A rider at last year’s Skinny Tire Festival. This year’s festival returns on March 9. [Photo courtesy of Beth Griffith]

There are many reasons why the Skinny Tire Festival draws participants like Phil Patten, of Utah County, to return year after year.

Patten and his wife have attended the road cycling event for the past six years for its “party atmosphere,” the supported ride through Arches National Park and the camaraderie with fellow cyclists.

“What keeps us coming back every year are the people we have met while there,” Patten said. “We keep in contact with people from Calgary, Canada. We’ve met people from Texas, and all over. We enjoy meeting new people every year.”

Plus, having lost two family members to cancer, the couple appreciates that the weekend event is also a fundraiser for cancer research and survivors.

Mark Griffith founded the Skinny Tire Festival in 2001 as a way to deal with his grief over the death of his brother from cancer. Griffith donates $25 from every registration to Moab’s cancer treatment center. Individual riders also use the event to raise money for cancer facilities in their own communities.

The Skinny Tire Festival raised $1,200 its first year. Since then, more than $5 million has been donated to various cancer foundations and beneficiaries, including Moab Regional Hospital’s cancer treatment and infusion room. Money has also been donated to the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the National Lymphoma and Leukemia Society.

“It was a healing thing to take a physical activity and focus it in a positive way against a problem like cancer,” Griffith said.

While the festival’s four-day event is sold out (Arches National Park caps the number of participants at 400 for the Monday ride) people can still sign up for two days of cycling on March 9 and 10. Those rides include a route to Dead Horse Point State Park from Red Cliffs Adventure Lodge and back on Saturday, and a ride along the Colorado River on state Route 128 on Sunday.

“That’s a great day, a nice social, rolling hill spin,” Griffith said.

A “sag” vehicle will be available to give people a lift in case of injury, a flat tire, or to simply skip a grueling uphill climb. A network of volunteer ham radio operators will be on hand to assist event organizers with communication amongst staff and participants.

“The support vehicles are more like a shuttle service,” Griffith said. “You can get a ride to the next aid station, or to shave off a hill. We can talk to any ham radio operator anywhere on the route. Ham radio allows for communication where there is no cell service.”

The weekend includes a Sunday lunch at Red Cliffs Adventure Lodge, and a lunch on Saturday at Aarchway Inn, where there will also be live music and a keynote speaker. Dr. Ray Andrew will talk about “functional medicine” and the root causes of disease, Griffith said.

Because it supports a good cause, the event also draws noncyclists to volunteer at the aid stations along the route, Griffith said. Some out-of-state cyclists come to ride for two days, and volunteer the other couple of days, he added.

When Patten, who turns 60 on his birthday in March, first began attending the Skinny Tire Festival a few years ago, he said he was inspired by the age range of people, including people older than him who are participating. He said he figures he’ll be able to ride in the Skinny Tire Festival for at least another 15 years.

Road bicycling event benefits cancer research and survivors

When: March 9-12

Where: Various locations

Cost: $165 for two days

Info: Visit www.skinnytireevents.com or call 435-260-8889

“What keeps up coming back every year are the people we have met while there.”