On Saturday, Oct 8th, Fort Collins pro, Kristen Arnold, set out on a FKT (fastest know time) attempt on the Kokopelli Trail. The Kokopelli Trail is a classic bikepacking route connecting Fruita and Moab. The route is 158 miles of singletrack, doubletrack, sand and tarmac. The current FKT is 13 hours 32 minutes.
All photos taken by: Adam Koble
Deep autumn sunrise over the buttes, fine sand in my shoes and everywhere else, Scandinavian swimmers powering me through, geckos scurrying across the trail, hydrogen ions building up in my quads, delirium setting in around sunset, a crashed map, getting lost in the dark for hours, a love story.
A few months into the pandemic around July, reality settled in that there would be no professional racing in 2020. Our team director, Steve Cullen, encouraged us to pursue our own ‘personal projects’. After several months of waffling, I set my sights on breaking the Fastest Known Time on the Kokopelli Trail. The Kokopelli Trail is known as the most beautiful bike packing route in the west. It traditionally starts in Fruita Colorado and travels to Moab Utah on single track, dirt roads, jeep roads, and a few small smidgens of paved roads. The route is 25% single track and 95% off road.
It is known that water is arguably the biggest obstacle on the Kokopelli Trail. This is especially true in the fall when the desert hasn’t seen rain in months. We planned two water stops. One at mile 22 at Castle Creek and one at mile 77 at the Colorado River. We used Aquamira drops to purify the water and hope it wasn’t too silty. Fortunately, the creek water was crystal clear and the Colorado River at that section was not too murky.
Going into this ride after much investigation I had deduced that breaking the current FKT, 13 hours 32 minutes, would be a tall order. I set my goal as 15 hours, 1 hour and 27 minutes over the FKT. A rough average for people riding the Kokopelli Trail in one day is 16 to 18 hours of riding time. Seeing as I was treating this ride as a race and not a tour and I was completing it on one of the most ideal weather days of the year, I set my sights on a time between a ‘mortal’ time and a close to goddess-liness time. Regardless, my goal was to ride the route as fast as I was able to do with the prep I did and try to beat the FKT.
For events like this, I am very aware that the ride will only go as well as your prep went. It doesn’t matter if you made it halfway in blasting record time but then blew up your knee or started feeling nauseous and couldn’t eat enough or got hypothermia over a pass and couldn’t finish or lost time in the second half. All the little things really count. For this ride I knew that comfort would likely be my biggest limiter. I treated myself to a brand new pair of top end bib shorts, Eliel Soledad 2.0, a pair of new mountain bike shoes since my old ones made my feet cramp after 3 hours of riding in them, and I sought out on getting as many products from Ergon as I could. I used the Ergon SR Pro Carbon Women road saddle, Ergon GP2 grips, and Ergon gloves which all made a huge difference. The extensions on the grips help to open my chest up and provide an alternative hand position and the saddle allows me to sit my butt down for extremely long periods of time without discomfort. I also chose to ride my full suspension Orbea Occam, instead of my Orbea Alma xc racing hardtail. Having the rear suspension and bigger suspension in the front I knew would ultimately add to my ability to keep riding and preserve comfort and was worth the extra weight of the bike.
As a sports RD I also made sure I had a dialed nutrition plan. I carb loaded like a kween and also supplemented with electrolyte tablets in water for 4 days before starting the trail. My goal during the ride was to consume 16 ounces of fluid and 300 calories per hour plus caffeine and electrolytes. I got the calories from primarily drink mix and then also solid food tapering with gummies and gels in the last few hours. Perhaps I’ll do another write up on my nutrition plan of action!
I attempted this FKT as an unsupported Individual Time Trial. Although the rules of an FKT for bikes are hard to find, they are easier to find for running. I followed the ‘unsupported’ guidelines, the same as I did when I completed Tour Divide in 2013. Unsupported means you are not allowed to take support of any kind that is not available to everyone doing the route. You cannot take help or supplies from a stranger along the route, you cannot stash water or supplies for yourself along the route, you cannot draft other riders. For full transparency I had a photographer, Adam Koble, following my tracker and taking photos of me along the route. Some would say this is providing an ‘emotional or mental’ support and is not within the ethics of the FKT but it is not explicitly against the rules. I did not take any supplies or drop off any supplies to Adam during the ride but I did get to wave to a familiar face every few hours and also knew that if something threatened my safety I would have someone looking out and a way to bail. My fiancé, Taylor Kruse and I had many long discussions about how to go about riding the trail. The Kokopelli Trail was his idea and we originally wanted to ride it together while not drafting or taking support from one another. We decided it would be more in the spirit of the FKT for Taylor and I to ride apart. He started half an hour behind me with the intent that he would pass me and we would finish within an closer time than if we started together.
3:30am and I am rolling out of the parking lot to start this anticipated mega ride that I have been prepping for the last 2-3 months. It’s a comfortable 58 degrees, peaceful, stars out, moon half full, ready to crush this 4000ft climb out of the gate. Rebecca Rusch holds the current FKT on the Kokopelli Trail and she completed this first two climbs in 1 hour 45 minutes. I get to the top around 2 hours and I am satisfied with this split. I knew the climb wasn’t going to be my strong-suit and 15minutes was within the margin I was allowing myself. Down a fun road descent. Only almost hit 2 bunnies. Hit the first water stop, only stopped for ~8 minutes total! Up a road climb turned to gravel to awaken the day with a deep orange sunrise. What a treat to be at the tippy top of the route at sunrise in Moab and to be able to ride the descent in daylight.
From here on out the route becomes more fuzzy as all I am thinking about is: eat, drink, drop your dropper, raise your dropper, get to the rocks, lock out your fork, lock out your rear, open your fork, open your rear, push push push, relax, don’t crash, breath, breath out, happy thoughts, this is over at the end of the ride, smooth pedal strokes, aero in the wind, big in the tailwind, get to the top, lose grip, open your chest, get out of the sand, why is there so much sand, where did all of this sand come from.
The route was absolutely breathtaking. A truly captivating landscape with fire-like fall colors, ice cream swirly rocks and buttes that look like ancient alien castles. A desert-scape I’d never seen all in one day. Although I only stopped when absolutely necessary for as short as time as possible, I did allow myself to look around when safe.
Next stop after the tippy top: fierce jeep roads. The choice is sandpit or rocks. This descent was super fun but very lose. I would wish it on no one without a full suspension bike. Follow this with steep rocky climbs that are arguably only rideable by a trials rider with fresh plyo legs. Opening up on forgiving dirt roads through a canyon towards the Colorado River. Second water stop was at mile 77 at the Colorado River along a single track multi-use trail thick with brush. Powering through more sandpit jeep roads and rolling dirt roads. Feeling great, pushing, eating, dropping the dropper, sending, picking good lines to make it through the sand, and feeling mentally good.
I knew that at some point on the route I would get the ‘okay I’m ready to be done now’ feeling but I just didn’t know when that would be. I was pleased to find that it wasn’t until hour 10.5 that I went from ‘fun challenge mode’ to ‘finish survival mode’. At this point I flipped on my HAPPY playlist and powered through the next section with surprisingly really good time.
About 5 miles before entering the Fruita trail network around mile 120, my Garmin Edge 800 crashed. I tried restarting it several times but nothing was working. It was fully charged but wouldn’t stay on. I followed signs for the Kokopelli trail up until the signs stopped…. The Kokopelli Trail is not marked going Moab to Fruita once you enter the intricate Fruita trail system. It is now around 6pm or so and I am guessing which direction to go to get to the end. My Garmin InReach has the route on it but it connects waypoint dots that go along the route and doesn’t follow the trail exactly to tell you which trail to take. With an intricate system like Fruita’s, the Garmin InReach route was little help when there are 3 trails to choose from that go in a similar north east direction. It is getting dark and the clip on my helmet light breaks and so now my light won’t attach to my helmet. I’m 15 hours in and ~7 miles from finishing in the dark with a crappy map and a light I have to hold in my mouth to see where I’m going on single track. I putz around in the dark scared and delirious trying to tape my light to my helmet with spare electrical tape I brought, but I do a half-ass job.
~30 minutes go by and after riding 3 different trails and doubling back I find a map at an intersection. I stand there staring at the map trying to figure out where I am and where I need to go. My mind is at about 60%, it’s pitch black now, and I’m scared. Out of the darkness I see a headlight and low and behold, it’s Taylor. I had thought he passed me earlier in the day when I was getting water down off the trail in the Colorado River at mile 77 and that he had finished, realized I was lost, and came back to find me. Little did I know he was just getting to that spot and had been behind me the whole day.
Taylor was not having his best day on the bike. He was severely bonking and his body was shaking from all of the impact of the route on his singlespeed hardtail Kona Big Unit. Taylor is one of the most resilient riders I know. He started cycling in Randonneuring, rode Tour Divide with me in 2013, and has raced over 10, 100mile mountain bike races. He also somehow feels like a person after all of them. We stand there for a moment, me being lost, him being a shell of human and start pushing forward together. Taylor needed to stop and walk or crouch over his bike every 3 minutes or so but we made it out and finished all 138 miles of the trail. At the end I was not upset for adding 2-2.5hours of time being lost but grateful that I had finished and the ride developed a deeper meaning for me. What started as a solo Fastest Known Time attempt ended with a metaphor for Taylor and I’s relationship, on the week’s eve of our marriage. We are to be married 1 week from riding the Kokopelli Trail in our backyard. We serendipitously showed up and supported one another in each of our darkest moments to finish a monumental feat, and in the very end we did it together. He helped me get out of the trail system and found me when I was lost and I helped make sure his body didn’t completely fall apart, supported him and made sure he got to the finish safely. We rode to the Kokopelli Trail sign in the parking lot, started the process of peeling off our equipment and thanked Adam, ourselves, and the trail for an epic day.
Had my Garmin not crashed (or had I brought a better backup route like a Gaia trail downloaded route on my phone or even a paper cue sheet as a better backup than the Garmin InReach ‘route’) I believe I would have finished the route in 14:45, just under my 15 hour goal time. My perceived biggest limiter: technical climbing. There were many times that if I didn’t have to put a foot down, or dab, and made it up sections I would have saved up to 45 minutes of cumulative time getting off and walking certain sections. This route is not for the inexperienced when it comes to technical riding and single track. I was happy with my nutrition, my choices in gear, my process to limit stop time, and my mental and physical training going into the ride. Not having a better backup map and also acknowledging I could have spent more time working on my technical climbing skills are my ‘opportunities for improvement’ as I would work through with my athletes at Source Endurance.
I hope this ride inspires more women to try their hands and their butt at this epic trail!
I would like to thank these sponsors and individuals for the support they provided. I could not have done it without them!
ButcherBox Cycling - support
ButcherBox – meat for my muscles and overall nutritional density
Eliel Cycling – best of the best kit, very comfortable bibs, socks
Giro Cycling – shoes, helmet
Soldier Unlimited - media
100 Percent – rad sunnies
Ergon – undeniably helpful grips, all day comfortable saddle, burly gloves
Liza Coaching – coaching, prep, emotional support
Adam Koble - photography
Daft Punk – Discovery album and Tron Reconfigured album
The goddess of the wind – an all day tail wind
About Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CSSD
Kristen Arnold lives in Fort Collins and races professionally for ButcherBox Cycling. She's a USA Cycling level two coach, a registered dietitian nutritionist, a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and has her Masters in human nutrition.
I strive to understand the intersection between food, athleticism, body image, and self-worth. I believe when we cultivate balanced and healthy relationships with our bodies and food, we are liberated. We are liberated to be active, we are understanding of what our bodies and minds need, and we are drawn to support one another. Through food and exploring both evidence-based performance nutrition strategies and how we think about food and our bodies we can begin to better ourselves and our communities. We better ourselves physically through physical performance and being in tune with our bodies and minds. We better our communities through empathetic and empowered communication.
When I started college to become a Registered Dietitian, I originally wanted to go into public health and women’s health. I wanted to help moms, kids, pregnant women, and low-income populations through food and nutrition education and programming. 4 years into a 5 year undergraduate degree I picked up cycling. With rapid speed bike racing became a way of life for me. My community, my income, my time, and my passion centered around racing my bike. With this came a passion for sports nutrition. Not only do I love the nitty gritty of the research, I love working with athletes and active individuals to find creative and practical ways to integrate all of the knowledge the sports nutrition research is constantly teaching us. I am passionate about helping individuals and teams enhance their performance and showing them that through food they can do more than they ever thought was possible of themselves.