Monday, April 20, 2009

The Grandest Bicycle "Loop"

"mile for mile, the most challenging (race) I've ever done." This quotes the 2003 "Grand Loop" speed record holder. His record has since been broken. Heed his words or read no further. I can not be responsible for the consequences if you are not heedful. This ride is not for ninnies. Those might die trying.Of all the activities I enjoy, I find that bicycling is the thing that most unencumbers my spirit. There is a 390 mile mountain bike trail (includes Colorado National Monument mileage. I've seen estimates as low as 370 miles but better over prepared than under prepared, right?) available in the Great Basin Desert and mountains of Colorado and Utah that I hope will do the same for other people. This loop trail is a combination of the Kokopelli, Paradox, and Tabeguache trails. It can be done with 4wd support at defined access points.
So it is possible to bike during the day and sleep in a comfortable bed at night if desired (with precise planning). This of course is an expensive option, as comforts always are. Timing is critical for this extraordinary ride. The desert sections are too hot (can be deadly) in summer. The highland sections are too cold and impassable in late fall through early summer (unless you love hike-a-bike in the spring thaw slush). I recommend starting at the Kokopelli trailhead at Loma, Colorado and heading toward Moab, Utah in order to time your intersecting of the Paradox and Tabeguache trails for about October 10th, the peak of typical Colorado autumn color in the mountains. It takes me all day (5 or six hours is all day for a 55 year old kid) to reach the Utah border from Loma.
This is only about 15 miles but I am ancient. The following section I can zip through doubly fast. Judge your skills realistically and enjoy this experience, which I am convinced has to be one of the best available in the world for mountain biking enthusiasts. I have done the whole loop so most mountain bicyclists can manage it with proper guidance and preparation. So, ride the Kokopelli approximately 116 miles, intersect and travel on the Paradox (turns left at Gateway Road) 105 miles, which is its total length, intersect and travel left on the Tabeguache approximately 118 miles to Grand Junction, Colorado at Monument Road. Important note: If the loop is done as an intersecting trail (which is the correct "Grand Loop") about 25 miles of the Kokopelli and 25 miles of the Tabeguache will be missed.
Very general elevation changes are as follows for the mountain bike loop: from 4500 ft. to 8400 ft. to 4700 ft. to 9500 ft. to 5000 ft. to 7500 ft. (quick ascent) to 4500 ft. Individual trail elevation variances are: Kokopelli (142 miles): 4200-8400 ft. Paradox (105 miles): 4700-9500 ft. Tabeguache (142 miles): 4500-9500 ft. Excellent maps of the trails are available at copmoba>>trails>>trail maps. Please support this important organization. They also sign the trail and signage was pretty good when I rode. "Theory" says signage is every mile and at intersections. Vandalism of signs will apply discomfort and necessitate some back-tracking, no doubt. I cannot discount the possibility of extra time being allotted for the famed Slickrock Trail, which is at the Kokopelli Trail end, in Moab. This would entail a 60 mile round trip to Moab and back to the junction of the Kokopelli and Paradox trails. I cannot emphasize enough (again) the difficulty and beauty of the loop experience.
Please spend diligent time preparing in order to extract guaranteed enjoyment and safety. If I had my way I would take a month to do the 390 mile trip, for an optimal experience. Some sections are one mile per hour stuff. Some sections are 20 mile per hour speedways. HELLO! ONE GALLON OF WATER PER PERSON, PER DAY, IS AN ABSOLUTE MINIMUM! IF A PERSON IS THIRSTY HE IS ALREADY IN TROUBLE. WHEN WATER IS HALF GONE THE RIDE IS HALF DONE FOR THE DAY. NO EXCEPTIONS! If riding unsupported water availability will be a problem or a least an added challenge. I believe that the photographic highlights are at the beginning of the Kokopelli, Fisher Towers, Castle Valley, and the mountains and aspens in early to mid October. Check out the Hanging Flume near Uravan, Colorado, although it is not very photogenic. Again, COPMOBA is an excellent resource for judging difficulty and speed.
Maybe you can do the loop in a week, maniac man. The record is about 3 days. Because it's there, I guess. I put that feat on the insanity scale with vertical climbing with just chalked hands, climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen, and performing in triathalons. Some people have their pain and pleasure sensors reversed. Much of the trail consists of great singletrack, implying some hike-a-bike. Some parts are backcountry roads. A very few sections are paved. You'll get over that. Some junctions and sections are indistinct. Study, study and use a compass and topo map (or your favorite reliable direction finding resource). An important disclosure: When you finish the Tabeguache Trail in Grand Junction, Colorado it does not connect to the Kokopelli trailhead.
I like to head toward the Colorado National Monument (left down Monument Road a short distance) and traverse the paved National Park Service road from east to west. This will cost 3 bucks per bicycle but is well worth it. After completing the Colorado Monument road you will be in Fruita in 2 miles and must take the interstate highway westbound about 4 miles to exit #15 and the Kokopelli trailhead. If you are an avid mountain biker I promise that you will enjoy one of the best experiences of your life on this loop ride. The pain was worth it for me. You will be whipped though. I did the ride sectionally, meaning out-and-back, on an old (1996 model) Specialized Stumpjumper hardtail. A great bike. It could do more than I could do.
If you have a thing about only riding clockwise, you could start at the Tabeguache trailhead in Grand Junction, Colorado. It is my belief, however, that this option is a little more resistant to seasonal timing.

Addendum: The summer wildflowers in the high country of the Uncompahgre Plateau (Tabeguache) and La Sal Mountains (Kokopelli) are exquisite. However, desert regions are very uncomfortable and dangerous during this time.

Reprinted from "Ezine".
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