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Arizona

This new bike race in southern Arizona will take you on a journey

Giorgia Menetre El Inde Arizona

PATAGONIA – As the last Spirit World 100 rider neared the finish line on the afternoon of November 5, organizer Zander Ault used his 1950s Elvis-style microphone to shout out to everyone to cheer for the rider.

As Nick Bardonnay crossed the finish line, a chorus of voices hooted and cheered.

It had taken Bardonnay nine hours and 40 minutes to complete the 100-mile race, which winds its way from Patagonia through the San Rafael Valley to the Mexican border and back.

“Holy shit! Welcome back to Patagonia. You’re amazing. That’s kick (expletive)!” Ault said over the speakers.

When Ault and his partner Heidi Rentz started the Spirit World race four years ago, they attracted 125 cyclists.

This year’s event had 250.

After flying under the radar in the cycling world, the Spirit World 100 was thrust into the spotlight last year when cycling website VeloNews named Patagonia the new Mecca of gravel riding.

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This designation plays into Rentz and Ault’s overall plan to make Patagonia a hotspot for bicycle tourism.

That’s what the couple set out to do when they moved to Patagonia full-time in 2020. They opened the Patagonia Lumber Company in the same McKeown Avenue location as the original Patagonia Lumber Company, dating back to 1915, and established it as a coffee and wine bar pit stop for travelers passing through. Regulars refer to it as “an extension of their living room.”






Patagonia Lumber Co. serves as a pit stop at a coffee and wine bar for passers-by.


Will Freihofer, El Inde, Arizona


They also opened The Gravel House, which has a straw bale house and small wood workshop for visitors to Patagonia. The property focuses on providing guests with an intimate interaction with the community.

But Spirit World 100 was what held these efforts together.

The duo dubbed the race “the spirit world” because it’s “where we all go when we’re chasing endurance,” Ault said.

“When you’re out and you’re challenging yourself through something incredibly difficult, you break into that space where you’re doing it,” he said. “It’s hard; you go through ups and downs but you come out on the other side successfully and there’s a level of bliss. That’s the spirit world. It’s a place that doesn’t have a definition, but it is Place we can all go to gain endurance.”

The 2022 event kicked off with a benefit dinner on November 3rd. On November 4, cyclists took part in a shake-out ride to familiarize themselves with the desert terrain before gathering for a family-style dinner.

On November 5th, before the sun rose, the race began.

Spirit World has three routes: the 50 mile ride, the 80 mile ride and, for the hard core, the 100 mile dare into the desert.






Clare Walton, second from left, the eventual winner, holds her own in the field.


Will Freihofer, El Inde, Arizona


The race ended at Patagonia Town Park with food, beer and music, and everyone who finished the walk earned a crystal and loads of cheers, including biggest cheerleader Ault.

Clare Walton from Tahoe City, California won the 100 mile race and was really inspired by the talk Rentz and Ault gave at the pre-ride dinner.

“Those words stuck with me,” Walton said. “Being with other racers with a common goal of connection and community was really special. Everyone was really excited to ride. The positive energy was definitely flowing through the spirit world.”

Racers get to know the outdoor area in an intimate way after hours of driving. Riders of every caliber took part, from seasoned pros to novices; The event invites everyone to experience the thrill of horseback riding in the desert.

Thomas Hudson, a Spirit World 100 rookie, said: “It feels cool to finish my first race and be part of a community of people doing the same thing at the same time. It feels special.”

Hudson said there were parts of the race that were particularly challenging, but other parts were really fun.

“There was a long section in the middle where there was an easy descent and you could pedal and I was flying across the desert all by myself,” he said, adding that he plans to become a regular at future events.






Four years ago, Zander Ault and his partner Heidi Rentz founded the Spirit World race.


Will Freihofer, El Inde, Arizona


As the riders crossed the finish line throughout the day, other riders and fans cheering them on roared with applause, which is part of Rentz and Ault’s philosophy for the race and community. When people help each other, they can achieve great things. Your intent of racing goes beyond sport; They see the importance of community and are aware of how events like this affect their rural town.

The day of racing ended with a show in the park by the Tucson Grateful Dead cover band Half A Mile From Tucson.

The fourth annual event concluded with an awards ceremony on November 6, capping a weekend with Montana cyclist Jack Price, which was described as “a really great” experience.






With a 4:30 a.m. start time, racers were greeted with a breakfast bar and smiles as they prepared to drive 50, 80 or 100 miles on the desert roads.


Will Freihofer, El Inde, Arizona


“We want the general public that enjoys this atmosphere to come back to Patagonia because they see its value and want to be a part of it,” Ault said. “We want Spirit World to become an institution that can have a really big impact on the area and create jobs for this rural community.

“The underlying theme and what drives the excitement for the event is to keep coming up with ideas about how we can interact with the landscape and with each other,” he added.

Registration for Spirit World 100 2023 will open in January. Visit thespiritworld100.com for more information on Patagonia’s racing and cycling scene.

Yvon Chouinard, the billionaire founder of outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, said Wednesday he is giving the company away to a trust that will use its profits to help fight the climate crisis.



El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.

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