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.