Paying Penance: 12 Hours of Penitence

pen·ance: (n) voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.

The 12 Hours of Penitence Mountain Bike Race (12 HOP) is not for the faint of heart. This annual bike race, started in 2015, covers nearly 17 miles of San Luis Valley (SLV) single and two-track along winding, switch-backing stretches of path, taking riders through world-renowned Penitente Canyon and along trails within the La Garita mountains – the foothills to the San Juans east of the Continental Divide in southern Colorado. Featuring cactus-infested stretches, narrow rock outcrops, steep drops, and expansive views of the valley and Sangre de Cristo mountain range, 12HOP is rightly named.

Operated by locally owned company, SLV Dirt Worx, the race has undergone several transitions (and improvements) in its short life. Originally created and operated by a Salida company, the race was at risk of being abandoned shortly after its first year. Fortunately, thanks to the support of local business owners and community members, SLV Dirt Worx purchased the race in early 2016 to ensure the event stayed within the SLV and benefited local organizations. That year, the race competed with several local events as well as collegiate cycling competitions, but still managed to bring out over 70 riders and raise $3,500 for Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (the race beneficiary in 2015 and 2016).

Officially completing its third year in October, participation boosted to 89 riders from across Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region in ten categories, including single speed male/female (M/F) and single/duo/3-person M/F/co-ed teams. And many of those riders were repeat attendees from previous years, perhaps proving this year’s race director’s comments true: “It’s the kind of race that inspires one to want to do it again because you want to do it better next time,” says Tamera Daniel.

For 12 hours, riders endured grueling uphill, rocky, unforgiving hike-a-bike sections, and impressively windy conditions. From sunrise to sunset, racers pedaled 223 laps, covered 3,791 miles and climbed 372,000 feet. And this year, thanks to event sponsors including local businesses (Del Norte Bank, Kristi Mountain Sports, Del Norte Trails Organization and more), county governments (Rio Grande and Saguache), and racer registration, 12HOP raised $5,000 for the new beneficiary, Rio Grande County Rattlers High School MTB Team, which aims to get more kids on bikes.

In preparation for the 4th annual 12HOP, SLV Dirt Worx is already in planning mode. For starters, as of November, the company is officially recognized as a 501c3 non-profit organization and has organized a Board of Directors. With this status and the new board, the organization hopes for the opportunity to increase the funds generated for race beneficiaries in the future while ensuring planning and operations run efficiently year after year.

Additionally, race organizers plan to grow the “festival” vibe present at this year’s event. Raleigh Burt, of SLV Dirt Worx, shared that “racers and attendees can expect more vendors and live music” along with plenty of camping options (tent and RV), a family-friendly atmosphere, and more to be announced.

Burt shared that the SLV Dirt Worx/12HOP are excited to continue working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages the land the race course is set on. When asked about the sustainability of this race and the trails, he proudly shared that the BLM confirmed that “trails are basically in better shape than they were before” thanks to being used by riders more frequently, ultimately reducing overgrowth of vegetation. Burt also noted that next year, they hope to reach 150 registrants/racers and continue to grow the event and valley exposure, echoing Daniel’s sentiments of the San Luis Valley becoming a mountain biking destination, “it elevates perception of the area from a mountain biking perspective [and] the [trail] quality and challenge aspects are unexpected surprises,” said Daniel.

2017 12HOP Results (1st place all categories):

Singlespeed Solo – G’s up, Spense strong

Male Solo – Tom Kavanaugh

Female Solo – Sarah Ginsbach

Male Duo – Dos Subculture Jason (Jason Shelman, Jason Willis)

Female Duo – Primal Girls (Laurie Brandt, Paige Hauptmann)

Co-Ed Duo – NA

Male Trio – Mount Massive Thighs (Will Wicherski, Alex Hamilton, David Clark-Barol)

Female Trio – Ketamine Kids (Linda Lee, Becky Church, Member name not listed)

Coed Trio – The Smokin’ Ponies (M Caleb Young, M Amy Young, Geoff Heller)

Fastest Lap – Jason Willis (Dos Subculture Jason)

For those interested in gaining a glimpse of what 12HOP has to offer, check out the short video filmed by Outside Adventure Media at the 2017 race.

To view the complete 2017 12HOP results, visit their “Results” page, and to register for the 2018 event, taking place October 13, 2018, keep an eye on the 12HOP website and Facebook.


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