- Richard L. Duquette
"The Whiskey Off Road" Mountain Bike Race
When your drive to the race site takes you through "Skull Valley", you know you're in for an adventure....
What is it?
"The Whiskey Off-Road" is an "Epic Rides" Mountain Bike Race in Prescott, Arizona. This year's 14th annual multi distant event was held on April 27-29. From San Diego, travel on I-10 East, just past Quartzsite, Arizona, then head north on the I-60 thorough "Skull Valley" into Prescott, altitude 5,000 feet.
This is when the fun begins. On Friday, the 27th I rode the 18 mile "15 proof" race.
It's called "The Whiskey" because it starts on famed "Whiskey Row", an 1800's downtown row of tall western saloons and shops. I'm talking about traditional Old West Saloons with swinging doors named "The Palace" or "The Bird Cage". Inside there are long oak bars, mirrored bar backs, and Elk trophy racks mounted on the wall.
The down town race start is next to the Old Three-Story early 1900's Courthouse built with granite blocks, centered in the middle of a park with tall trees.
The start/finish is lined with vendors who genuinely offer to assist the race participants. For example, Stan's No Tube will refresh your bike tires for free. Many other vendors such as Sram, Cliff Bar, Shimano, Four Peaks Brewing, Tasco Clothes and more added to the joyful atmosphere. Basically, it's a mountain bike festival, with music provided by various bands.
On Saturday, there were the 30 and 50 mile races along with a pro women's criterium. Sunday brought out the Pro Men and Women.
Minutes before the race start, there appeared three tall cowboys, standing in the middle of the street looking like they were straight out of the movie "Gunfight at The O.K. Corral". They sported wide brimmed hats, long coats, boots with spurs, and holstered hand guns. The race started with a loud BOOM as they pointed their guns to the sky and in unison pulled the triggers sending puffs of smoke floating off in the crisp morning breeze.
All races start at 5,367 feet elevation. The "15 Proof" event (eighteen miles), starts with an eight mile climb to the Sierra Prieta overlook at 7,400 feet. It's about a 10% grade, beginning on the road, then switching to gravel.
On the way up, a cowboy popped out of the tree line at mile seven, with a holler, "Care for a shot?" He was holding a bottle of Jim Beam Black Label Whiskey in one hand, and a small Dixie paper cup in the other. He then says, "It's a tradition!"
Making the Cut Off
When I made the cut off at the Sierra Prieta outlook, I took a couple minutes to refuel at the well-stocked aid station that welcomed riders. I then took a cell phone picture of the vast countryside.
Now the real fun begins as I started down about seven miles of single track, over boulder gardens, rock stair cases and through four deep stream crossings. All doable. Be sure to check out the Epic Rides You Tube videos online for a preview.
Hitting the Pavement
The last three miles are downhill on cone divided paved roads with police stationed at the intersections safely guiding traffic. This was a testament to the first class permitted race organization.
As I crossed the finish line in about three hours, I was rewarded with a "Whiskey Off Road" beer glass and a free cold Four Peaks Beer.
After the Race
As I sipped my well-deserved "Hop knot" IPA, I enjoyed the pro women's criterium through town, with all the big manufacturers represented, Specialized, Trek, and more. Local favorite Chloe Woodruff led the crit for several laps.
Once the sun set, we talked our way into the "Palace Saloon" for a hearty dinner; with our Minnie Aussie and my dusty mountain bike in tow. The sound of live country music filled the air, and the walls were covered with murals of Steve McQueen, in Junior Bonner (filmed at the Palace) and others honoring the local fallen "Hot Shot" heroes who put out forest fires.
I recommend tubeless tires on your mountain bike, a stock of electrolytes, Gu, and Cliff Squeeze packets, washed down by the water in your Camelback water pack. Some riders wore knee and elbow pads. I used my Garmin for mileage and to pace myself, although the trails rides were clearly marked. Consider layering your clothes, as you never know what the weather will do. Last year it snowed!
Give it a Shot (no pun intended)
Saddle up your mountain bike and hit the trails, Epic Rides does a professional job. Their off-road series includes the Whiskey Off Road, the Grand Junction Off Road and the Carson City Off Road for some good old fashion wild west fun. Two other race events are the "Tour of the White Mountains" and "24 hours in the Old Pueblo". Good fun all around.
Ride Safe, Ride Strong Richard L. Duquette ©. All rights reserved.