Events

The Grind: Stupid Pony is a 200-mile gravel race through the Utah desert

Last year, most starters did not finish. Race directory Bobby Kennedy is excited for a third edition this fall.

The Grind is a weekly column on all things gravel.

It began, as many such things do, with a half-baked idea.

“Some of my friends and I decided to try riding across the old Pony Express route as a bikepack,” said Bobby Kennedy of a 2015 plan to ride 200 miles across the Utah desert. “We had never heard of anybody doing it before. I’m sure somebody had, but we didn’t know about it.”

“We got a ride west, and then, over the course of three days, we rode the 200 miles back to Salt Lake City,” said Kennedy, a graduate student at the University of Utah. “I had a huge bag bungee-corded to saddle, and had to stop every 15 minutes to readjust it. We ran out of water. But it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.”

The trip made a lasting impression on him. He commemorated the trip with a tattoo.

Kennedy’s initial 200-mile ride made an impression on him. Or, at least, a tattoo artist did.

Fast forward to 2019, and the inaugural Stupid Pony gravel race saw 20 riders set out from Eagle Mountain to Wendover, Utah for a one-day, 218-mile race. With grueling conditions and minimal support, only 10 finished.

Last year, 28 riders took the start including former road pro TJ Eisenhart, and 12 finished. Tim Tait won the men’s race in 13 hours and 46 minutes. Jackie Baker was the first woman across the line in 20 hours and 29 minutes.

For 2021, Kennedy is offering a 100-mile race, the Salty Lizard 100, the 200-plus-mile Stupid Pony, and then a 310-mile race, the Stupid Lizard.

2020 Stupid Pony winner Tim Tait motors on into the dusk.

Kennedy peppers the whole concept of his race with desert-dry humor. The award for winning the Stupid Pony women’s race? “Definitely a t-shirt, maybe also a car wash.” And the award for the first man? “One of my t-shirts in some kind of condition.”  The description for the Salty Lizard 100 Tandem race reads, “The ultimate test of a relationship, whether you’re spouses or strangers who just happened to show up on the same bicycle.”

You get the idea.

For support on the Stupid Pony, Kennedy Water offers three aid stations at approximately 60, 110, and 160 miles in. The first one consists of jugs of water. The second two have running water. In addition to these aid stations “to prevent you from dying,” there will be “one guy in a pickup.” Last year said guy in the pickup was busy ferrying DNFers to safety.

Stupid Pony promises three aid stations “and one guy in a pickup” for support.

While water is of prime importance, toting clothing (and of course food and flat-fixing gear) is a close second, as last year the race started in sub-freezing temps before climbing to the 70s by mid-day.

Kennedy promises challenge, more scenery than you’ll know what to do with, and the good chance that you will live to regret it, “most likely.” (But he’s joking, of course; surviving is listed in the races rules, which include ‘#1. Don’t die.‘ and ‘#2. Don’t cause others to die.‘)

The first year Kennedy ran the event for free, just asking for donations.

“I was a bike mechanic and a grad student, so was dead broke,” he said. “The thought was to split the cost of a sag. Once I put that on Facebook, people were like, ‘okay, I’ve always wanted to do that.'”

TJ Eisenhart rolls across the Utah desert.

This year prices range from $25 to $140, depending on the distance. The Stupid Pony is $80.

Kennedy completed his master’s degree in environmental humanities — “I spent most of the degree trying to figure out what that means” — and is now working on his Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Utah, with specialties in Western literature and Native American literature. Read his site and you’ll likely appreciate his use of language. Or at least appreciate the divergence from typical corporate-speak one sees in many events’ self-promotion.

To wit, here is one of his pitches to come join the 2021 Stupid Pony:

“There’s going to be lots of distance, good friends, and a LOT of time to yourself to rue your shitty risk-management apparatus. So come join us! It’s really pretty out here. You probably won’t regret it, even!”

Check out the photos below for more from last year’s Stupid Pony.

Racers leave the start at Eagle Mountain in sub-freezing temps.
A rider descends towards Black Rock Station.
A lone Stupid Pony rider in Overland Canyon.
Tait finishes in the dark, in Wendover, Utah.