Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kokopelli Trail Race?

A few years ago, I came across a thread about the Kokopelli Trail Race (KTR), a 148-mile self-supported mountain bike race along the entire length of the Kokopelli Trail. Unfortunately, I discovered that it had been shut down by the BLM because the racers didn’t get approval and a permit. This was obviously very contentious, in large part because the race wasn’t a conventionally-organized race with sponsors, entry fees, etc. It was really nothing more than a group (ok, a group of 50 or so) of riders who just put a date on the calendar and headed out for a competitive ride. Apparently the BLM was unable or unwilling to distinguish between a commercial event and a small informal “disorganized” race, and at least one ticket was handed out. Since then, the “race” has taken place in one form or another, often by solo riders reporting ITT times. There have been some small groups out there as well, but only those in the know have been able to participate.

In October of 2009, I contacted the BLM about a running a legal KTR. Turns out that the requirements were relatively limited and seemingly easy to address. In a nutshell, the BLM needed a little paperwork (which requires several months of lead time), an insurance policy (surprisingly cheap), and a relatively minor detour around a few miles of trail outside of Fruita (mostly to facilitate parking at a more "hardened" area). I estimated that everything could be covered by about $30/rider, although I have forgotten the exact amount. The BLM guy that I spoke to seemed sincerely excited and supportive of the idea, and offered to personally help expedite paperwork, etc.

I didn’t proceed beyond the initial inquiry though, for a number of reasons. One was that many Kokopelli Trail Race veterans didn’t want to draw attention to the event, out of reasonable fear that the BLM would hide in the bushes and hand out tickets again. The other was it seemed stupid to essentially commercialize the KTR just to fulfill the BLM’s expectations of what constituted an allowable race—after all, one of the joys of the current ultra-racing ethos is the utter lack of glitz, glamor, money, and corporate meddling. Lastly, I caught a lot flack on for opening what turned out to be a volatile can of worms.

In hindsight, I think that a lot of the vitriol expressed on is fairly reflective of the tensions that exist between land-use agencies and land users in general. Every member of the public feels that their use of public lands should be allowed because they are the "public." Miners, ranchers, hunters, hikers, birders, ATVers, mountain bikers, river runners, etc. all want to do their thing without any regulations or unwelcome intrusions from other users, and they get pretty bent when they are told that they can't. On the other side, those who manage public lands are under continual attack from pretty much every side, and it gets especially heated when one type of land use interferes with another. They end up circling the wagons and hiding behind their desks, which I think is pretty understandable (if annoying) considering the circumstances. In practical terms, this means that they generally fall back on the legal regulations that have been hammered out after years of turmoil. In the case of the KTR (in its current low-profile, DIY style), the event simply doesn't fit the regulations very well--so the BLM didn’t know what to do with it, therefore they stick it into the best-fitting basket that seems relevant. In this case, that means treating it like a commercial race, which is an imperfect fit. Then, of course, people get angry because they feel (not without just cause) that the rules are clumsy, stupid, and capricious--and everyone gets testy until the cows come home.

Despite the acrimony, my interest in the KTR hasn’t waned. This year, I’m planning on through-riding the route in one shot with a couple of friends. We’re definitely not racing, rather just seeing what it’s like to ride for 148 miles without stopping. Although two of us completed the Colorado Trail Race last year, all of us are still pretty much newbies who are just looking for a demanding adventure.

If I successfully complete the ride, I suspect that the desire to race it will be just that much stronger. So, the question is, should I attempt to work with the BLM to start a “legitimate” KTR in 2012? Would I just face a huge time-suck and a mountain of grief? Or would it be possible to hold an event that retains the DIY spirit of ultra-racing, while enabling a bunch of riders to enjoyably race the KTR without being chased through the desert at midnight by BLM staffers?

I really don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but that’s why I’m posting it on my blog. I’m eager to hear what people have to say—although I would sincerely appreciate it if people tried to maintain a civil tone.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Colorado Trail Guidebook and Waypoints Updated!

Last year, I purchased the excellent Colorado Trail waypoints from Bear Creek Survey. In addition to uploading the file to my GPS, I also added them to my printed maps. Combined with Stefan's excellent track files, it was pretty cool to have so much information available at the touch of a button (and the turn of a page).

In light of the new Colorado Trail Guidebook (and presumably Data Book) coming out in a bit, I checked with Bear Creek to see if the waypoint file is also changing--and indeed it is. New files should be available to purchase in a "couple of weeks."

Information on the updated Colorado Trail Guidebook:

Bear Creek Survey:

While on the subject of spending money: If you are planning on riding the CTR this summer, please make a donation to the Colorado Trail Foundation. The trail is an amazing resource, and the Foundation could really use some extra cash to buy new tools, chainsaw oil, etc. Compared the the money that we spend on bikes, gear, food, etc., donating $50-100 to maintain the trail is a bargain!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Panniers for 2011?

EDIT, August 4, 2011: Panniers with a full-suspension bike SUCK! While they worked well my old solid hard-tail, they made the rear triangle of my new full-suspension Cannondale RZ 120 wag, wiggle, and sway like a bowl full of Jell-o. Time to move to a rackless setup!

With the Colorado Trail Race still seven months away, it seems sort of silly to be organized my gear already. But long, cold, dark nights lend themselves to contemplation. Further, I can save a fair bit of money by watching for sales over the course of the next few months, rather than buying stuff at the last moment.

Having completed the CTR last year, I have a better idea of what worked and what didn’t, so this year I’m mostly fine-tuning my choices rather than starting from scratch. Last year’s gear certainly worked well enough, but I’m aiming to cut a little weight for 2011, in hopes of riding a little faster.

The biggest conundrum I’m facing is whether to ride with panniers again, or to move to "modern" racing bags. Of the forty riders who showed up last year, I was the only guy with "retro" rear panniers—which made me feel just a little conspicuous! It didn’t help that several people that I met along the way wondered if I was "one of those racers, or just out for a tour."

The truth is that I liked my panniers. They were incredibly convenient. But I’m worried that I’m missing something that the other 39 riders know about. So, to help me figure out what to do, I’ve been writing up the pros and cons of panniers versus new-style gear:

Pannier advantages:
  1. No heavy pack. Without panniers, it’s not possible to put everything on the bike (especially on my Cannondale RZ 120, which doesn’t have much room for a frame bag). Even with huge seat bags and handlebar bags, most racers seem to carry fairly heavy/bulky packs. This is the biggest reason that I’m considering using panniers--I really don’t want to ride with a top-heavy, arm-cramping, back-destroying, and butt abusing pack! A simple and light hydration pack is OK, and it even helps provide some protection in the event of a hard crash.
  2. “Fluffy” food is easier to carry. While re-supplying in Buena Vista, I discovered a box of Poppycock at City Market. It fit right into my roomy panniers, along with a roll of bagels. Yum.
  3. Lower center of gravity. Panniers make it possible to carry heavy stuff nice and low, thereby improving bike handling.
  4. Easier organization (especially with a rack bag). Rather than have to cram everything into super-compressed frame bags, panniers make it easy to organize and access food, clothing, etc. A dry bag on top of the rack also makes a convenient pantry, shrinking and growing as vittles are consumer and replenished.
  5. Pannier dry bags are DRY! Last year, I used Pacific Outdoor Equipment dry-bag panniers. With just a roll and a clip, everything stayed nice and dry. No covers required. Very nice! Yes, some seat bags have dry-bag inserts, but then they start getting heavier.
Pannier disadvantages:
  1. Weight. Yes, panniers (and a rack to hang them on) are heavy. About three additional pounds (edit: with lighter panniers, the difference is closer to two pounds), in total--which seems like a lot when otherwise counting every gram. How much extra energy is required to move three (two) pounds over 500 miles of trail—not to mention 60,000 vertical feet? Is it worth it to avoid carrying a large pack?
  2. Wide load. When slipping between tight boulders and trees, I couldn’t help feel a little thick in the rear. Not a horrible problem on the CTR, but occasionally distracting.
  3. Unbalanced. While it didn’t bother me as much as I expected, panniers make for a heavy-ended bike. Spreading the weight around would be nice. On the flip side, panniers have a lower center of gravity, which is nice. Maybe smaller panniers combined with a smallish handlebar bag would provide the best of both worlds?
  4. Overkill capacity. With large panniers, the temptation to carry enormous quantities of gear may be an issue. But all it takes is a little willpower to avoid carrying the kitchen sink. My gear ended up weighing about the same as most racers’, maybe a bit less than average.
  5. Wind resistance. My commuter bike has panniers, and on windy days I feel like I’m dragging a parachute. Not bad for training, but not great for getting to work on time. Wind drag isn’t much of a problem on the CTR though.
  6. Hitting legs while walking. This did drive me a little crazy on a few of the longer hike-a-bike sections, although I did get used to it. The bags that I used in 2010 were pretty thick (9+ inches). Thinner panniers would be nice, and Ortlieb makes a nice pair of 5.5”-wide dry-bag panniers...
  7. Rack durability. I haven’t broken a rack, but many people have. OMM racks seem pretty tough.
  8. Panniers look dorky. Bright green love handles? Ah, who cares!
At this point, I’m leaning toward panniers and a handlebar bag for 2011. Perhaps a pair of smaller Ortlieb Front Roller Pluses mounted to an OMM rack, and an Ortlieb dry bag strapped to the bars? Probably time to start sorting, measuring, and weighing everything to see how many cubic inches I actually need. Only six more months to mull this over!

There are a couple of good threads over at about panniers and carrying gear. Note that when people post photos of their setups, they often omit the pack!,697.0.html,385.0.html