This past Friday, professional endurance cyclists Kait Boyle (@kait.boyle), Lael Wilcox (@laelwilcox), and Kurt Refsnider (@kurt.refsnider) all set off before dawn on the iconic 137-mile-long Kokopelli Trail from Moab, Utah. By dusk, two new fastest known times (FKTs) were set by teammates Boyle and Refsnider (Pivot-Industry Nine-Revelate Designs-Kuat Racks).
The Kokopelli Trail, with nearly 15,000 feet of climbing, links together ledgy 4×4 tracks, short sections of gravel road, and rocky singletrack over the La Sal Mountains, through deep sandstone canyons, and along the Colorado River. Created by the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Association in 1988, the Kokopelli Trail has one of the oldest FKT cultures of any long-distance mountain bike trail. The trail was first ridden in a single day by Gary Dye in the mid-1990s, and an informal race on the trail took place for nearly a decade in the early 2000s. Today, riders are left to challenge the route on their own volition in time trial format. FKT challengers must follow an entirely self-supported ethos – no support crews, no water caches, and no drafting.
Boyle, Wilcox, and Refsnider had planned on riding the trail on November 10th, but a strong winter storm in the weather forecast compelled the riders to bump their plans up to the 6th at the last minute in order to stay ahead of the rain and snow. Conditions proved ideal – cool temperatures, overcast skies, tacky trails up high, and minimal deep sand at lower elevations.
Boyle, winner of the 2018 24-Hour World Championships, broke Rebecca Rusch’s 2013 record by 25 minutes, coming in at 13 hours and 7 minutes. Boyle’s ride comes after a nearly 2-year-long recovery from a devastating car crash that left her with a shattered pelvis and other internal injuries that put her return to elite racing in question.
“After 2 years since racing my last ultra with a massive recovery process that never offered any certainty that I’d be able to race ultras again, I was really unsure of what I’d be capable of doing on Kokopelli,” Boyle shared after her ride. “Having ultraendurance powerhouse Lael Wilcox offer to race me added the vulnerability on top of wondering if I would be able to hold a record pace and if my body would even hold up to the 13+ hour effort.”
“But the 6,000’ of climbing to get over the La Sals,” Boyle continued, “felt effortless as I rode away from Lael. Time flew as I navigated the chunky climbing leaving the La Sals, and my legs surprised me as I held a steady pace in the second half of the race. The wheels started to fall off near the UT/CO border, but I found my reserves for the last 15 miles of singletrack, riding happily and strongly to the end at the Kokopelli Trailhead. My back got pretty distractingly tight by the end, but no longer in a way that makes me doubt my future in ultra racing. Overall, I’m just thrilled that after such a long recovery journey, I’ve reached this milestone of racing strongly again!”
Refsnider, an ultraendurance specialist with wins and/or records on the Arizona, Colorado, and Iditarod Trails, as well as in Tour Divide, is no stranger to the far shorter Kokopelli Trail. He held the FKT before WorldTour pro Lachlan Morton (EF Pro Cycling) set a new standard of 11 hours 14 minutes in May, 2020. Inspired by Morton’s monstrous effort and the powerful landscape traversed by the route, Refsnider returned and took 18 minutes off the record, bringing it down to 10 hours and 56 minutes.
“I really wasn’t sure if my legs would have the speed to best Lachlan’s time, but on the chunky descents and climbs after the first 7,000′ of climbing, I found myself grinning and still smashing along. That’s always a good sign,” explains Refsnider. “Ninety miles in, my legs put up a bit of protest, but more dried mangos did the trick, and I was able to keep the power up right into the final miles of singletrack. I also really enjoyed the grey, moody atmosphere – it’s a relatively rare one to experience on the Colorado Plateau.”
Boyle and Refsnider both rode Pivot Mach 4 SL frames, Industry Nine Hydra/UL280 wheelsets, MRP Ribbon SL forks, and Shimano XTR drivetrains.
Just hours after finishing, rain moved in, the peaks of the La Sal Mountains received a coating of fresh snow, and the Kokopelli riding season may have come to a close until 2021.