On the Trail in Prescott, Arizona

The Whiskey Off-Road is a mountain bike ride traversing the trails into the Prescott National Park. The event encourages participants to immerse themselves in the area’s wild west heritage, while enjoying mountain bike riding and culture .

The Whiskey Off-Road is an Epic Rides mountain bike race in Prescott, Arizona. Last year’s 14th annual multi distant event was held on April 27-29. To get there from San Diego, travel on I-10 East, just past Quartzsite, Arizona, then head north on the I-60 through ‘Skull Valley’ into Prescott, altitude 5,000 feet. This is when the fun begins.

On Friday the 27th, I rode the 18-mile ’15 proof’ race; each race category is ‘ranked’ by whiskey strength. The event is called ‘The Whiskey’ because it starts on the famed ‘Whiskey Row’, an 1800’s downtown row of tall western saloons and shops; traditional Old West Saloons that have swinging doors with names like ‘The Palace’ or ‘The Bird Cage.’ The interior features long oak bars, mirrored bar backs, and Elk trophy racks mounted on the wall. The Downtown race start is next to the Old Three-Story, an early 1900’s courthouse built with granite blocks, centered in the middle of a park with tall trees.

Old Three-Story – 1900’s Courthouse

The Start

The start/finish is lined with vendors who offer generous assistance to the race participants. For example, Stan’s No Tube will refresh your bike tires for free. Many other vendors such as SRAM, Cliff Bar, Shimano, Four Peaks Brewing, Tasco Clothes and more added to the joyful atmosphere; basically, it’s a mountain bike festival with live music. On Saturday, there were the 30 and 50 mile races, along with a pro women’s criterium, and Sunday brought out the pro men and women.

Riders depart the starting line on ‘Whiskey Row’ in downtown Prescott, AZ

Minutes before the race start, three tall cowboys appeared in the middle of the street looking like they were straight out of the movie “Gunfight at The O.K. Corral”. They sported wide brimmed hats, long coats, boots with spurs, and holstered hand guns. They pointed their guns to the sky and in unison pulled the triggers sending puffs of smoke floating off in the crisp morning breeze.

The Race

All races start at 5,367 feet of elevation, and the 15 Proof event starts with an eight mile climb to the Sierra Prieta overlook at 7,400 feet. It’s about a 10% grade, beginning on the road, then switching to gravel.

On the way up at mile seven, a cowboy popped out of the tree line with a holler, “Care for a shot?” He was holding a bottle of Jim Beam Black Label Whiskey in one hand, and a small Dixie paper cup in the other. He hollered, “It’s a tradition!”

When I made the cut off at the Sierra Prieta outlook, I took a couple minutes to refuel at the well-stocked aid station that welcomed riders.

The view from the Sierra Prieta outlook.

The next level of fun began as I started down about seven miles of single track, over boulder gardens, rock stair cases, and through four deep stream crossings. All doable. Be sure to check out the Epic Rides YouTube videos online for a preview.

The last three miles are downhill on cone-divided paved roads with police stationed at the intersections safely guiding traffic; this was a testament to the first class permitted race organization. As I crossed the finish line in about three hours, I was rewarded with a ‘Whiskey Off Road’ beer glass and a free cold Four Peaks Beer. I sipped my well-deserved ‘Hop Knot’ IPA and enjoyed the pro women’s criterium through town, with all the big manufacturers represented, Specialized, Trek, and more. Local favorite Chloe Woodruff led the crit for several laps.

The interior of the Palace Saloon, a western-styled restaurant near Whiskey Row.

Once the sun set, we talked our way into the ‘Palace Saloon’ for a hearty dinner with my dusty mountain bike in tow. The sound of live country music filled the air, and the walls were covered with murals of Steve McQueen, in Junior Bonner (filmed at the Palace) and others honoring the local fallen “Hot Shot” heroes who put out forest fires.

Equipment

I recommend tubeless tires on your mountain bike, a stock of electrolytes, Gu, and Cliff Squeeze packets, washed down by the water from a Camelback water pack. Some riders wore knee and elbow pads. I used my Garmin for mileage and to pace myself, although the trails rides were clearly marked. Consider layering your clothes, as you never know what the weather will do – last year it snowed!

Give it a Shot 

Saddle up your mountain bike and hit the trails, Epic Rides does a professional job. Their off-road series includes the Whiskey Off-Road, the Grand Junction Off-Road and the Carson City Off-Road for some good old fashion wild west fun. Two other race events are the ‘Tour of the White Mountains‘ and ’24 hours in the Old Pueblo.’ The Whiskey Off-Road is good fun all around and will be back next year, April 27-29, 2018.

Ride Safe, Ride Strong

Richard L. Duquette ©. All rights reserved.