Skull 120: America’s Gnarliest Gravel Grind

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Words by Cameron Sanders (@Renaissance.Cyclist)

Never been to Burns, Oregon? You're not alone. Far from the rainforests and endless beaches along Hwy 101 most associate with the State of Oregon, Burns and its few isolated neighbors that haven’t yet become ghost towns, are the last remnants of the wild American West.

Cattle drives are still commonplace along the lonely county roads in this mountainous high desert environment. With the timber industry far from its heyday, forgotten and alpine logging roads span the countryside for tens of thousands of miles.

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 grewling 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.

And take note they have:

A demanding, epic, amazing, scenic, tough, well-planned ride on the edge of nowhere.

~ Seth Patla, Multi-Year Sea Otter Champion

"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

"One of the hardest one-day rides in North America... something every endurance cyclist should have on their bucket list."

​~ Mark Mahall, Owner Mahall Bikeworks

One aspect of the Skull which sets it apart from other races is the degree to which local US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and State Park staff are involved in the event - in fact - it was agency leadership who founded the event.

"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. It is really quite interesting when people not familiar with this area have this impression that the area is flat with no topography. I think some riders from last year's event were shocked at what they encountered and what we threw at them. It will be even better this year.

We are also highlighting public lands, you know, the land that all the American public owns and in this instance are managed by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These lands are there for the American public's use, be it cycling, hunting, fishing, camping, grazing, mining, timber harvest, etc. These are all legitimate uses.

We are also highlighting Harney County. Out here the county is the 'community'. There are some really great people here, there is an opportunity for people from outside the area to interact with many of the fine people that live and work here and to dispel some biases and prejudices on both sides.. The Skull 120 is the brainchild of employees of the Chamber of Commerce, Forest Service, BLM and Oregon State Parks to help promote the area and to help with economic development. Like many rural communities in the country, Harney County struggles. We believe that 'adventure' tourism and hosting events like the Skull 120 will assist in adding some diversity the the county's economy. It is part of the equation for adding some 'economic resilience' to the community. Who knows, maybe this could lead to people opening a cycling shop and/or a touring company based right here.

The event is a good example of how BLM is working with our partners (both public and private) to promote multiple-use on public lands. We are also highlighting public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service ). These lands are there for the American public's use, be it cycling, hunting, fishing, camping, grazing, mining, timber harvest, etc. The event also provides access to public lands for recreational activities, and helps the BLM showcase traditional land uses reflective of the social end economic base of the county.”

~ Richard Roy, BLM District Manager

The Skull 120 team intends to slowly grow this epic race into an outright gravel festival and trade show in years to come as the event grows.

With early registration for the Skull 120 (also in 60 and 30 mile varieties) a mere $40.00 for the rest of February, perhaps it’s about time you visited Eastern Oregon? Sign up, order a set of Resolute 42 gravel tires, and try to survive the most grueling gravel grind in America!

Learn more and register at

Follow my adventures on Instagram @Renaissance.Cyclist

event gravel race nano 40 resolute skull 120

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