They say cowboys are the toughest, flintiest characters out there, and that the Wyoming breed might be the most hard-bitten of them all.
Starting Thursday, the state will be the scene of a competition to give athletes a chance to prove they’re Wyoming hardy: the first-ever Cowboy Tough race that will feature a madcap scramble by bike, foot, climbing gear and canoe across 300 miles of roads, trails, mountainsides and blue water.
Think Ironman Triathalon or Tour de France -- only out in the middle of nowhere. It’s an Iditarod with sand, rock and relentless heat and sun. And no dogs.
Come to think of it, there probably won’t be many cowboy hats, either.
Still, event promoter Rev3 Adventure is billing the race as the toughest U.S. endurance test of them all. As of Wednesday, 80 racers on 30 two- and four-person teams had signed on for the challenge, which will start at Curt Gowdy State Park west of Cheyenne and end in Casper.
The goal of the race is to collect points by reaching as many checkpoints as possible over 3½ days, covering as much ground as possible, while getting very little sleep. Many of the daily courses will require up to 24 hours to traverse.
The Wyoming race will be one of two U.S. qualifiers for a worldwide competition. The other qualifer is being held in Pennsylvania.
Along the way, the Wyoming competitors will be subjected to some of the most trying -- and picturesque -- landscape in the American West.
And that might prove to be a gold mine for people like Lori Hogan.
She’s a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Office of Tourism, which expects the race to provide a boost to its $3-billion annual tourist industry.
“The Pennsylvania people won’t be going through as rural and rough terrain as here in Wyoming,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “In that state they can stop at a convenience store. In Wyoming they’re way out in the middle of nowhere with no place to stop. They’ll be taking survival gear.”
Race followers will get to see the rough beauty her state has to offer, Hogan said.
“These types of events are gaining in popularity throughout the world. That speaks volumes,” she said. “So we’ll see what it can do for us.”
The race will showcase not only Wyoming’s landscape and colorful place names but also its history.
The test will include rock climbing in Vedauwoo, a bike ride through Laramie to Medicine Bow, and a hike to Seminoe Reservoir to canoe its 18-mile length. Participants will also bike to Martin's Cove, where dozens of Mormon handcart pioneers perished in an 1856 blizzard.
The racers will have the option of pulling handcarts for five miles to earn extra points.
“That will be pretty extreme, pulling those handcarts for five miles,” Hogan told The Times. “It ties in to state history and what the Mormons had to deal with in terms of terrain and distance.”
Global positioning technology is prohibited and the racers will need to rely on compasses to locate many of the checkpoints. The exact route remains a secret until the day before the race to heighten the navigational challenge.
For the next three days, while the competitors might be cursing and sweating, Wyoming tourism officials will be beaming broad smiles.
Said Hogan: “People are going to look and say, ‘Wow, what a beautiful state. Let’s go there.’ ”