Thursday, August 11, 2011

Soaring Through the Mount Shasta Summit Century

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining 700 cyclists for the 2011 Mount Shasta Summit Century Ride in Northern California. This 139-mile ride tours through some beautiful hill country, and with 16,500'+ of climbing that concludes on gorgeous Mt. Shasta, it presented an adventure worthy of a now-annual "dudes weekend" with my cycling buddies.

We drove up the day before, excited for the good weather projected to peak in the low 90's, and nervous that the bike rack was worth four times more than the car it was attached to. As we approached the Mt. Shasta exit of I-5, it was clear that we were among our people, for every car had a similar investment ratio, and that same nervous passenger in the back seat fixated on the bikes with unblinking eyes. We collectively sighed relief as we filled Mt. Shasta City Park for registration, relaxing in the low-key vibe of a small town ride.

The "Super Century" is the longest option at 139 miles, so like any group of dudes is prone to do, we signed up for the longest option regardless of our level of training. But I was glad to see that this gang of five was looking pretty fit for a group of dads in their 30's and 40's, and they knew to take the mileage seriously. Otherwise you would have to drop out early, and endure the required year of hazing for such a tragic move. The pictures alone...I can't imagine that kind of pain.

(Breakfast of champions!)
(Early AM Start, photos courtesy of Devo)
4:30am PB&J's got us on our way, and we relied on the headlights of Dan (aka, "Diesel Dan") and Brian (my brother-in-law) to lead us through the first 10 miles. Leave it to my former Western States crew members, they were prepared! The roads were CRAZY smooth, and there wasn't a car in sight as we entered the first of four climbs and watched the sun rise behind Mt. Shasta.

Chris Devine (aka, "Devo") was our local tour guide, a resident of nearby Chico, CA, who had just finished a long ride in nearby Lassen Park. He pointed out to us that most of the climbs would be like the first one - tall (3600' of climbing) but not a high grade, with 8 miles to get there. It was a comfortable pace, just enough to keep a breeze going, instead of an out-of-the-saddle grunt fest.
(Mark and Brian are feeling good as the sun comes up)
 We met some characters at the top of the first climb, none more so than "Two Hats", a through-hiker from Australia who had started up the Pacific Coast Trail in Mexico 90 days earlier, on his way to Canada. Lets just say he was pretty stoked to see a bunch of people AND a bunch of fresh cut watermelon. 

(Dabell shares the road with cars smaller than him)
(Two Hats keeps us entertained)
(Brian makes some new friends)
(Still going!)
The descent was smooth and easy to navigate thanks to an insanely well marked course. They even highlighted divots in the road with neon marker so you could spot them on descents! It provided a nice level of comfort for these 35-45 mph plunges. I bet the pros on the TdF would go for that.

We spilled out into the farmland, taking a tour through Weed, CA (where "I *heart* Weed" t-shirts mean something completely different than any other college campus) and finishing 50 miles by 9 o-clock. Phew! We were making good time. Unfortunately, we had to stop for a mechanical issue as Mark Dabell's headset kept coming loose. He would have to stay behind for 20-30 minutes to get it fixed, but would catch up.

(Brian cruises through the farm land)
(Objects may be larger than they appear)

(Perhaps this farmer is doing the Century?)
(Great aid stations with plenty of room!)
We charged into climb #2, the 3300' ascent up Mumbo Summit. Similar to the first climb, most of it was long and easy, but the heat was becoming a factor. A few steep pitches near the top had some riders criss-crossing the street or seeking a shady spot, but nobody was quitting! Before too long, we arrived on top and took a break to cool down. Lipton Brisk was going down a bit TOO easy, as I chased down 2-3 in one sitting.

As we descended, we ran into Dabell with less than two miles of climbing to go, but he chose to descend with us and save some for climb #3, the steep 2200' climb in the hottest part of the day. That proved to be a good move.
(Dan takes on Mumbo Summit)
This climb was the first time the group split, and it was the heat that did it. Within minutes, Brian said "F THIS!" and charged to get through the steamy heat quickly, while I found the happy medium of a fast aerobic climb that gave just enough breeze to not fry. The rest thought it best to conserve, and found a slower pace to their liking. Soon enough, we all made it to the top within two hours and could sit by Mountain Lake and enjoy the graciousness of their volunteers. I loved the fact that our riding group knows each other so well, that nobody has to wait for anyone!

We came into the lunch stop around 3pm, already 101 miles under our belt and still needing to tackle the 4400' climb up to Old Ski Bowl on Mt. Shasta. Everyone was looking good, showing only the slightest signs of wear and exposure (much in thanks to regular intake of S!Caps, a secret we learned at The Death Ride). Sore asses were wondering when the madness would stop. Just. One. More. Hill.
(Brian, me, and Devo loading up at lunch)
Only a handful or riders were around us as we took off up Mt. Shasta, and it was great to catch up and talk with people we had only previously identified as "Canada" (woman with a national jersey), "Beard Guy" (shoulder-length beard that parts down the middle on descents), "Sausalito" (guess where he's from?), and "Ripped Dude" (no explanation necessary). We had 3.5 hours to climb 16 miles, then turn around and descend in less than 20 minutes. Fun!

The stagnant heat came out on the first long stretch, and there were a few groans from the pack as the road pitched up. One happy group of supporters doused is with all the water they had (which was a lot), complete with a nice little shove up the hill. Allez! Allez! But for the rest of the climb, it was heads down, no talking, just you and nature. We all found that place of truth and pedaled.

(Brian and Devo power up the last climb)
I had taken good care of myself today, with Vespa, plenty of S!Caps and water, sunscreen at every stop, and not holding back at any aid station buffet. Plus a good aerobic base from being unemployed was helpful. ;-) I seemed to have one gear left - about 140 watts - which was enough to leapfrog back and forth with Brian and Dabell towards the summit, with Devo and Dan not too far behind. The road was amazing, weaving up the hill in long smooth turns. This was going to be a great descent!

I cruised through Bunny Flats (3 miles to go!), while Brian and Dabell stopped to take a picture to memorialize returning here after an ascent on Shasta some 12 years ago. These are some old friends! We soon broke free of the treeline and make the last few switchbacks to Old Ski Bowl, which at 7,700' feet, was only half way to the top. We enjoyed some snacks in the belly of the mountain, joining with the volunteers to provide a small cheering section for fellow finishers. Brian had finished next, then Devo, then Dabell, but Dan was still on the hill. The clock said 6:10pm...aid station closes at 6:30pm. C'mon, Diesel Dan!!!
(almost there!)
(20 minutes to beer!)
Our spirits lifted when we found Dan just a mile down the road, easily making the aid station in time for a daylight descent. The highway stretched out and let us soar down effortlessly, as we chased the sunset through the clouds.
(A descent to heaven)
Beered and showed, we headed to Goat Tavern to feast and relive our favorite moments of the day. Our bodies were so starving, any plate of food brought to the table would be consumed in seconds in a "speed dating" format, rinsed with waves of red wine. We deserved the dark seat in the back of the deck, I'm sure, but took the responsibility seriously.

This annual trip blossomed from a dare among friends that was always one-upped, and it is already creating a legacy of stories full of fun, adventure, and far too many ridiculous dude cliches. We said "see you next year", knowing this was true for many of us, but smiling aware that we would ride again soon.

Oh, yes, we will ride again!



  1. I like the beer while sporting the "century slump" posture! That's classic.

  2. Badass ride and report! Hopefully sometime I can make this ride happen with some fellow riders also from Memphis. Your report has now added this ride to the old bucket list, which only gets longer as I get older and learn of great adventures like this one! Thank you!

  3. Great post. The area around Shasta is amazing.

  4. Nice report, Scott. Sounds like we got to the top of the last climb at about the same time. Amazing ride, huh? Here's my report:

  5. Think you meant to say Pacific Crest Trail ;)


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