The 40+ year event is still going strong
At the end of March, the small town of Odessa, Washington will
transform. Where there are quiet fields and empty roads, there will
be masses of people and trail markers strategically placed through
the desert for 100 miles. A new city will be built of motor-homes,
trailers, trucks and vans. Thousands of people will descend upon the
staging area in the middle of nowhere for one weekend and one event—the world-famous Desert 100.
Starting in 1969, the Desert 100, once known as Mattawa, has been
the most prestigious off-road motorcycle race of the year in the
While a spectacular race, the Desert 100 is not just a race. It’s
an entire weekend of activities, guaranteed to keep everyone
entertained. The day before, riders have the option of participating
in the Poker Run. The family poker run is a ride for the whole
family and, if you can’t afford summer camp, the 50 mile fun ride is
a crash course in overcoming obstacles and building self-esteem. The
terrain can be tricky in sections, from loose and slippery down
hills to rocky and rough up hills, serving as a perfect way to
hone dirt bike skills no matter what the level. For some, a ¼ mile
uphill rock garden is a team effort, and no one comes off the course
without learning something or making new friends.
Ironman Poker Run is designed for the more advanced rider and is
much longer and harder than the Family Poker Run. Putting their
endurance to the test over the 70-100 mile course, riders get a
taste of what’s to come the next day. Without the pressure of
competition, though, Ironmen and women get to truly enjoy the
journey of a rider: perseverance, closeness to nature, and a feeling
Dual sport riders also take part in the weekend events. The dual
sport ride takes riders through Odessa and
surrounding area to see the sights, including private property
trails and the BLM Lakeview OHV area. Lunch at the local eatery is
also on the tour and enough to turn any dirtbiker on to the perks of
Depending on how things go, Saturday’s events can leave riders
beaming with joy or dismal in defeat. From flat tires to broken
chains to broken bones, the Desert 100 is as exciting and rewarding
as any adventure vacation. No matter what the experience earlier in
the day, everyone has a story to share over a beer with their
friends and family in the evening. On Saturday night, the lone beer
garden plays host to the entire throng of people camped in the
staging area. There is no better form of entertainment than to walk
through the crowds of riders and spectators crying with
laughter as they recount the day's stories.
But, unlike one might expect, the party doesn’t last all night.
Whether they’ve come to ride or just watch, there is an unspoken
respect and aura of seriousness that hovers over the staging area at
Odessa the night before the race. People disappear, trailer lights
go out and the entire area is eerily silent by 11pm so that racers
can sleep well in preparation for the next day. If one happens to get
up in the middle of the night, it’s quiet enough to only hear the
hum of a generator and dark enough to only see the stars of the
beautiful Eastern Washington night sky.
For many, the Desert 100 is a weekend of fun. For some, it is
weeks of preparation for the bike and body, ending only with race
day on Sunday. For serious racers, preparation begins the day after
last year’s Desert 100. Taking notes from previous races, riders
must modify their bikes for the desert terrain and spend hours
testing and tweaking. The course through the desert is fast and
rough, littered with rocks and roots that threaten to rip the
handlebars from unsuspecting hands. Suspension set-up is critical
and steering stabilizers are a staple for competitors. Positioning
levers for perfect access is a science and choosing the right tire
and tire pressure is an art. Competing in the toughest race in the
Northwest is serious business.
When the sun comes up over Odessa on Sunday morning, riders are
all out of time to prepare themselves and their bike for the Desert
100. It is time to race.
As early as 6am, people are up and out of their trailers and
tents, warming up their engines and affixing race numbers to
themselves and their bike plastics. Last-minute adjustments are made
in haste with shaking hands. Racers are lucky if they can get a
substantial breakfast in them amidst the butterflies in their
stomachs. Fully and half-geared riders shift around nervously, trying
to pay attention during the rider’s meeting at 9am. Some are just
excited to get riding, but most are anxious, for there is no single
moment more feared at the Desert 100 race than the start.
First time racers can think of nothing else as
they parade down on their bikes to the starting line. As many as
1,000 riders have lined up, bar-to-bar, stretching ½ mile down the
desert and all at once waiting for the canon to fire, signaling the
start of the Desert 100. It is an experience a racer will never
forget and a sight to behold for onlookers. Riders from all across and
outside the country come to survive the experience and their friends
and family and even the locals gather to watch them.
When the canon is finally heard, the Odessa desert rises up in a
roaring fury. A tidal wave of dust instantly covers the area,
erasing the racers and their bikes from viewer's sight. Survival is the
best most can hope for in this first ten minutes of mayhem, but
veterans of this race and the keenest competitors use the chaos to
their advantage. A good bike starting position combined with
through the sea of riders can mean the difference between
coming out of the dust in the lead and getting stuck behind a
bottleneck of riders, costing precious time.
The rest of the ride is like a dream. Whether
they’ve come to compete seriously or just ride, dirtbikers can’t
escape the out-of-body experience that is racing through the desert
among a thousand others. Laser focus may cause some to only remember
the highlights of the race—a near miss, an actual crash or passing
their rival. Anyone who happens to spot Elvis on his vintage bike
during the race must surely question whether or not they are
dreaming. Everything that happens between the starting line and the
finish is a unique journey only the racer can know and something no
one can predict.
There are a few universal truths about the Desert 100, though,
and the one most revered by racers is the finish. Most people would
agree that riding up onto the finishing platform, having tumbled
through the course and finished, is the most amazing and rewarding
feeling one can have. They’ve survived the hard work and battled
through the course and to finish is pure victory. To many, there is
no better feeling in the world.
Some might think that the best way to experience the Desert 100
is to gear up and dive into the race to test their character,
experience the thrill and survive the trials. The feeling is
There are some people, however, who feel the pay-off and success of the
race not through racing themselves, but through hosting the event.
They might know each other as "Stumpies" but everyone else knows
them as members of the Stumpjumper Motorcycle Club, the group that
hosting the Desert 100 race since 1969.
Founded in 1967, the Stumpjumper Motorcycle Club is a family
oriented, off-road motorcycle club that is the largest driving force
in the off-road motorcycle events in the Puget Sound area. Members
of the club meet once a month and prepare all year for the Desert
100 event. The club elects a race chairman and co-chairman to serve
a two-year term for the event. All other club members are required
to volunteer at the event in order to maintain their membership. It
may sound like a harsh requirement for the privilege of staying in
the club, but members are motorcycle enthusiasts to the utmost and
are happy to support the event. From printing flyers to sweep riding
the race and poker runs, there is an astounding amount of work that
goes into organizing the Desert 100. To put on an amazing event, it
takes a knowledgeable race committee, organized club members, and a
lot of help from sponsors. This year, sponsors have made it possible
to have almost $20,000 in cash or contingency items to give away.
Why would someone enjoy volunteering at a race so much? Besides
spending quality time with their friends and fellow club members as
prepare for the event by rolling handouts or riding with them to
scout out the course layout, Stumpies love the atmosphere of the
event and enjoy the feeling even more knowing they’ve made it
possible. Those working at the gate get to meet every participant
that comes through and see the look of excitement and anticipation
on the faces of riders. Volunteers that hand out hotdogs and drinks
at the halfway point during the poker runs get to meet the riders
that are so grateful for a little food, and witness the unbridled
joy of the kids getting to play outside with their families.
Long-time members of the club are able to see how the event has changed
over the years, how many more women sign up for the race each year
and how the down-turned economy only puts a spotlight on the
die-hard fans of the sport, who still show up to ride.
There is a place for everyone at the Desert 100—racer, rider,
volunteer and spectator, and each one is sure to have an experience
they will always remember.