Race Report: 12 Hours in the Wild West

Endurance mountain bike races are becoming incredibly popular these days. Completing an enduance event can not only test your mettle, but it can push your fitness beyond a level that you thought possible. As we’ve written about recently on Singletracks, endurance events such as 12-hour and 24-hour mountain bike races are available in abundance this year. This style of event offers a great deal of flexibility for the everyday mountain biker, with categories range from intense solo competitors to team efforts where up to four can split the hours in the saddle.

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One aspect I truly enjoy about mountain biking races is that they are fantastic opportunities to experience new areas and trail systems. Be it remote destinations, long drives, or just life getting in the way of life, the excuses abound for not exploring far-reaching trails. Sometimes those excuses prevent us from exploring even near-by trails, as it was for me and the trail systems around Ruidoso, NM.

Southern New Mexico has an enchanting beauty.
Southern New Mexico has an enchanting beauty.

The Venue

Hanging out between laps was serene given the gorgeous venue.
Hanging out between laps was serene given the gorgeous venue.

The backdrop for 12 Hours in the Wild West was the Capitan Mountains, with the still-white capped Sierra Blanco Peak far in the distance. Just north of Ft. Stanton, the race course was at BLM’s Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area. The area is rich in history, once the old stomping grounds of Billy the Kid as well as the historic site of Fort Benton, established in 1855.

Ft. Stanton's has a truely rich  history and embodies the spirit of the wild west.
Ft. Stanton’s has a truely rich history and embodies the spirit of the wild west.

The Gracious Host

Zia Rides is a New Mexican company that specifically hosts numerous endurance mountain biking events in the state of New Mexico with added New Mexican flair:

Our goal is to introduce you to some of the best mountain biking you’ve ever encountered. And while we’re at it show your crew, kids, and dogs a darn good time! Zia Rides is best known for hosting well-oiled races on killer singletrack and entertaining more than just the racer. You will be getting a truly New Mexican experience at each and every one of our events. From Kachina dolls in Gallup, to belt buckles in Lincoln County, and ristras in the forest we bring you the unique flavors of New Mexico.

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Trophies are over-rated. Winners of each category receive a gold, silver, or bronze colored belt buckle.

This isn’t a rag-a-muffin, grassroots company throwing together a party in the middle of the desert. Their self-description of a “well-oiled” machine is almost an understatement. The night before the race included a full-blown BBQ, Bosque Brewery beer, and campfire story-time with a local historian, complete with s’mores for kiddos. Zia aims to provide a family friendly event, fun for racers and non-racers alike.

This is a mountain bike race. They don’t hand out water. They hand out beer.

Legitimate Wild West volunteers, easily distinguished by their handlebar mustaches.
Legitimate Wild West volunteers, easily distinguished by their handlebar mustaches.
History lessons around a campfire.
Friday night included history lessons around a campfire, smores, and even a movie to entertain the kiddos.

Though the night before was celebratory in nature, the morning started early with a racers’ meeting at 6:45am, and the first lap beginning at 7am. With temperatures dropping into the low 30s the night before, the first riders had a cold start to the race. Temperatures warmed up quite quickly, and stayed in the 70s for the remainder of the race.

The transition area allowed racers to grab extra supplies, tag with other team members, and spectators to cheer on racers.
The transition area allowed racers to grab extra supplies, tag with other team members, and spectators to cheer on racers.

The Race Course

Photo by: jkldouglas
Photo by: jkldouglas

The race course was over 14 miles long with an elevation gain of about 1,800 feet per lap. This year’s route ran opposite of years previous, with unfortunately several miles on doubletrack. Excessive rain coupled with heavy trail use resulted in suboptimal trails for racers. Zia Rides worked feverishly to repair many of the trails prior to the race. However, the repair work needed was extreme, requiring the course to be rerouted to some degree.

Due excessive trail damage, a small portion of the race course was on doubletrack.
Due to excessive trail damage, a small portion of the race course was on doubletrack. Photo by: jkldouglas

The doubletrack, however, didn’t detract from the ride–or the scenery, for that matter. The majority of the course was on XC-style trails, with long, sustained climbs and smooth, flowing descents. “Billy’s Rock Garden” mixed up the paces, giving riders a chance to test their technical ability within the last few miles of the lap.

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Just prior to reaching “Billy’s Rock Garden,” riders summit “Whiskey Hill.” Atop this hill was a true support tent with a fifth of Jack Daniels. Riders wishing to take in the true “Wild West” experience could find reprieve from the race with a shot of whiskey, complete with a commemorative shot glass.

Final Thoughts

Smokey

Exquisite scenery and singletrack paired well with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. A unique spin on endurance racing made the 12 Hours in the Wild West a truly memorable event. If you find yourself yearning for a weekend of fantastic mountain biking with true New Mexican flair and Southwestern history, be sure to put the 12 Hours in the Wild West on your radar for next year, or even one of Zia Ride’s many other events.

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