Esplanade closure begins February 1st

With ‘Skull’ event, Burns stakes a claim as America’s best gravel riding destination

Posted by on June 18th, 2018 at 4:22 pm

Justin Pitts drove nine hours from San Francisco to Burns to ride in the Skull 120. Here he is on an unmarked road north of Dry Gulch Reservoir.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus)

The town of Burns in Harney County is one of the most remote places in Oregon. At over 10,000 square miles, you could fit 21 Multnomah Counties inside of it. And with a land mass about the size of Massachusetts, Harney County has less than one resident per square mile.

Like riding gravel? Check out Cycle Oregon’s new Gravel event that takes place in the Tillamook State Forest just west of Portland October 5-7.

But along with junipers, pines and pristine meadows, the county boasts an abundance of unpaved roads. 20,000 miles of them, locals say. And it’s a resource they’re ready to tap.

This past weekend I drove five hours southeast of Portland for the Skull 120. The firm memories I gained in just a short trip speaks to the stature of the people and beauty of the places I experienced.

Event organizers bill it as the “gnarliest” gravel race (or ride, depending on how you want to approach it) in America. The event started small last year with just 22 people at the starting line. This year there were 106 eager to venture out on the 30, 60, or 120-mile routes.

But before Smokey the Bear shot off the starting gun (seriously), riders from far and wide mixed with locals on Burns’ main street.

Dave Seamans owns Boise Bike Wrench and was hired as mechanical support. Burns doesn’t have a bike shop (yet), so Seamans drives his truck full of parts and tools 180 miles to be there. It’s not the first time he’s made a Burns house-call. A local hospital hired him to work on their employees’ bikes. “I’ve tuned up about 550 bikes in Burns in the past two years,” he said proudly as we chatted on the sidewalk of Broadway Avenue, Burns’ main street.

As riders filtered in to the Harney County Chamber of Commerce to pick up race packets, I also met Richard Roy, a district manager for the local BLM office. Roy is an interesting character who also owns Steens Mountain Brewing and is passionate about lacrosse. He make no bones about his vision for gravel riding in Harney County. It was Roy, along with US Forest Service visitor services staffer Cameron Sanders, who had banners made for the event emblazoned with “Home of the Best Gravel Cycling in America.”

Those are big words, I mentioned to him. To which I figured he’d sheepishly apologize for being so bold. But no. He doubled-down. “Oh yeah, we’re going to trademark that slogan,” he said. I don’t think he was joking.

Roy is dead serious about using cycling to spur economic development. He’s tired of watching trucks loaded with bikes drive through Burns en route to riding meccas of Boise and Bend on either side of the struggling town. Roy sees the Skull event as a harbinger of bicycle tourism to come. His vision includes bike companies and young people moving to Burns (“You can buy a nice house for $50,000,” he suggested). But I wouldn’t worry about this becoming another Hood River or Bend any time soon. As a contrast to those cities, Roy wanted me to know that, “We are not boutique out here.”

Beyond a bike ride, the Skull is a celebration of public lands, in a place where the very idea of land ownership has a controversial recent history (the starting line is just 30 miles north of the now infamous Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that was taken over by anti-government activists in 2016). There’s no for-profit promoter behind the Skull, it was created as a tourism and economic development initiative by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Harney County Chamber of Commerce, and a handful of other partners including founding sponsor REN Cycles.

About 20 percent of the Skull 120 route’s miles were on private land, much of owned by The Hotchkiss Company, a cattle ranch owned by the same family since 1888. Current owners Mark and Susan Doverspike hosted a dinner in their farmhouse yard on Friday night.

Mark and Susan are 4th generation ranchers. The fifth and sixth generation were also at the dinner. Before we ate, Susan reminded us that we’d be cycling over pieces of their land. “Public lands are for multiple uses,” she said, “It’s all compatible.” She was clearly making a pitch for private ranchers who use public lands to raise cattle. “I think our sixth generation is testimony that we’ve taken care of the land,” she added. The bike riders at dinner and the Doverspike’s share at least one thing in common: A love of the land and a dedication to treating it well. Mark Doverspike beamed as he explained to me that the main pasture used by their cattle relies solely on natural irrigation. “That pasture has never had a plow in it,” he said proudly.

Donald Doverspike, who also works on the ranch, chatted with us while serving up healthy portions of tri-tip. “We use your land, you use our land,” he said. “So we figured, let’s get together and talk about it.” Compared to an armed occupation, this was a much more diplomatic way to raise awareness about the issue of private cattle on public lands.

But we weren’t there to just talk. We were there to ride. And what a ride it was.

Equal parts challenging and beautiful, the long route was 126 miles and nearly 11,000 feet of climbing. And that doesn’t even begin to tell the tale. A whopping 80 percent was unpaved. With lots of big, sharp rocks, narrow double-tracks, and even some cow paths, there were scant free miles. You could never really relax. When you did get something smooth, the wind would be blowing at or across you. Or in the case of a spectacular stretch of red cinder road, its sandy softness sapped the precious power from your legs. Yet unlike other epic rides I’ve done, I was never bored or miserable. I spent just under 10 hours on my saddle in near constant amazement at the diversity of terrain and magnificence of the pristine environments we rolled through.

The roads were white, all shades of brown, red, and even green where we rode across meadows on what seemed to be nothing more than cattle cut-throughs.

Burns is about 4,100 feet above sea level. We reached just over 7,200 feet at our highest point atop of Snow Mountain, where we could see a 360-degree panorama of forests, valleys and sky. Temperatures swung over 40 degrees throughout the day, from the low 40s to mid 80s. We bumped and grinded by vast praries, remote lakes, hidden canyons, staggering viewpoints, and even a few water crossings where staying dry was not an option. There was even a thunderstorm that gave some riders a shower of hail. I talked to one guy who didn’t have a jacket and abandoned after shivers overtook him.

It all wrapped up in fine fashion with an after-party at the lovingly restored Central Hotel. First established in 1929, Jen and Forrest Keady and their children spent two years bringing it back to life (thanks in part to a $100,000 state grant for main street revitalization). The hotel now boasts very comfortable rooms with locally crafted fixtures and reclaimed wood, a dining area and patio. Jen Keady says 1188 Brewing is all set to move in downstairs. It’s a wonderful place in a great location and I highly recommend giving them a call when you plan your trip.

The people, hospitality, and natural assets are all in place for Burns to become a buzzing basecamp for cycling adventures. Will it become the Oakridge of gravel riding? Don’t dismiss the notion until you’ve experienced it yourself.

See you on the Skull next year. It’s already on my calendar.

Thanks to the volunteer who snapped this photo of me atop Snow Mountain at mile 48.

Check out the full route details at

UPDATE, 6/20: If you want a sense of how long it took to complete the course, here are results for the 120 route. Looks like there were 55 entrants and just 28 finishers. The top 5 ranged from 8 hours 30 minutes, to nearly 10 hours. The slowest riders all spent over 14 hours in the saddle.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Christopher June 18, 2018 at 5:21 pm

    This looks excellent!

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  • SilkySlim June 18, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    Nice! There is indeed a lot of territory worth roaming down in the south eastern reaches of Oregon. A few years back I did a big loop around Steens Mountain and nearby environs (maybe 1/2 gravel?), and the whole things was exceptional, especially the people I met. We stumbled upon a little weekend rodeo event (picture the pick up basketball version of rodeos) on what turned out to be a massive ranch. We asked a guy, I’m gonna call him a straight up cowboy, how far the pasture land extended, and he said, “Well, basically from here to those mountains you can barely see in the distance!!” Some seriously big open spaces!!!

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  • Drew June 18, 2018 at 7:38 pm

    Is the ridewithgps route okay to ride on at other times? If no, is there an alternative route in that area which does not cross private property?

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    • Scott June 19, 2018 at 6:46 am

      Same question. I’m curious how this would be for a 2-3 day bikepacking trip.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 19, 2018 at 7:51 am

      Hi Drew,

      That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer… My hunch is that since the organizers published the same route on RideWithGPS with no warnings about it being private or closed, I assume it’s open to anyone. I’m sure there are workarounds no matter what the private/public situation is. Your best bet would be to ask one of the organizers to confirm. You can email Cameron Sanders at USFS here –

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    • Richard Roy June 19, 2018 at 7:51 am

      You can ride these routes anytime. Parts of the route that do go through private land have Public Easements on them.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 19, 2018 at 7:59 am

        Thanks for the reply Richard. And good to meet you. Thanks for all the work you are doing to open up this area for cycling. Can’t wait to get back out there.

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        • Richard Roy June 19, 2018 at 8:50 am

          We, Adventure Harney-the umbrella organization, are working on a map of ‘suggested’ routes throughout Harney County on BLM and USFS-administered lands from Nevada Border up to Grant County line. These are all ‘open’ roads/routes. Some of these are day rides and some could be bike-packing routes. Anybody can use these roads, ATV/UTV, bikes, motorcycles, equestrian, runners etc. We have these routes located near communities so folks can resupply, camp, phone access, etc.

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          • Pete S. June 19, 2018 at 9:23 am

            Hi Richard,

            This looks amazing! For those of us looking to ride this route as freelancers, are there any filterable water sources on course, or do you need to carry enough water for the full 120 miles?


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  • Gabriel Amadeus Tiller June 18, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    So rad to see Harney County embrace offroad cycling. I can attest to that claim—they’re not kidding!

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    • Cameron Sanders June 22, 2018 at 1:49 pm

      Nice to see you creeping the forum Gabriel. Hope the Timber Trail is doing well this season. If you can ever free yourself from it for a spell, you got a place to crash with great riding in Alaska (March is a great time to swing north and explore glaciers by bike).

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  • Kurt Schneider June 18, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    This sounds like an awesome event, and an easy drive from Boise.

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  • Mike Quigley June 19, 2018 at 5:30 am

    Just a note to all you giddy city clickers. Don’t get too uppity over there. The locals will turn on you pronto if you start into this public-lands-are-owned-by-everybody stuff. Just check out the local BLM office. Reminds one of a minimum security prison on lockdown. Mum’s the word.

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    • REN Cycles June 19, 2018 at 12:08 pm

      This blanket disparaging statement applies to no one we have met over the past few years riding in Harney County.

      In fact quite the opposite.

      It is the BLM, USFS, and County land managers who are doing all of this work to bring cyclists and other outdoor recreators to Eastern Oregon.

      There are bad apples everywhere but if you’ve had a bad experience previously please do make time for a friendly, open-minded return visit.

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    • GlowBoy June 20, 2018 at 11:03 am

      While it wouldn’t be difficult for many of us city folks to start spouting off in a way that irritates the locals, I have spent a lot of time biking in Harney, Malheur and Lake counties*, and NEVER encountered any hostility from anyone whatsoever. Just don’t be a self-oriented jerk and you will be fine.

      It’s seriously remote country out there (the statement that the town of Burns is a really remote place made me chuckle, since it’s by far the least remote place in ginormous Harney County), especially south of Burns, where you can easily find yourself on a road or trail that won’t see another human for weeks, and most of the region lacks cellular coverage. People look out for each other out there, because even a minor mishap can turn disastrous in a hurry.

      And by the way, unless you’re on a major highway, whether you’re in a car or on a bike make sure to give a little wave at every person you meet in a vehicle. They probably waved first.

      * the wide-open deserts of southeast Oregon – south of Burns, as opposed to north of Burns where this ride took place – are also a spectacular place to go bikepacking. I’ve had some great times bikepacking at Hart Mountain, the Alvord Desert, Sheepshead Mountains, Owyhee country and the Lost Forest area, plus countless day-biking expeditions around the region. The distances and the vistas are vast, solitude is absolutely guaranteed, and the possibilities are endless.

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  • Dan A June 19, 2018 at 7:11 am

    What tires did you ride?

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    • Kurt Schneider June 19, 2018 at 7:34 am

      Looks like he might have a WTB Nano on the back, and a Schwalbe G-One All Around on the front. Guessing 700×40 in each.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 19, 2018 at 7:54 am

      Kurt is very close. WTB Nano 40 in the rear and Schwalbe G-One 38 in the front. The Nano was brand new and I got a rock cut in the sidewall that didn’t seal so I had to put in a tube around mile 70 or so. I would not recommend anything smaller than 40. The guy who got 3rd place (was 63 years old!) and was on a hardtail MTB. I’m going to do a separate post on gear.

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      • Kurt Schneider June 19, 2018 at 8:08 am

        Ha! I just realized that my All Around, while labeled as a 40-622, is actually sold as a 700×38.

        Nice writeup, Jonathan.

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      • Jon June 19, 2018 at 9:10 am

        A friend of mine has done a lot of riding in eastern Oregon and has actually timed himself on some routes using a gravel/cross bike and a hardtail 29er mountain bike. If your route is not a lot of paved roads he is of the opinion that the hardtail 29er is faster. I know I have found that a hardtail 29er with a 80-100mm travel front fork is much faster on any rocky gravel road downhill than any gravel/cross bike. On anything but the smoothest gravel the 29er is a million times more comfortable and goes very well. On rough gravel I average about 1 flat per ride on my gravel/cross bike and have never flatted on my hardtail 29er on the same routes. Don’t get wrapped up in thinking that you need a “gravel” bike to do stuff like this.

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        • Dan A June 19, 2018 at 10:04 am

          Hmm, I wonder how a 2001 Rockhopper 26″ compares 🙂

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          • GlowBoy June 20, 2018 at 11:09 am

            A 26″ bike won’t do quite as well on rocky sections as a 29″ bike, but will be a good deal more comfortable than something with 700×40 tires. It will be a bit slower than either, but probably not enough to matter unless you’re racing.

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        • I wear many hats June 19, 2018 at 10:07 am

          Word! A hardtail MTB is great for this type of riding. I much prefer riding the 2.2 inch tires on rough sections and rarely flat them. A MTB is ideal for riding game trails and cattle trails also. Even the rad gravel bikes are rocking 2 inch tires these days. You can find an old MTB that is actually the same as modern gravel exploring bikes at 10% of the cost.

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          • Dan A June 19, 2018 at 10:44 am

            Are you talking really old MTB, like all steel with cantilever or v-brakes, and drop bars added? Is there much more to it than that?

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            • I wear many hats June 19, 2018 at 11:05 am

              The old old MTB bikes did have drop bars, or moustache bars at the least. One can replace a fork and front wheel fairly easily and get a front disc, which provides 70% of stopping power, and rock an old rigid steel bike.

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              • GlowBoy June 20, 2018 at 11:13 am

                No, you cannot practicably convert most older steel MTBs to a front disc. Almost all of these bikes have 1″ head tubes, and no one makes mountain disc forks in 1″ (except for custom builders). You can get a cyclocross disc fork in 1″, but will be limited to about a 1.8″ tire.

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              • Dan A June 20, 2018 at 11:37 am

                I’m pretty happy with the v-brakes on my 2001 Rockhopper, actually. I’ve always wondered about swapping out the old Judy front suspension for a rigid fork though… would make it a lot more efficient to pedal.

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      • BradWagon June 19, 2018 at 10:44 am

        Very impressive you had a G One on the front. I as well have a G One 38 setup tubeless on my race wheels right now although was planning to run 40 Nanos both front and rear had I been able to make it out for this ride. G Ones just so delicate, I have two 35s that are no longer able to be run tubeless from cuts… although looks like you it held up for you!

        Also from poking around and now having both I see the G-One 38s measure roughly 37.5 and the Nano 40’s actually down around 38.5. I bet your setup was the bare minimum for riding with any kind of confidence.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 19, 2018 at 11:23 am

          the thing with the tire size discussion is that it really comes down to the rider. I’m very experienced, have raced and ridden MTBs at a high level for many years… So I can get away with skinnier tires because I pick good lines and know how to balance on my bike in a way that lowers the risk of flatting. It’s just second nature to me after years of picking through rock gardens at high speeds. If you are new to off-road riding, you need bigger tires, and vice versa. That being said, next year I’ll go bigger, tire-wise.

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          • BradWagon June 19, 2018 at 2:41 pm

            Good to know, I rode the High Desert gravel grinder with 38F 35R and I don’t know that I would go that skinny again. These PNW “gravel” rides are turning into XC races! Maybe I’ll be shopping for a hardtail over next winter haha.

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    • Dan A June 19, 2018 at 8:12 am

      I’ve got two cross bikes, and neither of them can handle more than 33s. Sounds like I’m going to have to sell them if I want to start doing rides like this.

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      • Cameron Sanders June 19, 2018 at 9:04 am

        Personally I’d say 42c is the minimum and we aren’t joking around out here…. try and ride narrow weight weenie race tires and you’ll be seriously sorry. Ideally I’d say the new 48 & 50c 650b tires tubeless are the ideal candidates for this ride; something that really blurs the line between xc mtb and gravel Adventure Cycling. Go with heavy sidewalls too and don’t risk cuts and punctures, we route folks down obsidian roadbeds.

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        • Dan A June 19, 2018 at 9:57 am

          Thank you for the honest information. I’ve grown weary of reading ‘you can do gravel rides on anything, it just depends on your skill’.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 19, 2018 at 10:29 am

          yes. I take back my comment and agree with Cameron. Next year I will be on either a 650B “gravel bike” or on a hardtail 29r MTB. The rocks are no joke and it would have been nice to be able to relax and enjoy the descents!

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  • Brian June 19, 2018 at 10:09 am

    Is all of the riding on gravel roads, or is there some singeltrack too?

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    • Richard Roy June 21, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      No constructed single track, just gravel, natural surfaces, old jeep trails, cow trails, some slick rock even.

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  • kate June 19, 2018 at 10:59 am

    looks like a tough but amazing route…also looks like another dude fest :/ how do we make these events more inclusive?

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    • Columbo June 19, 2018 at 11:06 am

      Show up and ride?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 19, 2018 at 11:25 am

      agree Kate. Problem right now is there are no women involved in creating the route or the marketing the event. Keep in mind this thing is in its infancy. They had only 22 riders last year! They are a work in progress for sure and I bet Rick and Cameron (on this thread) will be tweaking things and figuring out how to make it less of a bro-fest in the future.

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    • REN Cycles June 19, 2018 at 11:55 am

      We would LOVE to have more female and minority racers and have made an concerted effort to expand the reach of this event.

      REN Cycles is 100% dedicated to making sure the Skull 120 is an inclusive event and have backed that up with a commitment to equal payout for the top Mens and Womens finishers in each of the 120/60/30 events.

      Unfortunately we did not have any female riders on the 120 route this year but we will continue to invite cyclists of all stripes to participate in our fantastic event. See you next year?

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      • (different) Kate June 19, 2018 at 2:50 pm

        Ooh a women’s payout and small field sounds like good incentive to me to give it a try 🙂 I don’t have a gravel bike but the advice of trying this on a hardtail sounds enticing. I had a few teammates ride it, but hadn’t heard about it with enough time to think about training for it. Maybe next year!

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    • I wear many hats June 19, 2018 at 12:12 pm

      I saw nothing on the flyer noting that it was dudes only. My team has many women, but few who regularly ride > 100 miles, let alone on gravel out in the desert high country. If the event is scaled down, how many people want to drive all day to ride 30 miles? I know I don’t. I’d rather ride where I live and spend time with my non riding family and friends.

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    • BradWagon June 19, 2018 at 3:11 pm

      One thing to keep in mind is that many of the gals that would target such a challenging event also likely have pretty full cycling calendars… this weekend also happened to be the Road Race Champs and it seems like the “Best of Both” race in Bend that had quite a draw for Women too.

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      • (different) Kate June 19, 2018 at 4:32 pm

        Yes- that’s where I was. Honestly, it would be hard to decide between the two if they were on the same weekend again next year.
        Also, I did hear a bit about how little support there would be on the ride, which while making it extra hardcore- would make me a bit nervous since I’m not much of a wrench should I get something more than a basic flat tire. Having roaming mechanics on course/riding, and a SAG wagon might help some nervous nellies like myself feel more comfortable to commit to a ride like this.

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        • Pat Lowell June 19, 2018 at 4:53 pm

          Maybe having more support on the 30-mi route could encourage newbies to participate while not putting too much strain on resources? Yes, it’s a long way to drive for a 30-mi ride, but it would be cool if 120 riders who were driving out there anyway felt like they could bring some less-hardcore friends!

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          • REN Cycles June 20, 2018 at 10:07 am

            The Skull is one of the best supported events we have ever experienced. Even with the 4-fold increase in registration there was nearly a 1:1 ratio between volunteer staff and riders. There are multiple aid stations, multiple manned checkpoints, Search & Rescue teams on course, etc.

            That said, the technical and remote nature of the course — which are what make this event so special — preclude luxuries like SAG wagons and roaming support mechanics. It is just not intended to be that kind of event.

            We want to be 100% clear that the Skull is not a casual ride, and it is not necessarily for everyone.

            Folks looking for a more supported experience have many many many great options to choose from already. Check out the Oregon Gravel Grinder series, Cycle Oregon, or the OBRA calendar for events with more of the amenities that might be of interest for less confident riders.

            The Skull is supremely challenging but it is no more or less dangerous than any other race. Being outside of your comfort zone does not mean being in danger. There were a number of arguably novice riders, including a couple of local middle schoolers, who rode the 30 course with no issue.

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            • (different) Kate June 20, 2018 at 2:05 pm

              That makes sense- thanks for the response. That’s an impressive showing of volunteers! Sounds like the best approach is to make sure you’re self-sufficient enough to know how to fix any mishaps. really, I just need to learn some mechanical skills so I can take on this sort of challenge.

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              • REN Cycles June 20, 2018 at 4:52 pm

                We recommend getting in touch with Community Cycling Center, or your favorite local bike shop to ask about basic mechanics classes. For example Gladys Bikes in Portland does a lot of women-specific instruction. It is valuable information/skill no matter what kind of riding you do.

                For riding buddies/experience look into or or similar to hook up with W/T/F cyclists who have a lot of experience and information to share.

                With some quality time in the saddle and some sage guidance you can show up and crush the 30 next year, then try the 60, and go from there. You can do it!

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      • Cameron Sanders June 19, 2018 at 11:05 pm

        We’ve thought long and hard about when the best time to run this event would be, however, we’re really stuck with the second or third week of June and that’s it. Any earlier and there is snow on the upper sections; any later and wild fires are a serious threat.

        Much of our staff are land managers (Wildland firefighters included) and a lot of the route follows cattle drive corridors… We want to accommodate rider’s schedules, however we have to fit the race in the only time we can.

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        • BradWagon June 20, 2018 at 12:31 pm

          Agree this is the best time of year for it, wasn’t meaning to say conflict shouldn’t exist just that it does… while there seems to be an abundance of male riders to go around between overlapping Road, Gravel and MTB events its unfortunately not quite the same for women’s fields yet.

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        • Richard Roy June 21, 2018 at 9:04 pm

          A few days after last year’s event we had numerous lightning-caused fires, and this year? Yep, several fires started yesterday after a big storm blew through with LOTS of lightning. We lose resources AND communications (dispatch center) once we start the fire season regardless of the size of the fires.

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  • David Guettler June 19, 2018 at 11:29 am

    At the start, there was a guy on a stock 40 yr old Centurion Super Elite. The trickest thing on it were alloy rims, complete with 27 1-1/4 tires and centerpull brakes. He got 100 tough miles in before he bailed, about double what I would’ve expected. I saw a few single speed bikes, at least one finished, albeit quite painfully. Probably not the right tool for the job! I ran 38mm Specialized Trigger tires, they seemed about right. Bottom line, ride what you have, keep a positive attitude, its all in your head.

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    • Dan A June 19, 2018 at 11:41 am

      So, ride what you have, but make sure what you have is the right thing. Got it.

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    • Cameron Sanders June 19, 2018 at 4:50 pm

      I used to work with that fella – Logan from John Day. Near mile 100 around dusk he found the scavenger hunt prize for a REN Cycles bike… He’ll be prepared next year! 😉

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  • REN Cycles June 19, 2018 at 11:50 am

    Thank you for coming out to our fantastic little (or not so little) slice of backcountry challenge — as promised, you did not regret it!

    We are proud to work with local officials, land managers, native tribes, outdoor industry members, racers and riders to host such a fantastic event.

    We use a lot of superlatives to describe the Skull 120 but no hyperbole — the only people who doubt the world class quality and quantity of cycling routes in Eastern Oregon are those who haven’t ridden it.

    REN Cycles and the PDXTI crew look forward to working with our local and regional partners in growing the Skull 120/60/30 and promoting public access to public lands as a fundamental right of all communities, on bikes or otherwise.

    Follow @SkullGravel to stay in touch and for those interested in taking part in 2019 please show your support (and help us plan efficiently) by signing up early when registration opens next spring.

    Thanks so much to everyone involved!

    #Skull120 #EasernOregon

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 19, 2018 at 12:10 pm

      Thanks for supporting the event REN!

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    • Kurt Schneider June 19, 2018 at 9:29 pm

      Next spring?!?!
      Let’s start that sign up now.

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      • Richard Roy June 20, 2018 at 6:42 am

        Kurt, we will actually start planning the 2019 event in the not too distant future. We will review our procedures and performance first (its called an AAR), accumulate comments (positive & negative) from participants and other partners and then start the planning process. Sign ups will begin late fall/early winter most likely. I believe next years event will be June 15th. I believe we will make this a Father’s Day weekend event.

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        • Kurt Schneider June 20, 2018 at 8:15 am

          See you then.

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    • Larry Brenize December 14, 2018 at 6:52 pm

      Ren I just looked at something about this years ride and somewhat confused. You had 41 starters on last years 120. With 28 finishers the rest I guess dropped back to the 60 miler. Finisher’s 16-28 or 29 finished with times 12:17 – 14:26. These riders wouldn’t be able to finish the ride this next year. If you are trying to build the ride up why would you have a time cut off. I do understand that it is hard on on the volunteers. You are advertising a really hard ride and from my end I thought you would reward anybody that can finish your ride. Good luck this next year.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 19, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Note that the story has been updated to include REN Cycles as a founding sponsor of the event. I have mixed feelings about how to represent corporate sponsors of events in stories like this… But in this case REN is a key part of making it happen and deserves to recognition. Thanks.

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    • Richard Roy June 20, 2018 at 6:35 am

      REN is a key component to this event. One of the things people need to realize is that Harney County is about collaboration (Gov -local, state, fed, private, NGOs, non-profits). We welcome involvement. Harney County is “Full Contact Citizenship” as one of my long-time co-workers says. And he is right! It’s how we roll.

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  • Justin Pitts June 19, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    Nice meeting you Jonathan, great writeup.

    One aspect of this event that really resonated with me was the community involvement. The residents of Burns and Harney County as a whole rightly have a lot of pride regarding this beautiful area and it came through with every interaction I had with locals as well as through the event itself. I made a point of staying Saturday night as I wanted to avoid the common routine of coming into a town, racing, and then leaving the same day. While I understand that people have lives and commitments, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that so many podium winners didn’t stick around for the banquet and after-party and I’m really glad that I did as my headache the next morning can attest to the fun I had the previous evening.

    Another aspect of this event I found refreshing was some of what Richard Roy touched on in this article in that it’s not going to be ’boutique’. This event is gritty and honest and is a means to an end which is the betterment of their community. I’m always a little torn when it comes to events like these as I (selfishly, I’ll admit) want them to stay a little smaller and not lose this gritty yet welcoming character I so love. It quickly became evident that this is very unlikely to happen. This is in part due to the vision the organizers have as well as the character of the community itself. It’s really a testament to everyone involved and I can’t wait to go back.

    A quick word about gear. Run what you brung. I was one of the single-speed folks, on a cantilever-braked CX bike with a x42 Resolute up front and a x40 Nano in the rear and felt this was great. If you’re a smaller rider with some skill you could easily get away with smaller tires though I would suggest that tubeless is a must whatever the size unless you enjoy fixing flats. I felt great up until mile ~90 until I got caught in the hailstorm at which point,

    “I talked to one guy who didn’t have a jacket and abandoned after shivers overtook him.”

    That was me.

    I’ll see you in 2019 if not earlier, Burns. We have some unfinished business.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 20, 2018 at 8:06 am

      Nice to meet you as well Justin. You were riding so tough out there! Enjoyed the miles we shared together. Bummed to hear you got caught in that storm. I agree with you about sticking around and I’m glad you did. I think the date of event is perfect and they’re smart to keep it on Father’s Day!

      I also hope they don’t change the 120 route at all. Not only was it amazing and epic in every way… But if the route stays the same people can compare times over the years and track their progress. See you in 2019!

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  • Kyle Banerjee June 20, 2018 at 5:29 am

    Lots of things in the southeast portion of the state that make it well worth the trip. I’m especially partial to the Steens and Hart areas. The bird refuge where those yahoos holed up is underrated.

    However, the only way to get to these areas is a very long drive. If people are encouraged to explore these places for recreation, some folks might consider toning down the rhetoric about how selfish those who drive to work so they can put food on the table are.

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    • 9watts June 20, 2018 at 6:03 pm

      “If people are encouraged to explore these places for recreation, some folks might consider toning down the rhetoric about how selfish those who drive to work so they can put food on the table are.”

      Or put another way, what would it take to get there by other means? We had this discussion about accessing the Timber Trail, too.

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      • Kyle Banerjee June 21, 2018 at 1:35 pm

        It’s not impossible, but it takes more fitness, knowledge, and time than most people have.

        Note that there’s nothing environmentally friendly about taking buses. It just leads to less per capita pollution than buses that once a certain threshold is reached. Also, isolated point sources of pollution don’t cause the same trouble as having a large number of them concentrated in a small area.

        The fossil fuel depletion issue may be the same, but people will make different choices as they become more scarce. A number of practices that might not have caused trouble 100 years are no longer feasible.

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  • Richard Roy June 20, 2018 at 7:12 am


    Thanks for staying for the apres party and awards ceremony and raffle. As you saw this is more than just a ‘race’. It is a celebration of public lands, remote eastern Oregon and the community of Harney County. We will have another Pre-race dinner event and apres party next year. What that will look like I do not know. However, we will announce those much earlier than this year so folks can plan.

    Personally, I think by skipping town right after the race one misses a large part of the total experience.

    Burns says, bring it on regarding your ‘unfinished’ business!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 20, 2018 at 10:13 am

    UPDATE, 6/20: If you want a sense of how long it took to complete the course, here are results for the 120 route. Looks like there were 55 entrants and just 26 finishers! The top 5 ranged from 8 hours 30 minutes, to nearly 10 hours. The slowest riders all spent over 14 hours in the saddle.

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  • Jon June 20, 2018 at 10:32 am

    It might make sense to investigate putting it on the OBRA calendar. The fees that OBRA charges are extremely reasonable because most of them are based on the number of riders that do the event. OBRA covers probably 95% of all the bicycle races in the state including the two other events that took place that weekend (Best of Both road + mountain bike race) and the state road race championship. If you want to reach the 3000-5000 racers that attend OBRA events it might be worth it. I have helped to organize a couple of bike races and going with OBRA was a great deal.

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  • SilkySlim June 20, 2018 at 10:45 am

    Following up on my earlier post, here is an approximation of the tour I did down there in 2014. I highly recommend the route!! Check out the forum part of their website for extra details, including some ride reports from last year.

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    • Cameron Sanders June 20, 2018 at 5:11 pm

      did this the week of the race and it’s superb!

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