Friday, August 12, 2011


I’m a few days removed from the Shasta Summit Century and have had time to reflect on my 10-plus hours in the saddle. Here are my thoughts, all sorta bullet-pointed.

• It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Harder than the 2006 Ironman Coeur D’Alene which I did in 92-degree temps. There, however, I was able to stop every mile during the marathon and shove ice and cold sponges in my cap, my shirt, everywhere. I tried that here (and the Shasta aid stations were terrific) but during a bike tour/century ride, aid stations are fewer and it's farther between each one.

• Because of the heat, I felt horribly nauseous from the four-hour mark on, which was the start of the second climb. (The high was 86 degrees but riding all day on the shadeless tarmac felt much hotter; the ambient temperature was about 100.) I also reached a point on both the third and fourth climbs where I couldn’t elevate my heart rate above 130 (usually on rides like this, I try to stay right around 150) and I began to wonder if I was doing damage to myself. First time I’ve ever had thoughts like that. During these climbs my interior monologue was filled with personal vows: this is the last of the ultra-long stuff. No more Ironmans, no more 50K running races, I’ll probably never do a 100-mile mountain bike race, etc. They’re just not my strength and I don’t want to do permanent damage. Give me three-, four-hour events, but that’s it; Shasta is my swan song to the long stuff. I’m turning 50 in a few weeks so the time seems right.
Mark Clausen and I. Photo by Adam Morley.
• Truthfully, I have no idea how I made it to the end of the final 14-mile climb (with its 4,150 feet of elevation gain) to the foot of Mount Shasta. When I hit the lunch spot after climb 3, I was done and though disappointed, I knew I’d gone as far as I possibly could. So I lay in the grassy shade for what seemed like hours, commiserating with some dude who was going through the same thing I was. I couldn’t eat or even drink anything; I just wanted to go back to my air-conditioned hotel room, lay in bed and watch the Yanks-Red Sox game on TV. At some point though, I realized I was beginning to feel only regular horrible, as opposed to I-want-to-vomit-up-my-guts, shoot-me-now-please-and-put-me-out-of-my-misery horrible, as I'd been feeling. So I got on my bike to pedal back to my car at Mount Shasta City Park.

• Luckily, the route to the park was the same as to get to the final climb and, since I wasn’t feeling quite so bad, with the help of my Garmin 500, I did some quick math. I’d ridden 100 miles to that point and climbed 10,000 feet which I’d done only once before (RAMROD ’04). But if I could just make it another 3 miles or so, I’d have 11,000 feet—my biggest day of climbing ever, so I’d at least be able to salvage something. So I did that. Felt a little more horrible, but not terribly horrible. Then figured I’ll try for 12,000 feet. Did that. Then I figured out where the halfway point of the climb was, then the two-thirds point, then what time does darkness hit? OK, I should be able to make it to the top by then. Bit by bit I fought my way to the top. Meanwhile, however, the heat nausea was back (along with the I-want-to-vomit-up-my-guts, etc.), my upper hamstrings started barking (never had that before) and again, my heart rate wouldn’t elevate past 128. (Lower down on this climb it had more or less been normal.)

• By the time I reached the top, I was certainly relieved, felt some feeling of accomplishment but also was a bit concerned. Other than making a pedaling motion, I couldn’t move my legs very well and at the summit aid station, getting off my bike and trying to walk to get some of the lovely peanut butter-filled pretzels was sketchy. But I’d made it to the top and that's all I cared about. I got me an orange sody pop, soaked myself with ice water and just sat there admiring the views. At 14,162 feet, Shasta is a mega mountain and from our 7,800-foot vantage point, the panoramic vista was incredible. Then it was on to the descent.
This shot is from the hill climb race the day before the century ride. Black Butte is the peak in the foreground, Mount Eddy in the distance.
• Note that at the top, I soaked myself with ice water which at the time felt terrific. However, on the descent this proved to be a problem—weirdly, the exact opposite problem I had on the way up. For by now, the sun had lowered enough that the road was fairly shaded—I swear, I would’ve paid thousands of dollars for any amount of shade during the first nine hours of this ride—and with the 6- to 8-percent downhill grade spurring my bike to speeds of 40-plus m.p.h., it wasn’t long before I was freezing cold. Shivering uncontrollably, in fact, with my bike weaving and wobbling no matter what I did. This had turned into a comedy of errors. And all I wanted to do was get the cuss off the cussing mountain. Alas, I made it down, back to City Park where I ate lasagna and traded Shasta war stories with Seattle’s Mark Clausen and Adam Morley, with whom I’d ridden much of the first 60 miles.

• All this said, this ride and routes are highly HIGHLY recommended. Organization and food are tops. The course is well marked and the towns—Weed, Edgewood and Mount Shasta—are small and traffic doesn’t seem to be an issue. (Though we did see at least one police officer parked by an intersection seemingly itching to hand out tickets to riders who didn’t come to complete stop. I heard about riders being warned about riding too fast on the Castle Lake descent too.)
The 5:30 a.m. start made for early preparations.
• Here’s how the day started: After meeting at City Park at 5:30 a.m., Mark, Adam, Cliff (whose last name I forget) and I rolled out, about 40 minutes before sunrise. The first climb begins at about 13-mile mark (Parks Creek Summit: 13 miles long; 3,800 feet gain) so we were nicely warmed up by the time we hit it. The climb itself is mostly one-lane forest road with some bumps and potholes here and there but ride organizers made sure to highlight them with orange spray paint. Nice safety touch for the descent, which was screaming fast. First climb out of the way we headed for Climb 2. ... which didn't start until after the 60-mile mark. In the meantime you meander across scenic flat and rolling ranchland with giant Mount Shasta overlooking all. Beautiful yes, but by this point the sun is getting ever higher and hotter and truthfully, this stretch through the valley was like pedaling through a furnace. By the time we started climb 2 (Mumbo Summit: 10 miles; 3,300 feet gain), I was roasting, sweat dripping from my arms to my hands and off my handlebars, my jersey totally unzipped and flapping behind me like I’m a school boy with a paper route. (See previous ad nauseam comments re: nausea, etc.)

• Partway up climb 2, I decided I’m going to skip climb 3 (Castle Lake) and go right to climb 4, the 14-mile one to Mount Shasta. That’s the longest, highest, most scenic one and to me, the one that counted the most. But descending from Mumbo Summit, I thought what the heck, I’ll give Castle Lake (7 miles; 2,200 feet) a try. Not a good move. This was the hottest part of the day, where my Garmin registered 100 degrees and where my heartrate first showed a reluctance to go above 130. I got to exactly the halfway point—1,100 feet of the climb gave me 10,000 for the day—and pretty much couldn’t turn the pedals anymore. I was done. After calling my wife for some moral support, I turned around and headed down to the lunch stop, which is pretty much where I started this narrative. Somehow I was able to muster another 4,700 feet of climbing. Total stats for the day: 130 miles; 14,754 feet of climbing; ride time of 10 hours and 23 minutes.

• I don’t think I would do the Super Century again but since I love riding the area—it really is spectacular—I’d be interested in riding the Saturday morning hill climb race (the 14-mile climb to Mount Shasta) and then on Sunday, riding a personally customized century or thereabouts. Maybe the first and last climb, or just the three–Mumbo Summit, Castle Lake, Old Ski Bowl (the 14-mile one)—that are all close to the city of Mount Shasta. Apparently, a lot of people did this or similar rides.
Near the top of Parks Creek Summit, climb 1.
• Pretty cool: I added two new road biking events this year— Mount Shasta Summit Century and the Chelan Century Challenge and they’re probably my new Number 1 and 2 all-time road rides.

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