Wild Horse Dirt Fondo 2015 Ride Report: by Ricky Howton

About the Wild Horse Dirt Fondo

The Wild Horse ride, held on May 30, 2015, is Utah’s first Dirt Fondo. Taking place 45 minutes west of downtown Salt Lake City in the picturesque Cedar Mountains, this ride features absolutely no pavement. It is wide open, challenging and a place where hundreds of wild horses run free.

Ricky is a former Ocalan road, MTB and cyclocross rider, whose latest venture is dipping his toes into the world of gravel cycling. There seems to be a pattern forming with current and former residents of Florida…


Ricky’s Ride Report

Approximately 150 riders milled around at the start, with two routes on tap to choose from. The “Little Horse”, measuring 31 miles in length, and the “Full Horse”, approximately 76 miles in length. Over the course of those 76 miles, elevation would gain by 5,500 feet. Cyclocross bikes were not advised by the promoter, particularly if you were planning on riding the big loop.

Riders milling at the start.

The race is located in a spot in Utah known as Delle, which is nothing more than an exit off Interstate 80, with a single convenience store as the star attraction.

WildHorse2015-1The race kicked off at 9am. From the gun the pace was full gas, causing me to go into the red zone. I’d been racing well all year, and was hoping to field great fitness to contend for a top placing? Perhaps it was the heat of the day affecting me? With temperatures already in the 80’s Fahrenheit, things wouldn’t bode well if you went out too hard, too early. Additionally, with the course being open desert, matters weren’t helped.

I played it smart and rode within my limits, finding myself with a small pack of riders behind the seven leaders. Much of the climbing came in the first 40 miles, which was taking its toll on everyone. Between the wind and sun exposure, progress was slow going to say the least! Glancing down at my Garmin would reveal speeds between 8 – 9 mph, turning every mile into an absolute eternity.

The course is beyond the scope of many gravel races. Three brave souls attempted the ride on cyclocross bikes. Due to the difficult terrain and torrid pace, these fellows suffered greatly, often relegated to walking their bikes. Narrow tires and rigid bikes aren’t always advantageous.

Hastings Pass, photo by Don DeBlieux.
Hastings Pass, photo by Don DeBlieux.

I was making good progress, tapping out my race tempo, when I discovered one of the cyclocross riders laying on the ground in the fetal position. He’d found the cooling shade of the only, lonely bush along the course. I stopped to check on his well-being, which thankfully was good. However, with the realization of no cell phone reception, and the closest human life form located 20 miles away at the finish, I needed to hammer home and alert the race director.


The Last 20 Miles and Observations

With additional motivation to bring it home strong, I began picking off riders who were feeling the effects of their rapid start. Riding conservatively early on had paid off! I caught everyone barring the three leaders, who were working well together. I caught sight of them, but with the harsh and hot winds, I simply didn’t have enough in reserve to make the catch.

Left: Brandon Pierce, Right: Ricky Howton.

The Wild Horse Dirt Fondo is a brand new event for 2015, and I must compliment the race director on a fine job. Between the tacos at the finish line and raffle with enough goodies ensuring everyone got a prize, I will certainly return in the future! I walked away with a large container of Hammer Nutrition’s Heed, so no complaints there!

As alluded to earlier, the course is beyond the scope of a regular gravel event. With the huge ruts, loose gravel and countless volleyball size rocks, I chose well riding a full suspension MTB. In fact, my suspension was seldom locked out during the ride. However, as I now have some familiarity with the area, I would like to attempt it on a Monster Cross type bike. Wondering if I could do it faster in 2016?

At the end of the day, the event was a blast, epic and brutal. It was amazing to ride in such an untamed location relying on myself for support, sometimes accompanied by other unique individuals also brave enough to tackle the event. As an added bonus, I was one of the few on the day to witness a pack of wild horses as they ran across the road ahead!

Horses along the course; a Stallion and his mares + little one. Photo by Eric Greenwood.

And about that cyclocross rider – he did make it to the finish 🙂

Website – The Wild Horse. Facebook – The Wild Horse.


  1. K-Dogg K-Dogg

    Wow……”fetal position……the one lonley bush.”
    My kind of race.

  2. Avatar AP

    Great write-up, Ricky. I also pedaled the full course and found it challenging and fun. Wasn’t the tailwind nice for the last 25 or so miles? I loved that.

    I also thought the support was great. At no point was there “no human life form” 20 miles from a rider. I received excellent support throughout the race, including a spare tire from the race director at aid 3, along with great and plentiful food and hydration at each of the rest stops. There was SAG support, top-notch medical support from University of Utah health care, etc.

    While the difficulty of the race (and the heat as well, which was not a factor at the start but certainly played a role as the mercury rose) may have reduced some riders to seeking shade, any and all emergency situations would have been covered as well as possible by event volunteers.

    Cheers, and see you at the 2016 version!

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