Written by: Scott Tinley
During the week leading up to the 1994 Hawaiian Ironman, I scheduled a meeting of prominent race directors who were in Kona. We met in a hotel conference room and discussed the idea of combining mountain biking and trail running near a mountain lake. Some of the problems facing future growth of the sport at the time, included drafting, road closures, traffic, and un-exciting courses. An off-road triathlon, a few of us argued, would address all of those.
There was interest by the race directors but none of them had experience in the alpine sports. And they wanted a lot of seed money. Folks, I suggested, we can’t wait for the mythical 7-figure sponsor. Let’s find a local mud hole, a bike path, and see how this goes.
Six months later no one had bit. Then Terry Davis from Tri-California called. I think I have a spot near San Luis Obispo, he suggested. Can you come up and design a course for the fall (1995)?
On my way.
That first year we invited every free-thinking triathlon pro who had any decent skills on a mountain bike. All that showed were Jimmy Riccitello, Ray Browning, Scott Schumaker and myself. The four of us had done some MTB racing in the off-seasons and were hooked.
Terry and I opted to run the event in a three day stage-race pattered off of the festival that his Wildflower Series had become. The camping at Lake Lopez was and is phenomenal: uncrowded, clean, lake views, and in near proximity to fifty miles of off road trails.
That first year there were five events over three days and for some inane reason that fails me now, Jimmy, Ray, Scott, and I opted to race in all of them. Geez it was tough. Am pretty sure Jimmy won the GC. Attendance was around 250 athletes and a new sport was born. Geez it was fun.
In an effort to celebrate dirt and mud, we staged a “mud-hole challenge” and prayed for rain. The mud hole was hilarious as rider after rider sunk deeper and deeper. But the rains, year after soggy moldy year, became a challenge. So, we moved the event to early October from its mid November date and it’s been dry as a chip for a decade.
After ten years of trying to sell the idea of off-road triathlons, and race participant numbers remaining steady at 500--give or take 50 kids doing their own event--road courses were added. The surrounding farmland and rolling hills were discovered by athletes looking for a well-produced event that wasn’t Titanic-deck crowded. In the Tinley’s sprint, Olympic, and long course, there was elbow room. And were still able to park their car 100 yards from their transition area.
The event grew a bit those in-the-know were loath to spread the word for fear or over-population. But Terry and Tri-California thought a few more bodies wouldn’t be a problem. And so we offered prize money to the pros.
But they didn’t even to stay to pick up their checks at the awards ceremony. Never mind.
I suppose if you know how cool it is you show up regardless. And after 20 years, that’s where it remains . . . still cool.