Ten Years Ago Gallup’s Mountain Bike Reputation Erupted with a Burn, a Blow, and a Prayer
By Lindsay Mapes
It all began as a wild idea to “break in” the new trails that were being called the High Desert. Steiner (Stan) Smith initially established the line by flagging out the trail, the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) built the technical sections under the guidance of the wise trail sage, Strider Brown, and Gallup Trails spent hours trying to ride them in. The idea had been controversial, the effort enormous, and the cycling community needed this idea to blossom. “If you build it, they will come” wasn’t working.
We needed to get the word out about the brand new singletrack. And more importantly, we needed to break them in to create a good rolling surface prior to the upcoming riding season. A blockbuster first impression on a killer trail system was a priority.
The plan was to get cyclists to ride around and around on the freshly cut singletrack at the beginning of the year. This would pack in the dirt so the trail would stick throughout the seasons. There was no plan to continue the race after the first year; after all, the event would have served its purpose.
So then-Mayor Bob Rosebrough found a young, naïve, newly-hired optimist that didn’t even own a bike to organize the event in the worst month for weather. It was a plan that should have failed.
We formed a committee of cyclists and racers and began to set forth the race details: number of hours, where to market, how to register. Literally, every aspect of the event was an experiment. The goal was 50 racers.
As the date approached, we began to see the mail-in registrations trickle in. The phones started ringing with all sorts of questions, “What’s the course like? What sort of tires do I need? What gear ratio do you recommend?” Of course I had no idea. We tried our best to fake it. 98 people believed us.
Saturday, April 9 was forecasted to be miserable: high winds, cold, and even a little snow. We began setting up packet pickup at the El Rancho Hotel lobby. About an hour before, as we were frantically adding last minute touches, a call came into the hotel. A racer needed back road directions from Laguna – there was a fire and I-40 had been closed. What?! The most traveled federal interstate was closed? We thought we were doomed.
Somehow, the racers navigated muddy reservation roads, that primarily served sheep, to eventually arrive in Gallup. (This was before the time of GPS navigation on cell phones. It might as well have been the dark ages.) There was no turning back.
Race morning was the coldest and darkest I’ve ever experienced. Without any sleep the night before, and an awful forecast, we waited for the sun and prayed for the best. As we began the pre-race meeting, I could see my breath.
The race started in the staging area promptly at 7:00 am. As we watched the racers depart in one large mass, I choked up. Despite all odds, we actually did it. I looked up and put my hands together. Thank you, Jesus!
Little did I know that the hard part hadn’t even begun. Challenges like timing by hand, 60-mile-an-hour gusts, dust galore, and hail that traveled parallel to the ground made for memories that we laugh about today. We capped off that first year with a one-of-a-kind awards ceremony at an art gallery in downtown with very spicy Mexican food. Everyone was happy and jovial as we laughed about the wind and discussed the winners of the epic event. We also learned that Mexican food should not be served after a race.
Almost 100 brave (or dumb) souls showed up for that first year. Some traveled over 10 hours to the event, and a few of them rode over 100 miles that day. We reached our goal of breaking in the course! But after a few nights of rest and basking in the sun of success, we ambitiously decided to continue the event with a new goal: to market Gallup in a positive light through mountain biking.
The next year, 250 racers showed up. Six years later, we grew to 550. Over the years, we learned the hard way that Gallup’s famous dirt, used for centuries by the First People to create water pots for survival, was easily manipulated under a different type of wheel. (Unfortunately, nothing else on the bike works well when spinning pottery with a tire.) This one-time experiment turned into the most (in)famous race in the state and one of the largest mountain bike races in the country.
Over the last ten years, Dawn ’til Dusk has taken on a life of its own: memories of the Mud Fest, inconsolable dust, and even a new nickname, Dawn ’til Drunk – when you just can’t ride, you pop open a beer. The event has put Gallup on the map in the mountain biking world, giving our community a positive face for those that only know it as something else.
This year, we celebrate our tenth year on Saturday, May 17 at the Mentmore Trailhead. We will toast to ten more years of better weather, more positive community outcomes, and a sense of pride. Gallup is a mountain bike town and Dawn ’til Dusk was the beginning.
For more information: www.ZiaRides.com, 505-863-4228