December 2, 2021
By Robert Gay

After a year off for Covid, the Spirit World 100 (SW100) event returned to Patagonia on the first weekend in November, and the weather cooperated superbly. Race day, Saturday, was bracketed by warm-up and cool-down rides on Friday and Sunday, offering visitors a look at still more of the varied gravel-riding opportunities in our valleys and mountains.  

To an already full schedule, promoters Heidi Rentz Ault and Zander Ault added a benefit dinner for Borderlands Restoration Network, with a hundred tickets sold, and simultaneously opened a wine and coffee bar in the repurposed Patagonia Lumber Company. It was open and busy during the weekend, staffed by locals, and will continue as a new venue in town.

The Lumber Company remodel added both shaded and unshaded outdoor areas, with windowed serving counters on two sides. Featured beer of the weekend was an India Pale Ale from Tucson’s Pueblo Vida Brewing Co, and the event branding included the races’s iconic Spirit World painting on the Pueblo Vida cans. Local wines from Rune Winery were also available.                                                                                                                                      

The main race started at 7a.m. Collectively, something over 20,000 miles were ridden with only one bone injury and a few common “mechanicals,” such as a broken pedal, a chain problem, and flat tires.  

The first two finishers, Connor Steward and Bucky Shafer, powered through the hundred mile course in 5:32, finishing shortly after noon in a road-racing style sprint at the Stage Stop Inn finish line, milliseconds apart. The duo beat the prior course record by about a half hour. Women’s winner Caroline Tory also bettered the previous record, with her time of 6:11. By dark the riders had all made it back to town.

After crossing the finish line, riders circled back for their “rider’s crystal,” a SW100 tradition. Some would stay around “in recovery,” restoring electrolytes & hydration, and greeting more arriving finishers while sharing race stories. 

Not every rider was burned out, though. One of the top women finishers had enough energy left after she finished for a run up Harshaw Road on foot. 

Not all riders were racers. One rider related that she’d chosen the 50-mile alternative route in order to have more time to enjoy the overwhelming beauty of the natural world she’d ridden into, and thus hadn’t been time-driven. Several who hadn’t been in the San Rafael Valley before said they were “blown away by the beauty of the course.” 

Other riders, when asked the most memorable part of the route, said it was the grueling 2,200-foot climb east from the Santa Cruz River crossing near Lochiel to the high point, 6,863 feet at Montezuma Pass. One rider said he loved that 10% grade, and wanted the climb to keep going! Riders who chose the 80-mile alternative route bypassed this spur but otherwise had the same course as the 100.

One experienced long-course rider said his most enjoyable parts were the softest sand stretches, because the looseness reminded him of snowboarding and powder skiing back home in Colorado. 

As the sun got lower and the last racers were coming in, the earlier arrivals spread themselves out under trees in the park and enjoyed beer, wine and gourmet pizza by ‘Ugly Onion,’ run by the Aults’ friends from Montana, who’d trailered down their wood-fired oven. A few riders got their exhausted legs massaged on a table under the trees.                                                                                   

After sunset, a brief awards ceremony featured gifts, in several categories, of ceramic bowls by Patagonia potter Martha Kelly, who’d also made SW100 coffee cups. 

The evening concert was by a Grateful Dead band cover band, ‘Half a Mile fromTucson.’ Foot tapping turned to dancing for some, but for others it had a been a long time since some vigorous drumming had started off the day at 6:45a.m., so the option to just sit and enjoy was taken too.  

Enough complaints about the early drumming were heard by the Town Manager that the drumming won’t be repeated in future years. Other complaints by locals involved noise, crowding, a sense the park had been taken over, and that the town was overfilled. On the flip side, the local eateries all did great business, as probably did the providers of lodging, so the overall energy seemed positive and accepting. 

A lot of happy and tired riders headed home after the weekend, and Patagonia had been a little further discovered. Heidi Rentz Ault summarized the weekend in one word – “Awesome.”