Salty Lizard 100 Recap (with an Emphasis on the Stupid)
By Bobby Kennedy, the “Stupid” in Salty & Stupid Cycling, LLC
All praise to our sponsors, for without them, the fun would not have been as fun: Boyd Cycling, Hammer Nutrition, Wasatch Touring, Discover Wendover, the Wendover Airfield Museum, Saturday Cycles, TRP Cycling, Peak State Fitness, Hyperthreads, the Wendover Nuggest Casino and Hotel, the Cache Gran Fondo, Open Range Consulting, Wimmer’s Bike and Ski, and, most importantly, the cities of Wendover and West Wendover!
The inaugural Salty Lizard 100 by Salty & Stupid Cycling happened on Saturday, Oct. 3, against all the odds, in the teeth of a global pandemic, and in defiance of a relentless recession in Wendover, UT/West Wendover, NV. But it happened – it happened – and when the dust settled, a new gravel destination emerged, emptied the moon-dust out of its shoes, and passed out in a lawn chair with an unopened Coke in hand. With the help of Boyd Cycling, the inaugural run featured some serious talent in Boyd-sponsored athletes MTB legend Tinker Juarez and Team USA member John Croom. Fast people from across the Great Basin, California, Colorado, and probably elsewhere all came together to have a party in the West Desert, including evidently the entire Reno Devo MTB team, which, no lying, was pretty awesome.
After an utterly inexplicable drought of live events, people were excited to break out the gravel bikes. But the West Desert had a surprise: a meteorological drought that had sucked every single molecule of moisture out of the desert ATV trails and dirt byways surrounding Wendover. Big tires reigned supreme, with many racers opting for mountain bikes to clear what turned out to be “loose” conditions. The course took in a grab-bag of Wendover trails: foothills double-track that wound and dove through bedrock exposures, loose lake bottom deposits near the salt flats that are hard-pack until the very second that an ATV touches them – at which point they convert instantly to jeweler-grade silt – and the Silver Island Byway, which is an actual gravel road. Through it all were reminders of the lack of rain: silt, moon-dust, loose pea gravel by the railroad, “poofers” (silt deposits covering hard gravel that are basically invisible until you’re in them and already swearing).
Yes, people signed up to ride a full-on century of this stuff.
Riders gathered at the Wendover Airfield Museum, which commemorates the WWII airbase where bombardiers trained to drop the atomic bombs and is also where they filmed that one hanger scene from Independence Day. And a decent chunk of ConAir (the plane is still there). After getting arranged into socially-distanced flights, the riders launched past the Enola Gay hangar where the infamous aircraft was housed and wound their way through the abandoned barracks of the base. Flying south along the railroad tracks through Wendover toward the rodeo grounds via a series of “informal” dirt bike trails, riders stepped on the gas before the pack could even leave town, hammering the loose moto trails toward the desert. Before the route left Wendover entirely, riders had to navigate a connector trail to the old Hwy 93 frontage road: a 200-yard deep sand stretch, of which nearly half was plain impassable. Free of the deep sand, everyone – the 40-milers, 60-milers, and centurions – turned out into the vast plains of the West Desert.
The route took the riders slowly up to elevation, rising almost imperceptibly along the old Lake Bonneville bed to the Union Pacific grade. Hostilities began early and Reno Devo, who’d come en masse, used team tactics to hurtle up the fairly consolidated road toward the railroad. Under the railroad bridge about ten miles in, the constant churn of ATV’s, motos, and side-by-sides had created a deep layer of pea gravel and sand below the train overpass that was nearly a mandatory hike-a-bike. After rising to meet the interstate and the first aid station, the course rose sharply into the Leppy Hills to the Lake Bonneville Bench.
The Leppy Hills rewarded the mountain bikers. Cruising along the Lake Bonneville bench, the riders followed single- and double-track into and out of drainages, rolling along at a high clip. Unlike much of the course, the Leppy Hills had rocks, and they were sharp, and they wreaked havoc on equipment, sending many people back to Wendover and a DNF, including ContraVan’s John Croom, whose rear double flat removed him from the race. After juking around on the bench past local hangouts, 4x hill-climbs, and ATV graveyards, the riders screamed down into the valley west of the mountains toward looming Pilot Peak.
The descent toward Pilot Peak proved a needed but cruel respite because the climb back up to the Leppy Pass Rd. was as wash boarded and long as the downhill was fast. The climb ground on to the 40-mile turnoff back toward Wendover at the top of Leppy Pass and the second aid station, turning into what turned out to be buckled pavement (think asphalt washboard) as the road rose back into Utah. After the aid station, the route hove north, inaugurating the really nasty stuff.
Six of the driest months on record had sucked every drop of water from the Silver Mountain Byway, turning long sections into sand traps and poofers. The road turned solid and fast for stretches before the surface softened and the tracks swerved from sagebrush to sagebrush. Riders crested Silver Island Pass to the third aid station after some serious stretches of cyclocross practice or riding on the scant weeds for traction. Several contenders pushed straight through the third station, preferring to save time by going full camel across the 36-mile loop to the north of the Silver Island range before the second ascent of Silver Island Pass.
Luckily for riders, the road north was slightly less hammered as it passed the floating islands of the Bonneville Salt Flats. The 36 miles between first and second pass of the aid station at the pass turned out to be important as riders who’d passed through the first time without grabbing Hammer HEED (you donate an entire race’s worth of drink and I’ll drop your name, too) or water were suffering. One Reno Devo rider looked at the spread on the second pass and asked rhetorically, “Now, what do I feel like throwing up?” Dusted white riders passed like gasping ghosts down the swooping descent to the final straightaway.
As the riders blew along the relatively firm two-track south back toward town, the Salty Lizard course was blessedly fast and free of washboard. The rolling hills were punctuated by carved out drainages, with the jagged peaks of the Silver Island on the right and the full curvature of the earth and hordes of Instagrammers on the salt flats to the left. The final challenge was Aria Blvd, which is a boulevard in the same way that a sunburn is a tan. A punchy, steep, and loose mile-long ascent to the finish line, Aria featured a grab bag of everything that the riders had experienced: bedrock, loose gravel, gravel gravel, sand, and pain. And then, just past the cemetery lay the finish line and sweet, sweet rest. In the end, Mya Dixon (Reno Devo, naturally) and Tanner Visnick (Steamboat Ski and Bike Kare) brought home the fastest women’s and men’s times. Clouds of dust from riders hauling their everlasting asses could be seen from miles away.
They bombed downhill back to the airbase, or out into town to find showers and soft things to lay on. Back at the airbase, after the awards, Tinker Juarez presented some of the fruits of the ride to area kids: 20 kids’ bikes, overhauled by Salty & Stupid Cycling volunteers and Free Bikes 4 Kidz. Everyone went home with a smile, whether because they were bribed or because they were happy to have even finished. Either way, they’d earned it.
Thanks, everyone – see you next October!
Riding Gravel would like to thank Bobby Kennedy for the humorous and insightful look at the Salty Lizard 100. All images courtesy of Sam Rice.