Way back in January or February NorCal based race promoter Murphy Mack announced that he was planning a 100 mile MTB race in the Jackson State Demonstration Forest vicinity between Mendocino and Fort Bragg on the coast on July 21st. Immediately I circled the date on the calender and mentally signed up right then and there. Riding & racing sinewy and loam covered coastal singletrack under a Jurassic Park-like forest canopy, in 50 – 60 degree temperatures at time when the valley here is normally baking under 100 degree temps? Sign me the hell up! Plus, it was my birthday weekend so not a bad place to ride and “celebrate” as well.
Oh and this little gem of a stoker video played a bit of roll in getting me to sign up as well (protip: turn up your speakers and watch it in full HD to get the full effect!):
The night before at registration we all got our first look and description of what the course would entail. Being that this was a first year event, there weren’t many people (if any?) who had linked all these trails together in one single serving, so final mileage, final elevation gain, and estimates on finishing times was mainly educated guess work….which only added to the excitement as many of us were riding these trails for the first time, and the “unknown” adventure factor was high. Due to so many unknowns regarding the race course, I decided to race my full suspension Giant Anthem 29’er X 0, with a grippy Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.35 in front, and faster rolling Continental RaceKing 2.2 Protection in the year (both tubeless).
Murphy explained that this year the “100” would actually more likely be 90-ish miles due to a lasts minute request from CalFire to alter the route a bit due to some logging activity that was going on.
For a first year event, I was very glad to see that there was a decent number of riders who showed up. It seemed as though 70-ish folks signed up for a mix of either the 100 mile option, a 60 mile option, and also a 40 mile option. And I’d say about half toed the line for the 100 mile version.
The race started at a comfortable “fun fast” kinda pace with local guide and long time pro Brian Astell from Lost Coast Brewery / Marin Bikes leading the way with about 4 of us on his heels. The initial singletrack was loamy twisty and fun and set the tone for the rest of the day. This trail spit us out onto some rutted fireroads and some gravel grinding climbing up to the first checkpoint at about mile 19. One of the riders burped and flatted a tire in a rut, and Brian and I steadily pulled away from the others on the fireroad climbing on the way to the first checkpoint which we reached together at about 1 hour 30 minutes into the race. We didn’t bother stopping, and just shouted out our number plates to the smiling volunteers.
We crossed Route 20 and onto a “bonus” loop on the north side of the road that only the 100 mile riders would be doing. We’d complete about a 20 mile loop and then return back to the same Checkpoint #1. This section had some extremely steep singletrack switchback descending that seems to rarely see any traffic…Brian got a little ahead of me here and if it weren’t for his tire tracks in the loam it would have been pretty tough to see where the trail went so kudos to him for blazing the trail!. After the descending there was another long fire road grinder where I caught back up to Brian, then we road nearly all of it together, but near the top he gapped by about 10 seconds then started descending like a madman and he was gone. I continued on, made a wrong turn that cost me a minute or two then began a long singletrack climb back up to that checkpoint on Route 20. I was about halfway up this climb when I was surprised to hear another rider coming down towards me. It was Brian and he was saying that he thought he made a wrong turn as he topped out on the climb and wasn’t quite sure which way to go so he thought he made a mistake and came back down. I was 99% sure we were on the right route, so he flipped it around and started climbing back up. I felt pretty bad for him that he had to do this climb again! Anyway, both of our wrong turns seemed to cancel each other out here and we finished off this bonus loop together and returned back to the original Checkpoint #1 (which was now our 2nd checkpoint) in a total time of around 3.5 hours to this point. We stopped here a bit and refueled, then continued on towards an area called the Woodlands.
From the Checkpoint on Route 20 over to the Woodlands was some fast big ring gravel road smashing, then led to some even faster twisty gravel road descending. Brian was absolutely destroying the loose gravelly turns in this part and I was happier to tap the brakes a few more times into the turns than he would so he put a gap on me here. But then at about mile 40, we turned off the fireroad and into the Woodlands singletrack. We immediately hit a climb (“Climb to Big Tree” is what I believe it is called) and I began gunning it to catch back up to Brian. I kept it in my big ring and grinded my way to the top until I caught backup to him. When I caught back up we were nearly at the top, but unknown to me, this upper part got extremely STEEP and my legs were already burning too much from going full gas on the lower part. For one of these steep upper bits, I actually hopped off the bike and hiked about 20 yards and Brian got another 15 – 20 seconds on me again….but then that would pretty much be the last I would see of him for the rest of the race. As we started descending the insanely fun singletrack back down (Big Tree descent), Brian disappeared and I was alone in the forest.
At the bottom of the Big Tree descent, was a little aid station checkpoint and I stopped briefly for a Gu and I asked how long ago Brian came through. They said about 2 minutes ago….ouch! He crushed that part! This was right around mile 50 and 4 hrs 15 minutes into the race. My legs were still feeling pretty good, so I began chasing again to see if I could catch back up again. This portion of the trail was so beautiful and fun that part of me wanted to stop “racing” and just slow down and enjoy the deep emerald green, fern lined, and redwood covered forest that we were riding through. I just don’t get the chance to ride terrain like this often enough living in the Sierra foothills. As I was enjoying the scenery and starting the Thompson Gulch Trail Climb, I came to a fork in the trail that had no markings. Hmmm. One trail went to the right and looked a little less used, and what seemed like the main trail kinda veered to the left…but neither of them had markings that I could see and there were no chalk arrows on the ground. I wasted some time trying to decide which way to go and choose left because it seemed to have a little more use on it. I figured that if I choose correctly I’d see a flag or something soon enough. So I continue on, begin climbing still don’t see any flagging. I approach a switchback, look up and around and still don’t see anything, so I assume that I am going the wrong way and turn around and head back down to the fork in the trail. This time I start climbing the other direction, get about 1 minute into it, and tell myself this can’t be the way because the trail is just seems so little used. I turn around AGAIN and start going the other way once more. I climb back up to the switchback where I turned around the first time, keep going, and then a short bit later round a turn and see the familiar white tape hanging from a tree that was marking the course. DANGIT! I just wasted about 7 minutes in that confusion…oh well, nothing to do but press on.
I reached Checkpoint #4 at about 5 hours and 46 minutes. I refilled my Osprey hydration pack and got a time check that Brian came through about 15 minutes ago. Ughh…not so sure I’m going to be catching back up now! But even with that thought, I was extremely happy with my time to this point, was still feeling good, and just set off to keep up a decent pace to put in a respectable finishing time. I smashed my way from Checkpoint 4 along the flat gravel roads past Checkpoint #5 to Hwy 1, enduring the Hwy 1 road portion (wasn’t that bad) and then turned back into the forest. At this point, I knew I was nearly done, didn’t think I’d be getting caught from behind so tried to turn off the racing mindset and just enjoy the last bits of trail to the finish.
I ended up crossing the line with around a 7 hours 22 minute moving time….somewhere around 15 – 20 minutes behind Brian and good for 2nd place overall. My Garmin clocked 81 miles and 11,299 feet of climbing (which isn’t 100% accurate as everyone was experience lots of “GPS drift” in the deep forest). And as happy as I was with that, I was even happier to see my wife at the finish line already all cleaned up from her 60 mile effort and telling me that she won! So it was quite the fun and successful day.
BIG Thanks to Murphy Mack and the SuperPro crew for putting this race, the Mendocino Coast cyclists for their help and all the volunteers. I will definitely be back again…this was one of the most fun races I’ve ever done.
Had a great few days in Ketchum, ID (i.e. better known as Sun Valley) over the July 4th weekend to race in Marathon MTB Nationals. Earlier in the year, I wasn’t planning on going, but then I saw a preliminary course map that just looked epic…it was 70-ish miles, and around 9,000 feet of climbing with nearly all of it singletrack. Sign me up! But then after signing up, USAC officials thought that this course would be too tough and too long and shortened it to about 40 miles 6,500 vert. divided up into two complete laps on what was used at the amateur cross-country nationals course last year. So not quite the epic I was looking for, but still extremely tough.
We made the long drive from NorCal on July 3rd, spent the 4th by pre-riding the course so that I could get a feel for the trails and a make a decision on what gear I should run on my Giant XTC 29’er single speed, and get a look at the long descent so I’d know what to expect.
On paper, the course was relatively simple: after a short pavement spin on a bike path leaving the River Run base lodge area, we’d hit the main climb that ascended about 2,600 feet to the top of Baldy, and then began a long singletrack descent to the finish that was broken up by two minor climbs in the middle. The big 2,600 climb was mostly moderate climbing hardpack singletrack, with the exception of the first 1/3…which was a much steeper fireroad and would be the spot where I figured I’d know whether or not I made a good gear choice with my 36×22 (the “spinniest” gear that I had brought with me on this trip).
The descending was extremely fun, although not the best for my bike set up with it’s rigid fork. It was mostly hard pack, but it was littered with sharp rocks and a lot of the turns were kind of blown up and laced with stutter bumps that were just plain jarring and not-fast on a rigid fork.
After pre-riding, I knew I had to stick with the 36×22 even though I had a feeling that it would still be a bit too difficult on the climbs, and I also knew that my rigid fork would be a severe liability. My buddy Clint Classen, who was racing his full-suspension rig in the Pro field, graciously offered up his suspension fork off of his hardtail bike that he wouldn’t be using, but I decided to “run what I brung” in true single speed fashion (for better or for worse).
Race day came and the single speed field looked strong: defending champion Cary Smith from Jackson Wyoming was there, as well was AJ Linnel and Jason Betz from Louisiana amongst others. We spun together as a group down the paved bike path, and then once we hit the climb it was on. Cary and Linnel immediately surged forward, and took along Tom Flynn as well. I tried to stay on Tom’s wheel as we began to separate from the field, but as the fire road grew steeper, I knew I was in trouble. What I had easily ridden two days earlier on my pre-ride, now had me off of my bike and walking. I just couldn’t stay on top of the gear like I had in my pre-ride, and my breathing was through the roof. Immediately, I knew it wasn’t going to be my day, and slowed down into a slower more sustainable rhythm to recover as a few more SS’ers passed me on by dropping me into what I was guessing was 7th or 8th by the time we reach the top of the climb.
The descent beat the crap out of me on the rigid. There were so many times where I was hanging on for dear life as I plummeted through the stutter bump mine field and shook everything in my field of vision, rattling my wrists and lower back. Miraculously, I didn’t lose any more spots on the descent (probably because everyone was ahead of me!) and by the time I got to the bottom I was ready for the race to be over. At the very bottom of the descent, is a steep rock garden that I never bothered to pre-ride and due to my rigid fork I took the easier, wimpy cheater line that probably adds 30 – 40 seconds. At this point I couldn’t care less about the time I was losing as I was in survivable mode. However, as I cruised through the finish line my wife Jen yelled to me that I was only 3 minutes behind the single speeder in front of me and that he was also running a rigid fork and choose to run the rock garden line. Hmmm….just 3 minutes?? I can make that up…this little time gap update fired me up, and I got a much needed second wind….
Back on the bike path starting Lap 2 I got swarmed by a pack of about 5 or 6 geared riders so I was able to tuck into their draft and have them pull me at 25 mph along the pavement to the base of the major climb. As I hit the climb again, I was worried that I would suffer as much as I did on the first lap, but thankfully, I had finally found my legs, and I was able to clean everything this time around and maintain a much better pace. About half way up, I caught and passed another single speeder and he said that he thought he was in 6th and that the 5th place guy was maybe a minute ahead. So I kept my pace up and soon enough, saw the 5th place single speeder, Jason Betz from Baton Rouge, Lousiana come into view and I was able to make the pass just a bit before the climb topped out.
I crested the climb with a gap on Jason, but I knew that he had a suspension fork and thus would probably be descending faster than me. I was taking tons of chances and nearly crashed a number of times but I pushed the upper descent as hard as I could. Unfortunately, nearly at the bottom of this upper descent (which was the worst part for me and my rigid fork) I hear what I thought was a geared rider coming up behind me, so I moved over and it was Jason nuking down the trail and he passed me like I was standing still. It was pretty demoralizing getting passed like that and knowing that there was still a ton of descending left to the finish. I wasn’t quite sure if and how I could catch back up to him.
Luckily though the upper descent soon ended and we started the traverse climb across Mt. Baldy. Looking up I saw Jason about 20 seconds ahead of me so I punched it for all I was worth to try and catch him before he crested the top and started descending. I was able to make the pass just before the top and then rallied the fast fireroad descent as quickly as I could so that I could be first to enter the last section of singletrack.
The last singletrack descent before the finish is littered with about 15 switchbacks and minimal opportunities to pass until just before the finish line so I knew that even Jason were to catch back up to my wheel in this last 10 minutes to the finish I’d have a good chance of holding him off and it would come down to a sprint to the line. But luckily, despite catching glimpses of Jason over my shoulder as we each worked our way through the switchbacks I was able to keep my gap at what I though was around 10 – 15 seconds or so.
Seeing that the gap was that close, and I knew that Jason would be riding the last rock garden before the finish, I decided that I needed to take it. But since I didn’t pre-ride it at all, and didn’t want to risk taking a bad line in there on my rigid fork and crashing (which then I’d surely get passed), I figured I would just dismount at the top, run it as quickly as i could, then re-mount and gun the last stretch to the finish.
Running the line was slightly embarrassing (of course!) but I’d rather that than risk the crash at such a critical point in the race
Luckily my rental MTB shoes were easy to run in (yes, I had to race with cheap rental shoes…long story)
After the rock garden it was about 20 – 30 second sprint to the finish arch where I was able to hold onto my slim gap over Jason by just 5 seconds. Crazy how close we were have over 3.5 hours of racing! And even though it was only for 5th place, it made the second half of the race extremely fun and it meant I got to stick around for the podium celebration.
Next up…Mendocino 100, Downieville Classic, Tahoe-Sierra 100…and then cyclocross!
Ron Shevock places fifth in the USA Cycling National Marathon Mountain Bike Championships in Sun Valley, ID. Congratulations!!!
Snuck my way onto the podium at MTB Marathon Nationals with a 5th Place in Single Speed category. 36×22 was way too hard of a gear, and a rigid fork was really dumb and hard and slow, but my goal was top 5 (they podium 5 deep here) so I am stoked. I really wanted to quit on the first lap..was like in 8th or 9th and getting pummeled in every way, but somehow found a second wind, and put in a negative split on my second lap and was able to work my way into 5th by mere seconds. Had a great back & forth battle with the 6th place guy…barely held him off on the last descent to the finish. Pretty stoked!