A group of cyclists ride along a desert road with mountains in the background

The conditions must be perfect: It has to take place during the hottest part of the year, the moon needs to be full to aid with visibility, and, most importantly, it cannot be a weekday. When all of these circumstances are met, then, and only then, do the residents of Marfa rally to shoulder the burdensome task of bringing sushi to their small West Texas town.

Full Moon
Sushi Ride
2024 Date TBA

To be more specific, it’s not exactly sushi—it’s sashimi. And if we’re nitpicking, it’s not even in Marfa proper. It’s precisely 31.07 miles outside the city center.

For Marfa’s annual Full Moon Sushi Ride, which typically takes place during the first weekend of July, bluefin tuna is overnighted via FedEx from a company based out of Baja, California. A flash-frozen product—what sushi chefs actually prefer because it locks in freshness—arrives in insulated boxes filled with dry ice and frozen gel packs, more out of necessity than any culinary preference.

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If this all sounds extreme, that’s because it is. But Luci Bockelie, a full-time employee at the Chinati Foundation and the volunteer caterer for the sushi ride, explored and exhausted all other options. Once for the event, she made the hourlong drive to Ojinaga, Mexico, for sushi-grade fish, only to come away empty-handed. She was further deterred when Border Patrol confiscated some groceries on another venture to Mexico a year later. “It became abundantly clear the airplane method was the way to go,” she says of her seafood procurement efforts.

While the sushi is served in a pay-what-you-can model, obtaining the product is enough to dissuade most non-locals from participating. The closest commercial airports to Marfa are El Paso and Midland, both three hours away. And if you thought it would be as simple as driving those 31.07 miles out of Marfa’s city center, you’re mistaken. Instead, starting at around 6 p.m., cyclists depart from the main road in town and pedal down Ranch Road 2810 under the setting sun.

According to Joey Benton and Faith Gay, owners of Cactus Liquors and the original organizers of this quixotic journey, the impetus behind it was a series of moonlight rides from Alpine to Study Butte that ended with the sun rising over the remains of the Big Bend Quicksilver Mine. In 2015, when Benton started organizing the rides himself, he moved them to FM 2810—what he calls “the most beautiful road in Texas”—and added a sashimi dinner as its grand finale.

A group of people eat sushi at dark at a table with lights down the center and a sign reading

Cyclists gather every summer in Marfa for bluefin tuna sashimi and good times.

In its near decade of existence, the ride continues to grow in popularity, though the menu has never changed. Dozens of bikers still crunch over gravel that begins where highway asphalt ends and prop their rides against a neighboring fence. There, they gather at a large table filled with flickering candlelight and take a load off in front of engraved chopsticks teetering over half-full ramekins of soy sauce. Bockelie stands at an adjacent table, slicing through a brick of pink flesh with a long Japanese blade. Nearby, a mountain of cucumber rolls and pre-prepped seaweed salad appeases famished guests.

A Fish Tale

How to get sushi-grade seafood from ocean to the arid bounds of far West Texas

10 A.M. Friday, Marfa
Luci Bockelie orders sashimi-grade ranched tuna from Catalina Offshore Products.

Noon Saturday, Mexico
Bluefin tuna are harvested in the pristine waters of Baja California.

9 A.M. Monday, San Diego, CA
Whole bluefin tuna is delivered, processed, and flash-frozen.

4 P.M. Wednesday, San Diego, CA
The product is shipped overnight express through FedEx.

11 A.M. Thursday, Marfa
Luci Bockelie receives the fish at her home, and she sets it out to cure for two days.

6:30 P.M. Saturday, Marfa
Everything is driven down to the race site for preparation.

Decadent ribbons of tuna sashimi and julienned cucumber shrouded in seaweed are transported directly from platters into mouths—the coolness of the fish a respite from the dwindling desert sun. Sated bikers head home, while slower participants arrive in time to take their place. Hitching a ride back to town after a serving of strawberry shortcake isn’t exactly frowned upon, but it is highly encouraged to return on two wheels—if only to witness the cosmic ballet of the West Texas skies at night.

“Raw tuna and soy sauce are actually great cycling fuel,” says Zeke Raney, an organizer of the Marfa 100 bike race who also helps cater the sushi ride’s central feast. “You get the protein from the fish and the sodium your body needs from the soy sauce. Even the strawberry shortcake has sugars your body is craving.”

If the prospect of traversing the isolation of the desert seems intimidating—particularly at night with only the light of the moon to guide you—Benton says there’s nothing to fear. According to the organizer, some out-of-towners got a flat tire a few years back and seemed spooked by the desolate surroundings. Yet they were never alone, as Benton and his team promptly showed up to fix the ruptured wheel. Ever since, leadership has ensured there are support riders who follow along guests throughout the entire trail, so no one feels left behind.

That, in a nutshell, is the spirit of the ride. Because at the end of the day, it’s not really about the temptation of an elusive craving. Or even the gratification that comes after tackling a long race. It’s about the community and camaraderie found in this unforgiving terrain.

“One of my favorite things about Marfa is that you have to make your own fun,” Benton says. “And this is one of those things. It’s over the top, it’s whimsical, but every time I do it, I’m reminded of why I love West Texas.”

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