Thousands of bikes, 100 miles, and one race: The Desert 100 - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Thousands of bikes, 100 miles, and one race: The Desert 100

Posted: Updated:

ODESSA, WA - When you think about rural Washington, popular sporting events that draw thousands of people don’t usually come to mind. But that’s exactly what happens in Odessa, Washington in the spring: the Desert 100 comes to town.

The 47th Annual Stumpjumpers Desert 100, to be exact. Dirt bikes and hundreds of trailers and campers overtake a section of land just outside of Odessa in late March. The reason? An off-road race…but it’s what goes on outside of this race that brings in people from around the state.

I first spoke with Zach Schafer, a born-and-raised Odessa resident, Chamber of Commerce president, and owner of Rocky Coulee Brewing Company. His family has lived in Odessa for generations; in fact, they still own the land deed from the U.S. Government’s Homestead Act, which President Theodore Roosevelt signed himself. Schafer’s family got tied to the Desert 100 back in 2003 when the race was moved from Vantage to Odessa; his father was the one who found the location for the event.

“For me, the Desert 100 means work, and more than anything lots and lots of fun,” Schafer explained. “The economic stimulus the event provides is huge.”

He says the event is so big for local retailers and restaurants that they have to stock up on a month’s worth of supplies for just three days. As for Schafer, he gets to brewing. Two beers on tap in the beer tent are his own.

“My business is Rocky Coulee Brewing Company; that’s my business,” said Schafer. “How I make my living is by making beer.”

Which explains why I found him in the beer tent. While there, I also found Marlon Schafer (Coincidentally, not related to Zach Schafer). He’s a Chamber of Commerce chairman who partakes in the festivities by overseeing the state’s only “hospitality tent”, a beer tent that allows minors inside even though they aren’t allowed to drink. Schafer says that because the Desert 100 is such a family-focused event, he wants to keep it that way in every aspect, including inside the beer tent.

“We want to stay family-focused,” Schafer said. “It’s very important to us.”

But don’t worry – kids aren’t able to sneak sips off their parents’ drinks. Schafer said that they take their staff hiring for the tent very seriously to ensure that no one under 21 can drink…but also to ensure that the family fun doesn’t end where the tent begins.

And keeping everything family-friendly is the overall focus for Race Chairman Jason Volberding.

“It's different than anywhere else,” he said. “Here everybody just gets along really well, it's an awesome community.”

Although Volberding's many duties include ordering T-shirts, course marking materials, port-a-pottys, dumpsters, equipment, and much more, you can easily see how much enjoyment he gets out of his role in the Stumpjumpers club.

And what's his favorite part about the Desert 100?

“It's just how happy people are when they're here,” Volberding said.

I asked Sweep Captain Pete Wisner for one single sentence to describe the Desert 100, and although it took him all weekend to come up with just a single sentence to wrap up the entire event, he finally gave me an answer.

“It's the Burning Man of dirt bike races.”