As the moon crept between the sun and the Earth, an unexpected chill ran through the air along Ranch Road 2810 in Marfa.
We’d gotten off our bikes after 31 miles to peer up at the sun’s visible crescent through flimsy cardboard eclipse glasses, but hurriedly remounted as the temperature began to drop—almost grateful for the mile-long climb back up onto the plateau, away from the Chinati Mountains, back toward town. The 2023 Marfa100, a 62-mile cycling race held in Marfa, coincided with an annular eclipse on Oct. 14, lending an unusual magic to the yearly two-wheeled jaunt through the alpine desert. I fell in love with the ride in 2017 and haven’t missed one since, each year recruiting more friends and family members to travel out to West Texas with me for the breathtaking—if not strenuous—route down RR 2810.
Bike the Marfa100
The Marfa100 is a charitable bike race held annually that kicks off in Marfa.
Next race: Oct. 12, 2024
Registration for the 2024 event is now open. Sign up or volunteer at marfa100.com.
The sold-out event this year attracted cyclists of all ages—from 17 to 79—and from all over Texas, including Austin, Beaumont, Dallas, El Paso, and Houston, and out-of-staters from as far as Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington. Thirteen years into its existence, organizers are seeking to strike a delicate balance as the Marfa100 looks to the next decade and beyond.
“The scenery and the land and the weather and the eclipse—that stuff is amazing,” former U.S. representative and Marfa100 participant Beto O’Rourke tells me over the phone the week after the race. “But the organizers did an exceptional job of everything that you can control, like the food and the beer and the camaraderie and the culture of the race.”
Marfa Public Radio created the event—which takes place every October—in 2010 as a fundraiser for the station. The ride has evolved in the years since, benefiting charities like the Marfa International School, Dixon Water Foundation, Marfa’s Volunteer Fire Department, and the Livestrong Foundation. This year, proceeds went to The Marfa Public Library. Starting at Marfa’s city limits and winding out past the yucca plants, cattle ranches, and slow-moving tarantulas of the Chihuahuan desert, the course extends to the end of the pavement on RR 2810 and back again.
“I’ve done really uptight road racing, where everything is super competitive. I’ve done mountain bike festivals [that] are about drinking and other things,” says Roberto Barrio, founder and owner of El Paso’s Crazy Cat Cyclery. He’s been coming to Marfa for the race since 2011. “The Marfa100 is different. It’s unique and special because of that and it’s become my favorite ride of the year.”
Now organized by local architects Elizabeth Farrell and Zeke Raney, the race drew 400 participants in 2023—a record for the event, which has exploded in popularity in recent years. In its early years, a couple dozen people rode. In 2013, Joey Benton and Faith Gay took over and grew it to around 100 riders by 2019, then passed it off to Farrell and Raney. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was virtual, allowing participants to record their rides from anywhere. “Somehow, after that pandemic year, interest in the Marfa100 has really grown,” Farrell says. “We don’t do marketing, […] it’s really just word of mouth, from what we can tell.”
By capping the race at 400 riders—300 slots for the 100-kilometer race and another 100 for the untimed 50-kilometer fun ride—Farrell and Raney seek to retain the friendly, homemade feel that’s defined the race since its early days. This year, they added an eclipse viewing event for non-riders at the USO Pavilion, hosted by the Marfa Public Library. The complete “ring of fire” effect created by the annular eclipse wasn’t visible from Marfa, but riders and fans saw 85% coverage, making the sun appear as a thin crescent behind the moon.
While Farrell and Raney won’t get a solar eclipse for next year’s ride, they’re considering an additional 160-kilometer option. That would take riders beyond the pavement of Ranch Road 2810 and down the gravel toward a historic adobe church in the tiny border town of Ruidosa, which is currently undergoing a long-awaited restoration effort.
Though Marfa’s popularity as a tourist destination can be a double-edged sword for locals, longtime resident and owner of barbecue joint Convenience West Mark Scott says the attention Marfa100 attracts is different. This year was Convenience West’s second time catering the post-race meal. Cactus Liquors, owned by Benton and Gay, sponsored the event and donated beer. Snow Marfa served snow cones and El Cosmico, Little Juice, Bordo, Mira Marfa and Joe Crow Coffee offered discounts to riders. By giving back to local charities, including local businesses, and supporting a local cycling scene year round, the Marfa100 avoids most of that resentment from longtime residents. “There’s so much local participation,” says Scott, who also rode the 100-kilometer race this year. “It definitely feels like a local event.”
Though these days it feels like a full-blown affair, Marfa100 wasn’t profitable in its early years. “It basically lost money every year,” Benton says, laughing. By 2019, it was in the black, making a couple thousand dollars that would go toward the next year. But to make it more sustainable, a bigger sponsor could help, Benton says.
“It’s such a fabulous event,” he says from his front porch, the morning after the race. Finding a sponsor that could offer a bit of financial cushion, he explains, but that respects the spirit of the race, could help make it more sustainable for everyone. “I don’t know who that is—I don’t think it’s necessarily someone in the bike world. It might be someone in the outdoors world or the travel world.”
Either way, cyclists all over the country are already looking toward 2024. O’Rourke, who placed third in his age group, plans to return next year—and so do I.