"In the wake of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation, many folks in this remote and rural Eastern Oregon community sought to show the country that there was more to this rugged landscape than civil unrest. The only issue was, how do you get folks to visit - what many would consider - the absolute middle of nowhere?
The answer, it seems, is straightforward: execute the most grueling single-day endurance gravel grind in the country. Create a route so stunning in its beauty and demanding in its topography that anybody who’s anybody in the gravel cycling community has to take note."
"With 'Skull' event, Burns stakes a claim as America's best gravel riding destination!"
"Inside an embattled community in southeastern Oregon, a gravel bike race is bringing together locals and outsiders - and trying to bridge a seemingly vast political divide."
~ Redbull Bulletin, Issue 10/2019: Common Ground
"It felt like there was something more than just a bike race happening. I've never been to a race like this."
~ Barry Wicks, Pro Cyclist with Kona Bikes
"After a full day of travel, I arrived in Burns and immediately fell in love.
We drove out on Friday night for a delicious dinner put on by a local ranch family that grazes cattle on some of the land we would be riding through the next day. We ate one of those cows, too. Kind of a full-circle effect.
[After falling back from the front 8 riders on a chunky section of gravel at about mile 13,] I rode alone... For the next 115 miles. Because that’s right, the 120-mile race was 128 miles. Along the route, I saw 2 sets of people tent camping, 2 vehicles going the other way, 2 photographers, 1 building (a ranger station), and passed one other rider who had flatted. And of course, the saving grace that was the 7 aid stations along the route. Truly, without these aid stations, this would have been a nearly impossible day for me to accomplish.
The ground we covered was incredible. Through the cattle fields and onto some access roads we encountered 2 water crossings, though one had a bridge labeled “for wussies”, but I had been warned the water was well over 2-feet deep and I was no hero. After the ranch-lands, we entered a lush, wet forest. The trail started as a jeep road, then turned into something marked as “no motor vehicles”. There were some downed trees to avoid, erosion ditches, and some VERY steep pitches. At one, I simply got off and walked in order to keep my heart rate in check.
Up to this point, we were only 50 miles in but it had been 3:45 hours – we were averaging 13 miles per hour. The course had only been climbing. By the time we (I keep saying we but I was alone) hit the second aid station I was a little skeptical of my ability to finish given the current rate, but, after chatting with the station workers I learned we had already reached the peak elevation for the day so the majority of the climbing was behind us – thank you, gods, of orogeny. The highest point was the top of Snow Mountain, where we did indeed encounter snow. Apparently, people had started clearing the snow off the course and the event organizer said “no, no, it’s a feature!!” Also, fun fact, I think I read somewhere that Snow Mountain is the 380th highest peak in the US. I can count to 380 so that means it is pretty tall.
This was one of the nicer stretches of road during the whole ride:
We rode through a dense forest and a wonderful National Forest, along a beautiful lake and fields of lavender, next to a glorious meandering river with lush flood zones, and up a rich red road that climbed to what felt like the moon.
Between the fatigue, the crushing loneliness of the past 7 hours or so combined with being able to see nothing but dry, high desert stretching to the horizon, I felt so alone. I was so happy when I climbed out of that place and found the final aid stop. I didn’t need anything but water, but I took a moment to chat with the volunteers. I needed some pep for those last few miles.
I rolled across the finish in 8 hours and 40 minutes, about 40 minutes after Barry. I was the 7th overall finisher and 1st ever female."
"A demanding, epic, amazing, scenic, tough, well-planned ride on the edge of nowhere."
~ Seth Patla, Multi-Year Sea Otter Champion
"The Skull lives up to its reputation. Full type 3 fun and I love it."
~ David Lieble, Multi-Year Marji Gesick (the unofficial sister race of the Skull) Finisher
"Let me tell you, this is probably the hardest / most epic / well-organized gravel race I have ever done. 127 miles and 12k' of climbing, river crossings, fire roads, MTB trails, stocked aid stations... even a hot shower at the end. Mark your calendar for next year!!"
~ Charles Christiansen (@notchas), Professional Cyclist & Rider for Zipp
"One of the hardest one day rides in North America... something every endurance cyclist should have in their bucket list."
~ Andrew, Comment on Online Cycling Forum
"Equal parts challenging and beautiful, the long route was 126 miles and nearly 11,000 feet of climbing. And that doesn’t even begin to tell the tale. A whopping 80 percent was unpaved. With lots of big, sharp rocks, narrow double-tracks, and even some cow paths, there were scant free miles. You could never really relax. When you did get something smooth, the wind would be blowing at or across you. Or in the case of a spectacular stretch of red cinder road, its sandy softness sapped the precious power from your legs. Yet unlike other epic rides I’ve done, I was never bored or miserable. I spent just under 10 hours on my saddle in near-constant amazement at the diversity of terrain and magnificence of the pristine environments we rolled through."
~ Jonathan Maus, Cycling Journalist
"An instant classic, no part of the route is impossible but it is challenging for hours on end. The course is rough and rugged enough to make traditional road bikes with rim brakes a non-starter but fast and varied enough to make squishy mountain bikes equally inappropriate."
~ Eric Herboth, Owner REN Cycles
"Purists will rejoice that the routes of both the 120 mile epic and a shorter (but no gentler) 60 mile route contain plenty of the stereotypical grey rock roadbed, but there are also long stretches of rutted ranch path, cinder strewn dirt, rock slabs, and sections of trail that qualify as XC mountain bike courses."
"Grant & Harney Counties in Eastern Oregon are home to - bar none - the best gravel cycling I've ever ridden in North America."
The Skull 120 highlights some of this region's spectacular gravel. If you make the trek all the way out to this remote part of the country, be sure to add a few days to your adventure so you can cycle some of the other great rides in the area as well."
"East of Bend toward Burns the riding gets much better (i.e. climby and technical) as the terrain changes from a handful of old shield volcanoes into rocky, broken terrain and mountains. Glad to see they’re putting together events out there – it’s a massively under appreciated part of Oregon and those towns are full of great people that could really use the economic boost (maybe another Oakridge will appear there)."
~ Brad, Cyclist from Bend, OR
"The whole concept of the event and everything we are trying to do really revolves around adventure, rugged individualism, go big or go home, big wide-open spaces and there will be no one serving you shrimp scampi, champagne and fluffing your pillow after the race. This area is rugged, remote and very rural and our thought is that the Skull 120 should reflect that."
"Literally the hardest gravel ride I've done so far."
~ @Adventuring.Bike, IG Comment
"An epic one-day grind that will get you way out there to test your mettle. Difficulty: EXTREME."
"While it was tough to look up from the trail to take in our surroundings, I tried to do so whenever possible. There were the most amazingly beautiful little valleys, with streams and green grass.
At one point in the afternoon, the temperature dropped to 38 degrees, and a somewhat expected thunderstorm rolled in. I spent the next 40 minutes getting rained, snowed, and hailed on, as well as watching riders who weren’t prepared for the weather drop out."