May 25, 2013

Kokopelli Trail Race: Neil Beltchenko


Crested Butte local Neil Beltchenko moved to Crested Butte after attending Western State Colorado University.  Like most people, he got on a bike.  But unlike most people, Neil discovered that he likes riding his bike for very long distances.  Earlier this year, Neil took 5th in the Arizona Trail Race 300.  Last weekend, Neil took part in the Kokopelli Trail Race.  The trail runs 142 miles from Moab, Utah to Loma, Colorado.  You can follow his adventures at

Words by Neil Beltchenko:

My unconventional race schedule this summer has turned into more then I could have ever imagined. Since the Arizona Trail Race, I have not really done much of anything, a few rides here and there but mainly just some R&R, and it’s been great. This past Saturday at 12:30am (Friday Night), me and only a hand full of other racers set out for the rugged Kokopelli Trail. I set a goal of 15 hours. This was just a number I threw out there, not really knowing how fast I could do it. Last fall Mike Behrendt and myself rode the trail from Loma to Moab in 48 hours, camping and relaxing. This time I would start from Moab, Utah and end at the Kokopelli Trailhead in Loma, Colorado.

Kokopelli-For-Neil-2My girlfriend Lindsay, our friend Kristi, and myself arrived in Moab at around 8:00pm. I wanted to get some food, pack my gear and get a quick nap in before the odd 12:30am start time. The day before I changed out my Maxxis Icons for a more fresh pair. I have never had problems with my tubeless tires but the unknown spirits above figured it was a good time to. Something had gone wrong with my valve stem. I tightened down the circle screw where the valve meets the rim. Usually the Stan’s No Tubes Sealant will fill that gap and it did momentarily, but not for long as air continued to escape near the valve. I packed my stuff up and tried to take a nap in a very party friendly campsite. I gave myself and hour and a half to nap, I slept maybe 10 minutes.

I got out of the tent, got changed, and hit the road where I would meet 3 others at the town park in Moab. Peter Basinger (who slayed this years AZT 300) and two others. The four of us slowly climbed up to the Slickrock Trailhead where the race technically starts. Marshal, another rider, was on route already as he started at 6:00pm on Friday, but we were not sure how many more were already on course. 1:00am hit, signaling the very anti-climatic start.

I started the climb up Sand Flats Road at a fast pace.  I wanted to give myself a cushion if I needed a rest or had mechanical issues. I knew what was ahead from riding the trail last fall but I really didn’t know what to expect riding it from in the opposite direction. The half paved, half gravel climb was roughly 12 miles. It was dark and still relatively warm. After Looking at my GPS I realized I missed my first turn “stupid Neil” I said aloud. I got on track and climbed LPS and UPS (both part of the Porcupine rim trail). After reaching Mountain Loop Road my legs received their first break after the biggest climb of the course. I descended down to Castle Vally Campground where I hit 40 MPH a few times, what a rush! I quickly got back to climbing up Castelton Road. I avoided looking at the time for most of the first section. I knew I needed to keep a good pace. I saw lights in the distance behind me. Was Peter catching me already? I turned my lights off and rode in the dark until I was around the ridge and out of site. As I continued up the paved climb it started to rain. Rain was in the forecast but knew it would be isolated showers. I finally reached Fisher Creek, still with no recollection of time. I stopped at mile 30 and assessed my water situation on the Fisher Creek Bridge. 2 liters plus a full bottle. I was not drinking a lot of water but felt fully hydrated. I continued on without filling up.

Sunrise on the trail.

Sunrise on the trail.

After pedaling through some classic Moab sand the rain really started to come down. It didn’t last long but it made for a more difficult ride through the sand. The decent down to Onion Creek Road was fast, fun, yet draining. I saw lights in the distance ahead of me, not knowing if it was another rider or not. I continued my decent down to Hideout Campground  and noticed the light in a different position. I was now certain it was another rider or a least someone, but truly who would be out in the middle of the night but us. I worried about my rear tire and started to baby it, I could tell it was losing air but I filled it at a higher PSI at the start to over compensate. I finally caught the light at the Hideout Campground(mile 42), it was Cat Morrison filling up on water. She said she had started at 12:00am. We chatted briefly about the race and where we were from. I too filled up on water, and quickly parted ways with Cat. I reached Fisher Valley just as the sun started to illuminate the canyons. This trail has a powerful spiritual feeling about it.

I reached Rose Garden Hill Road and eventually the legendary hike-a-Bike section. I got to the top and noticed a bikepacker, it was Aaron from Salida. He was bikepacking the trail as an out and back from Loma. We chatted as I de-layered, changed out my sunglasses lenses, and ate my chicken sandwich. I did not stop for long as I figured both Cat and Peter were on my tail. This climb was brutal for me, lots of ledges and loose rock made it difficult. However, it didn’t last long and soon I was cruising down Entrada Bluffs Road where I eventually hit the Dewey Bridge which marked the half way point. I stopped when I saw another biker, it was Marshal. I asked how he was doing, “not good” he said.  He had been dealing with stomach issues and throwing up, he said he was finished. We chatted briefly about my pace and I quickly took off again. Just as I got on the Dewey Bridge, I looked down at my tire, it was nearly flat. This is where I started to get off my bike to deal with my tire far too often. I filled it up with my Co2 and got on my way.

Top of Entrada Bluff Road

Top of Entrada Bluff Road

I started up Yellow Jacket Canyon and boy was it sandy. The views of the La Sal Range were beautiful but this section will not be remembered for that. While climbing one of these short but steep sandy climbs I tweaked my IT band on my right leg. I had to get off my bike, stretch, down a few Advil, and rub on some pain cream. I took it easy on the rest of that climb. The Advil kicked in slowly as my thoughts of quitting on Highway 128 faded. Other then my tire and knee, I started to feel good that I was over half way done, and the hardest sections of the course were behind me.

The section from Highway 128 was fairly un-amusing, besides the little bit of singletrack along the Colorado River. It was around mid morning when I arrived at the Cisco boat landing(mile 74). I started to notice more and more people around. I was exhausted at this point, but prevented myself from bonking by chowing down on Cliff Bars and Snickers. I was still not drinking a lot of water, but I knew I should, it was getting very hot. I stopped again to fix my tire. This time I attempted to take off my valve stem so I could put a tube in my tire. Not happening. The Stan’s sealant was working against me as it glued the valve ring to the valve threads. I filled the tire with some more Stan’s Sealant, and used up the last bit of my first Co2 canister and the first bit of my second and final canister. I was good to go…until I noticed my fork was not showing the correct amount of travel yet again. This same thing happened on the Arizona Trail Race earlier this spring. So I started to stress out a bit. I was certain Peter and Cat were pretty close behind as I kept stopping. My knee hurt, my rear tire was not holding air, and my fork was all messed up. I was increasingly going thru the mental ups and downs of the race. Self-supported racing is never easy, and this was a prime example.

When the going gets tough, document it!

When the going gets tough, document it!

After riding out the flattest section of the Kokopelli Trail, I reached the Westwater Junction (mile 96). Here I had two options: I could take a left to continue on the Kokopelli Trail or go straight (off course) to fill up on water. I decided the 4 mile detour would be a good idea, fill up on water rather then have another thing to worry about. I quickly filled up at the spigot at the Westwater Ranger Station. I got back on the road, where every car seemed to be in a big rush. The wind was blowing hard at this point and storm clouds started to build around me. I got to Bitter Creek Campground which was a welcoming sight to see so many people. I stopped again to fill up my tire.  I was nearly out of Co2.

I asked two very kind gents if they had an extra Co2 canister, luckily they had one that they may be willing to part ways with. They insisted I have it after I told them what I was doing. I felt confident I had enough Co2 for the rest of the ride. My fork was slowly losing more travel and all I was thinking about was getting to Rabbit Valley. Soon I hit the very familiar Western Rim Junction. A part of me felt like I was home, I was in Colorado after all. I had not seen more than 5 people from the start of Yellow Jacket Canyon and now I was weaving to avoid the congested trails on a Saturday afternoon.



I was boiling hot, tired, and just wanted to stop pedaling for the day. I finally made it to the Rabbit Valley parking lot and knew I was on the final stretch. Why does the final stretch always seem to take an eternity? I burned through the road ahead knowing I have a lot of hike a bike ahead of me. I was still worried Cat and Peter were on my tail. I got to the singletrack portion that leads down to Salt Creek. I was on and off my bike making sure not to do anything stupid. I made it across the creek and started the long hike up Troy Built Trail, which took a long time. Lions Loop was next, which got a bit better, but still plenty of technical spots where I had to get off my bike. Finally, Mary’s Loop, it was the final stretch and I soaked it up. My rear tire was holding enough air, and people were staring at me like “why does this guy look like crap.” I reached the final downhill of Mary’s Loop and made my way up the road to the finish, looking back once more time for Cat or Peter. I made it to the top and did not pedal another stroke down to Lindsay and my car with 143.3 miles showing on my Garmin Edge.

Although I did not finish under 15 Hours. I didn’t know how difficult this would actually be, and yes I dealt with a few unexpected situations.  My knee being out of wack, my tire that probably got me off my bike for 40 minutes total, and my fork which has been very stubborn this spring. When it was all said and done I finished in 15 hours and 27 minutes. Lindsay was waiting for me with a huge Chipotle Burrito. I told myself at the end I would never do this trail again….now I can’t wait to beat 15 hours.

About the Author

1. Ed Dujardin
After moving out west for college, Ed took summer school so he could spend winters in Crested Butte. These days, he coaches the Western State Colorado University Freeride Team, and spends as much time as he can fishing the incredible rivers of the area.