Norm Dettlaff treks the Doña Ana Mountains for the 2023 Horny Toad Hustle.
The sky was clear, there was an occasional gentle breeze, and the morning temps were pleasant. An excellent sign for an excellent race. Just over 150 competitors were registered to tackle the Horny Toad Hustle, a mountain bike race taking place in Southern New Mexico in the desert of the Doña Ana Mountains.
@visitlascruces I, Norm Dettlaff, communications specialist with Visit Las Cruces, raced in the Horny Toad Hustle mountain bike race last month. #mountainbike #lascruces #donaanamountainbiking #hornytoadhustle #mountainbikerace #visitlascruces ♬ original sound - Visit Las Cruces
This would be the first mountain bike race I competed in since living and working in Las Cruces. I found out about the Horny Toad Hustle when I was sent out to take photos of the event last year. As I captured the racers with my camera at the starting line twitching with anticipation and whizzing by with a burst of energy on their bikes in a cloud of dust, my thoughts began stirring up the yearning to ride and race in this two-wheeled, leg-powered, off-road competition.
Fast forward to July 2023 when I began training for this year’s Hustle. I found a map to the short course, a 10.5-mile loop beginning and ending at the Doña Ana Mountain Trail. The trailhead is on the east end of Desert Wind Way, about 3 miles north of the Las Cruces city border along Del Rey Boulevard before it turns into La Reina Road. I would start my rides in the mornings before the sun started heating up to triple digits. The mostly singletrack loop marked for this year’s race rises steadily for the first roughly 6 miles as it snakes through the prickly pear, hedgehog, and barrel cacti. Once you hit the crest, you begin to descend while dodging the yuccas, mesquite and occasional lizards scampering across the hard-packed desert all the while gripping onto your handlebars as you plunge over the rough terrain ripping through the dusty downhill sections.
I arrived on race day, Sunday, Sept. 24, at 7 a.m., one hour before the start signal. There was a buzz of activity as vendors and officials put up their canopies, entrants adjusted their bikes after taking short rides, music fanned through the air from the DJ tent, and contestants gathered at the starting line. The racers ranged in age from 7 to 67 and came from as far west as Phoenix, north as Santa Fe, east as Artesia and south as Juarez and competed in three groupings: a short 10.5-mile course; a medium 24-mile course; or a long 34-mile course within their respective age groups.
The first group of racers were called to the starting line at 8 a.m. They were in the short course, the one I was competing in. When the countdown ended, we started pushing our pedals to propel our mountain bikes up the doubletrack. The pack began to thin out as the stronger and faster riders kicked up rocks and pushed ahead. I, who had begun the race at the back of the pack, was in no rush because I didn’t sign up as much as to compete against fellow mountain bikers, but to mostly compete against myself and have fun. And boy, was it fun!
As I settled into my pace, I negotiated the sharp curves, strewn out gravel, and the technical steep jagged rock ascents. My pace was slow compared to most of the racers in my group, but still, sweat was burning my eyes, and I was huffing and puffing up the unwavering climb before reaching the point where the course takes a turn and begins the mostly downhill stretch. And that is when the speed increases and one’s adrenaline kicks up a notch because the speed increases and the thrill envelopes you as you maneuver the curves you slide into and the ledges, humps and bumps your bike’s suspension soaks up. In an officially clocked time of 01:28:04, I triumphantly crossed the finish line in sixth place. It was thrilling. It was grueling. It was exhilarating. And that’s when it really became fun.
Catching My Breath
As the racers crossed the finish line and caught their breaths, they joyfully shared their experience of battling the course and completing their competitive mountain bike journey. This was complemented with various types of burritos, freshly grilled hamburgers, snacks and chips–and beer–at no additional charge. The local mountain bike community really comes together to have an outstanding and lively experience at this event. I have participated in a few mountain bike races over the years, but I must say, the one I registered for in Las Cruces has been the one I have enjoyed and relished in the most.