed perspective. I feel like at the moment, it’s definitely something we all could use – at least I definitely feel like I need that right now. The reality is that we’ve been locked inside for two months and even though it’s tough, it’s not as bad as it is for a lot of people at the moment. It’s good to remind yourself that hardship is linked to growth. That’s kind of what I chase on these adventures. 

 


Follow his ride

 

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His gear

 

 

Bike stuff:

CannondaleCannondale Scalpel-Si Hi-Mod mountain bike

VittoriaVittoria Barzo tires

FSAFSA’s Gradient off-road WIDER29 wheelset

Shimano groupset

Garmin 1030 head unit, Garmin Varia rear light/radar, Garmin inReach mini satellite

RaphaRapha Waterproof Top Tube Pack, Bar bag, tacx saddle bag

POCPOC Ventral Air helmet, POC Aim sunglasses

 

Packing List:

Food:  SkratchSkratch bars, rice cakes, gas station snacks 

1 bag Skratch hydration mix

Running vest 1.5L water bladder

2x700ml Tacx bottles

Multi tool 

6 plug kits

2 spare Tubes

2 CO2 canisters

Mini pump

Tire leavers

2 Tire boots

Life straw, water purification tabs

Emergency blanket

Charging cables (phone, camera, lights)

Chain lube

Sun screen