The Continued Adventures of a 40-Something Mom: The Desperado Duel


By Kelly McPherson — The Desperado Duel boasts 50, 109, or 150-mile road rides through eastern Utah. I had never done this event before because it always seems to fall near my anniversary and my husband is not a cyclist. “Happy anniversary, Honey! I’m going to leave you and go ride my bike all day.” I can’t see that going over very well.

However, this year, with the serious lack of events due to Covid and the fact that I am still training for Lotoja, I thought it would be good for me to sign up and do the 150. It would be so good to ride somewhere other than loops around my house.

Kelly McPherson at the start of her successful completion of the 2020 Desperado Duel. Photo by Kelly McPherson
Kelly McPherson at the start of her successful completion of the 2020 Desperado Duel. Photo by Kelly McPherson

In order to solve the anniversary complication, we made an extra-long weekend of it and hauled our travel trailer out to a cute little campground about 16 miles outside of Panguitch and about 5 miles from Bryce Canyon. It was so much fun! I would highly recommend doing that. The area has so much to explore and do that coming down just for the night, riding in the event and going home is kind of a shame. We spent quite a bit of time in Bryce Canyon as well as going on a 2-hour horseback riding adventure in Kodachrome.

Friday evening was packet pick up at the start line. The line was long and I was hot, which is why I probably got a little testy with the volunteer when I found out that I would be expected to ride 109 miles, cross the finish line, let them know that I was heading out for the final 40 and then leave the music and food at the finish line to head back out and up a steep and barren looking climb. Ugh! At the end of 109 miles, I figured I would be about done. The thought of having to leave the finish area and go back out was very frustrating. Ugh! Could I even do that?

Saturday morning dawned beautifully. The temperature was comfortable and there was no wind. Lively music was playing as I finished preparations for a very long day. Finally, it was time for the 150s to roll out. The group starting right at 7 was small and much faster than me, so I wasn’t surprised when they all passed me within the first couple of miles. I resisted the urge to try to keep up with them. The day was going to be long and I didn’t want to burn any matches quite this early, so I kept my pace steady and headed out of town.

The first climb is on the bike trail up through Red Canyon and it is absolutely gorgeous! I don’t normally like to ride bike trails as there are usually too many pedestrians on them, but this one was wide and freshly paved and a fantastic alternative to the highway. I was a little concerned about the distance from the start to the first aid station at mile 25, especially with the climb in the middle and possibly really warm temperatures, so I was tempted to bring a third bottle. Then I realized that our campground was at about mile 16, so I told my husband about when I would be there. He waited to refill my water bottle and let me choke down a banana. Perfect!

After the top of the hill, the course profile appears to be downhill for a very long time, which is a bit deceptive. It is a rolling downhill that starts out kind of pretty, but quickly goes out into the desert where I rode alone for a very long time. I passed one guy, but that is pretty much the only human being I saw until I came to a small canyon and to the 2nd aid station.

For some reason, there were riders at all the aid stations, but as soon as I got back on the road, they all seemed to disappear. Weird! Aid stations were all well stocked with a variety of supplies. I tended to drink a little pickle juice and grab a Sweet & Salty granola bar at each one. Though, by the time I got to the aid station at mile 95, all I wanted was a rice krispie treat and a coke.

Riders have to finish the first 109 miles by 2:30PM or the race organizers won’t let you start the final climb. That is a 7.5 hour window, which I should be able to do, but it was going to be close. I wanted to take the first 109 miles easy so I would have something left for the final climb, but I knew I would need to push a bit towards the end if I wanted to have the option of finishing the 150. I wanted to make that decision myself, instead of having it made for me by race management.

The last 25 miles into the finish line at 109 miles were hot and windy with a good steady headwind the entire time. Ugh! I had been preparing my mind for making the choice to cross the finish line and then head back out for the final climb, but that wind was taking some of my resolve. I kept my head down and kept pedaling, and crossed the line by 2:00PM. Yes!

I was happy to hear myself firmly declare to the volunteers at the finish line that I was definitely headed back out, to do the finish loop. I didn’t know that I had that kind of resolve in me!

Riders can see the beginning of the climb from several miles away as they head into the finish line the first time. It is an exposed climb that seems to just go straight up the mountain. Ugh! When I reached the bottom, though, it wasn’t as bad as it looks from the distance. I think the climb topped out at about 6% grade, so not too bad. It just looks ugly.

Once you get to about mile 116, the road flattens out some and starts to stairstep some uphill rollers through some really pretty mountain forestland. It was cooler during this section and even a little overcast. Some dark clouds threatened rain, but never gave more than just a few sprinkles, which were greatly appreciated.

The race guide says that riders are going up to Panguitch Lake, when in reality, they are going a little past it to the final aid station, so be prepared for that. It was a little hard to see the lake and then ride right past it.

I knew I was one of the last riders so I was a little concerned that maybe the volunteers had already packed up the aid station and I wouldn’t know when to turn around. It would be good for race management to put a sign up somewhere along the lake to let people know how many miles they have until the aid station. If I didn’t hear a volunteer in a car driving back down holler at me that I still had 3 miles to go, I would have been really worried and may have flipped early.

Finally, I got to the aid station. I was the last person to make it all the way there and the volunteers were just about as giddy as I was. I filled up my bottles, grabbed another granola bar, and headed back down. Yes, it is down, but there are a couple of short climbs on the way back to Panguitch. One benefit of being the last rider is that one of the volunteers leap-frogged me all the way down the hill. As much as I would have liked to not be the last one, this was somewhat comforting and I was grateful for it.

Finally, finally, finally, I reached the finish line for the second time. I was the last rider to finish. Even though the race website said they would support riders until 6PM and I crossed at 5PM, most of the food, music, and tents were already packed up, which was a little disappointing.

Luckily the finish line was still there. I did get some pizza and a couple of little bottles of Sprite and I sat over by the splash pad to watch naked children run through the water while I waited for my husband to come get me.

It was a good day! The course was tough physically, mentally and emotionally, but I was tougher!


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