About 900 mountain bikers showed up to test their skill and endurance at the seventh annual Whiskey Off-Road this weekend in Prescott, AZ. The weather was absolutely perfect. Competitors have a choice of riding a 15 mile course, 25 mile course (my Garmin shows it is actually 28.4 miles) and 50 mile course. Of course I chose to ride the 25 mile course. 50 miles is just sadistic considering the amount of climbing. Maybe someday I will do the 50 mile course. It is the hardest 25 miles I have ever raced and the competition this year was fierce! I started training the last week of March, which is not a lot of time to train for such an epic. My time was 3:26, 17 minutes faster than the last time I put myself through the agonizing pain of the Whiskey Off-Road in 2007. It’s a combination of the 28 miles and the 4,333 feet of climbing at 5300 to 7000 ft of elevation that gets you.
The Whiskey Off-Road starts on the historic Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott, AZ, hence the name of the event. The first 4 miles is up the paved Copper Basin Road. I say up, because it is almost all climbing, and I was in my granny gear a couple of times. Yes, I said granny gear on a paved road! Call me a pussy, but I was pacing myself. I didn’t want to end up as carnage at the side of the trail, who didn’t pace myself. There were countless people sitting on the side of the trail gasping for air only 5 miles into the race.
Anyways, Copper Basin Road turns into a dirt road after about 4 miles. The course then turns right onto a more primitive road that eventually flows into sweet singletrack twisting through the Prescott National Forest. If you want to win or place high in the standings, you need to be out in front at this point. I was near the middle of the pack, so when we hit the singletrack there was a line to get onto it. The problem was this little technical section, where some people had to get off and walk, which clogged up the entrance to the singletrack. Anyone with any mountain biking skills should have been able to clear this technical section. The first mile or so on the singletrack was like rush hour in LA. Being singletrack, there isn’t too many places to pass slower or less technical savvy riders. Oh yeah, and at this point you are still climbing. About 6 miles in there is some reprieve with a 1/2 mile sweet singletrack downhill. Just enough to give you some hope and say to yourself, this isn’t so bad.
You aren’t done climbing yet. You still have 3 more miles of steep technical climbing. If you can stay on your bike up most of this steep climb which is laden with waterbars, you can gain some time on your competition. I passed a lot of people up this climb, because most were walking. I’m not a great climber up long gradual climbs, but I am a good technical climber. A great place to practice your technical climbing is on National trail at South Mountain Park.
Now for the reward. When you hit the top of this climb, the view is magnificent. Even better is the downhill you are about to ride. There is 3.5 miles of awesome technical downhill waiting for you to shred. I must have passed 20 riders on the downhill, who eventually caught back up to me on the next climb. This is not a downhill for beginners. It has everything to offer, including dropoffs, rock gardens, steep rutted sections and tight turns. Just remember if you take risks here and crash, there is a long wait for medic to get to you. Knowing that this downhill is technical, the organizers put a medic station at the bottom.
After shredding the downhill you are 12.6 miles into the race. But there is no rest for the wicked. There is over 5 miles of steep fire road climbing in front of you. About half way up the climb is an aid station. Here you can refill with water and get some food. Also, this is where the 50 mile competitors turn left and start a 12.5 mile downhill into Skull Valley. Once they hit the bottom of Skull Valley, they turn around and climb back up the 12.5 miles they just descended. I stopped at the aid station a filled up my camelbak and ate a little bit. from here you still have about 3 miles of climbing. After about a mile of climbing at 3-4 miles an hour, this is when you start asking yourself, “why do i do this to myself”. I did have a small mechanical failure with my shifter that gave me an excuse to stop the abuse for a minute to fix it.
Just about when you are going to crack, you reach the top and turn right onto some long awaited singletrack. It is invigorating to finally reach the top and get onto some adreneline pumping singletrack. You get 4 miles of twisting downhill singletrack to forget about the pain you just put yourself through. You think you are home free until you hit a 3/4 mile steep rocky climb. This is where a lot of people crack or cramp. They should put benches here for all of the people who are sitting or laying on the side of the trail grabbing their lactic acid ridden legs. See what happens when you don’t pace yourself. We slow pacing riders pass your ass and finish the race in front of you! But I digress. Once you hit the top of the climb your reward is upon you. Sweet, twisting, creek crossing, rock hopping, tree dodging, downhill singletrack waiting to be shredded for 3 miles.
The singletrack dumps you out onto the the paved Thumb Butte Road at mile 25. This section is fast. You are going downhill at 30 mph for about 3 miles. My top speed was 34.6 mph. Again, just when you think you home free, you turn right onto Park Avenue and see another climb. WTF! Actually, it isn’t that bad, but it hurts a little after all the miles. At the top of the climb you turn left onto Summit Avenue and a quick right onto Goodwin Street. The finish line is in sight! You forget about the pain when you hear the awesome crowd cheering for you and every participant that crosses that finish line. Done! Until next year…
The route and summary from my Garmin. Click on view details to see the profile and other details.