March 4-6 was the weekend for the 3rd Ruta Del Jefe gravel riders’ weekend, after a COVID pause in 2021. Grounded in fellowship and learning, it was more like a multi-route group ride than a fierce competition against the clock.
Based at Elgin’s Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch (AWRR), “La Ruta” is organized by Sarah Swallow, an adventurer, route-maker and ultra-athlete who’s ridden the Continental Divide route from Canada to Mexico and loves scrambling around Southern Arizona.
The culture of this event is to enjoy community-building and respect the land, with participants camping at AWRR. El Jefe (“boss” in Spanish) is the name of a prominent Sonoran jaguar of a few years ago.
The Ruta Del Jefe’s culture of place was enhanced by six Friday evening presenters from groups connected with the culture and land of the region. The presenters were Indivisible O’odham, the Audubon-supported AWRR itself, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the faith-based borderlands group No More Deaths, the Arizona Trail Association, and the Sonora-based ecological restoration group Cuenca Los Ojos.
The Ruta’s three-day schedule allowed riders to explore smaller routes on either side of the main riding day on Saturday when they could choose the Odyssey East loop around the whole Santa Rita Range, or shorter courses of 70, 55 and 28 miles.
The longest route, at 136 miles, is run counterclockwise, going through Box Canyon, below Elephant Head, and coming through Patagonia on Salero Road on the way back to AWRR. In past years, the last riders made it in by midnight, at the end of the 136-mile circuit, a tough course that has 9,000 ft of total elevation gain.
All the ranch-based events were outdoors, and the participants’ pre-event packet included a full page of COVID protocols. Local wine and fusion foods were offered, and the eclectic live music included the O’odham group Gertie and the TO Boyz.
The Ruta Del Jefe community spirit includes riders giving back something to the people and place they’ve visited via a $20O fundraising commitment, beyond the $150 event registration. It was so successful that the donations shot past the initial $30,000 goal to raise over $45,000, to be divided among the presenters’ groups.
In answer to a question about what she hoped riders would take away from the event (besides tired legs), Swallow said, “It’d be great if they went home inspired to find a place in their community to be active in conservation and human rights issues.”