PATAGONIA, Arizona (VN) – Every year in early November, a small group of cyclists makes a pilgrimage to the spirit world.
Where is this elusive place? Literally, a gravel bike race in Patagonia, Arizona, and the vast swath of borderlands topography that surrounds it. Figuratively, the event’s co-founders Zander and Heidi Ault want every rider to decide.
The Aults have crafted the Spirit World 100 to be unlike any other gravel race. It bursts with sights, sounds, and smells specific to the region, as well as to the couple’s own taste. This year, to name a few, we heard Mariachi music in the park, enjoyed a backyard benefit dinner for the Borderlands Restoration Project, and sipped on special edition beer and coffee.
And, of course, every day we rode our bikes.
Unlike other sporting events, bike races are firmly rooted in a sense of place. At the Spirit World 100, riders are encouraged to pay close attention to two locations — the literal Arizona borderlands, as well as the more metaphysical spirit world, wherever that may be.
The Spirit World 100’s host community of Patagonia, Arizona sits about 20 miles north of the Mexico border, straight as the crow flies. Its population is as diverse as the borderlands ecology that surrounds it — miners, artists, ranchers, and naturalists are among the tiny town’s full-time residents.
The Spirit World 100 kicks off on Friday evening with a picnic in the town park. For the second year, Mariachi Tesoro traveled to the event from Tuscon, setting a special tone for the weekend.
On Saturday morning at 7:00 A.M., the Spirit World 100 begins with a three-mile neutral roll-out on pavement, led by the local border patrol.
In 2019, 125 riders participated in the inaugural event. This year, the organizers doubled that amount. Although interest in the Spirit World 100 exceeds allotted spots, the organizers are committed to keeping it intimate.
Zander Ault is one half of the co-founding team of the Spirit World 100. He and Heidi Ault run the race, operate The Cyclist’s Menu cycling camps, co-own The Gravel House in Patagonia, and just last week opened the Patagonia Lumber Company, a new gathering place in a historic building.
While there is certainly a race at the Spirit World 100, it doesn’t necessarily resemble other events where group dynamics dominate. Could it be the small field? The late date? The distance from most places?
Somehow, racing in the spirit world is different.
Riders spend most of the day moving through the wide expanse of the San Rafael Valley, a high grass valley buffeted by the Patagonia Mountains, the Canelo Hills, and the Huachuca Mountains.
This year, a record-breaking monsoon season this year yielded high grass and happy cows.
In town, Dustin Stiffler offered pop-up mechanic services out of the Patagonia Lumber Company in the days before the race.
Only a handful of punctures and one broken pedal constituted the event’s round-up of mechanicals.
The weather on the day was spectacular; temps hovered in the high 70s and winds were not a factor.
The monolith in the foreground is a symbol that aid — and the end of the race — is near. The Boomshakalaka Bar, the race’s final aid station, sits near the base of the rocky outcropping.
Legend has it that Heidi Ault exclaimed ‘Boomshakalaka!’ upon seeing the views for the first time on a bike ride there five years ago.
On tap at the Boomshakalaka Bar: ice cold Coca-Cola. Country rock musician Dierks Bentley approves.
At the Patagonia Lumber Company, riders enjoyed Presta coffee, Pueblo Vida beer, and Rune wine — local southern Arizona businesses — all weekend.
Salud! To the Sprit World 100.