Soul searching in the Arizona desert:

By Steve Medcroft

Looking for a mountain-bike challenge this weekend? Although much of the MTB world has pakced away their bikes and gone into hibernation for the winter, there is still plenty of action to be had around the world. The only choice you have to make is how far you want to travel and how long you want to ride.

For the ultimate test, you could give the multi-stage Crocodile Trophy a try. Held in the North Queensland , the race starts October 18 th and runs through October 30th. The 1,400-kilometer course takes riders from Townsville, across the mountains of Paluma, Blencoe Falls and Ravenshoe, over the dusty dry outback of lower Cape York to the coast at Cooktown and ends at the upscale Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas.

If you're U.S.-based, the slightly shorter 24-Hours of Moab still has space for teams and solo riders. From noon Saturday the 14 th to noon Sunday, you could roam the famous Behind-the-Rocks area of mounatin-biking nirvana with 1,500 other mountain bikers on a challenging course complete with barely rideable climbs, sandy downhill's, couch-sized drops and a screaming descent into the start/finish tent.

But if you're looking for something that's both epic yet fits within one riding day, consider the Soul Ride.

Created by Tucson mountain biker Todd Sadow five years ago, the Soul Ride offers 100, 50, 30 and 10-mile rides. Held on the mountain trails, river beds, fire roads and open desert around Oracle, Arizona (about thirty miles outside of Tucson ), the full-length Soul Ride is a leg-breaking 100 mile test of a rider's will to finish. There is no shade from temperatures that can still run over the 100-degree mark on the course's extended climbs. Speaking of the climbs; after the pre-dawn start, the race runs straight up part of nearby Galiuro Mountains before descending through a valley and winding back up, at one point, a twenty-mile extended grind of a climb.

Sadow says inspiration for the event came “after a super long ride with a good friend in some mountains south of Tucson .” Twenty-eight year old Sadow says his group rode from early in the morning until well after dark and he had an epiphany while standing in a convenience store (trying to choose between a thousand shiny ways to refuel his absolutely spent body). “I remember feeling, well, high,” he said. “High from the endorphins. High from the whole experience.”

With course lengths to test any kind of rider, the Soul Ride is Sadow's way of giving others access to the same post-ride feelings he was experiencing. “The average person does ten to fifteen miles on a mountain bike when they ride. Some guys do forty on a weekend. Whatever you do, we wanted to offer a way for everyone to have a big ride.” The point? “You learn a lot about yourself on a big ride.”

For the most hardy, the 100-mile ride starts before dawn. “We require lights and start at 4a.m.,” Sadow says. “We want people to experience the joy of riding the Arizona desert at night; but to do it on fresh legs. And we think there's nothing more ridiculous than experiencing a sunrise over the Galiuro Mountains .” The course is timed so riders experience that sunrise while climbing the route's first major climb, some fourteen miles long.

he Soul Ride, which is dedicated to ultra-mountain biker Mike Curiak (who holds the MTB Great Divide Race record at 16 days, 57 minutes and will be attending this year's race/ride) is a long day for any rider. To be safe, anyone who signs up for the 100-mile event must make a checkpoint at fifty-nine miles by noon or they will be redirected to the finish by course marshals.

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