image1“Ah-ka-ma-nah” – valley of skulls – is the name the Yavapai (Apache) Native Americans have used for the past century or more to refer to the small river valley twelve miles west of Prescott, Arizona. Long ago, an enduring drought precipitated a battle for resources and retribution between members of the Yavapai and Pima tribes.  Centuries later, the small town of Skull Valley is the half-way point of a much more friendly battle amongst competitors of the Whiskey Off Road, a long distance mountain bike race.

Kona Endurance Team riders Barry Wicks, Kris Sneddon and Spencer Paxson once again journeyed to Prescott, AZ for the 12th edition of the Whiskey Off Road. Touted as the queen of the off road spring classics, the 2015 version laid out a $30,000 purse, a star-studded international field, and 7,300′ of vertical across 50 miles of rugged desert mountains.  The sharp point of the elite field would flash across the jagged terrain in just over 3 hours.
“It’s important to be here, this is the face of the rising format of cross country mountain bike racing in the US,” say the Kona riders. “The production value is just so high for everyone who participates, whether you’re a pro or a first timer…it’s a well-executed showcase of a cool place where people would want to come visit and ride their mountain bikes… what better fit for a world class bike race!”

Thunderstorms and chilly temps hovered threateningly over the racers all day on Sunday’s race. A deafening shotgun volley signaled the start of the elite race, 80 men and 20 women, and added some extra Wild-West gravitas to the scene as racers blasted out of downtown Prescott.  The Kona boys were in the mix all day, with Spencer battling near the front, returning to Whiskey Row in 10th place, Barry in 19th and Kris 25th.  Spencer raced a prototype King Kahuna, and Barry and Kris both raced their Hei Hei Supremes. The boys all ran Maxxis Icon 2.2 with EXO casing for extra insurance. Drivetrains were 1×11 Shimano XTR and suspension was Fox IRD. image4

Thankfully, no additional skulls were left behind in Skull Valley, only tire tracks and good memories of chasing the sublime (and some $$$).  Up next, the Kona Endurance Team divides to all reaches of the fat-tire race spectrum, from desert stage races in Morocco, to 200-mile gravel grinders in the Midwest, to World Cups in Europe.

Photos, credit Dave McElwaine