Launching Off Lava Rock at the High Cascades 100 (National Ultra Endurance Series) in Bend, OR

What do you get when you add 100 miles (80% singletrack), 11,000 feet of climbing and screaming descents on jagged lava rock & soft sand? Nothing that my carbon Diamondback Axis couldn’t handle.

Distance100 miles. Seriously.

Elevation Gain: 11,000’+

The Race: Last weekend Bend, Oregon, played host to the second annual High Cascades 100 mountain bike race. What I recall from last year’s event is a blur of  sand—thick, soft, unrideable sand. This year, the forecast was sand with a layer of smoke from nearby wild fires, which firefighters were working hard to contain. The good news was that this time around, the sand turned out to be manageable. The course was better designed (very little course overlap), the number of racers had more than doubled and high-talent pros were in attendance, no doubt because the event was added to the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series for 2010. It’s sure to be even bigger in 2011.

The Course:

It was “dark-thirty” (5:30am) when we rolled out from Wanoga Sno-Park in a peloton for the neutral start, and some people barely seemed awake. The warm-up section on the road was a blessing, and it helped us get primed and ready for the sweet singletrack we were promised. We should have held our breath for a bit longer: first we were greeted with dusty ATV trails—with the kind of dust that hangs in the air like fog—but all was soon forgiven when we hit Metolius and Lava-Edison trails.

Think sandy hardpack with exclamations of lava rock to power up and drop down. Think long, flow-y and relatively smooth singletrack descents—the perfect conditions for me to sit down on my hardtail and power it out in the big ring. And I can’t remember when I had so much fun cornering. Thank you, trail designers.

Once back to Wanoga, the course moved into the second lap (aka “The Big Epic Lap”). I seem to recall having fun at some point, perhaps around Upper Whoops and Skyliner Trail. But any fun was deeply overshadowed by the heat of the day and the pain of the sandy, relentless climbs. I had been in a solid 3rd place for the first 60+ miles of the race (it’s no surprise that the more technical parts of the course—my strong suit–were in the top half), but by the time I hit the aide station at mile 68 I was pretty cooked. For the next last 40 miles I tried to put mind over matter as I forced my legs to turn the cranks. The final loop was a proportionally short 13 mile loop down Tiddlywinks and up Funner, to finish in Wanoga Sno-Park. I ended up finishing 5th out of the pro women field, which had a strong pool of talent, including first- and second-place finishers, Sue Butler and Cheryl Sornson. Cary Smith and Chris Sheppard took the top places in the men’s pro field.

Although it would have been nice to reprise my victory from 2009, I was quite pleased with my finish, considering my limited training time this season and my fast pace during the first 60 miles. My Diamondback Axis hardtail did everything I asked of it and  more. I finished unscathed—with no crashes and no lacerations from the threatening volcanic rock—even though I pushed my safety limits on the descents and my energy reserves on the climbs. And I left it all out there on the course, which is the way it should be.

The highlights:

Less sand. Mike Ripley informed me that the reason for the awful conditions last year had to do an endurance equestrian race held in the same area just a week before the HC 100 mountain bike race. This year: no horse race and less sand. And happier mountain bikers.

Epic views. The 40+-mile loop we took around Mount Bachelor cut through pristine wilderness, with great photo ops for people who didn’t care that this was a race. The rest of us just took mental pictures.

Awesome race organizers. Mike Ripley and his Mudslinger Events team know how to throw a party. The course was well marked (I only missed a couple of turns and realized the mistake soon after), the aide stations were well stocked and everyone was friendly.

Ultra-friendly racers. Maybe there’s something about Bend—or about Mudslinger Events races—but people could learn a thing or two about racer etiquette from these guys. Thanks for being so nice, people.

The lowlights:

Uh, the sand. Yes, there was less soft sand this time around, but the soft sand that remained still sucked. Of course, we were riding in central Oregon in August. What else would you expect?

Grouse attacks. Much had been made (by the race organizer and certain media officials) of a single “attack”-grouse living on and policing one section of the course (dubbed “Foul Hen”). I did see the grouse—firmly holding its ground and giving me the stink eye as I turned a switchback a mere foot in front of it—but I witnessed no attack. I expected more out of you, little grouse.

I had a great time at a great event. Next time you are in Bend, don’t miss out on riding some of these trails. And if you hit them during a season when it’s less dry and sandy, you’ll have even more fun.

See you on the trails! And check out other exciting news and reports on the Diamondback HDXC Team blog.

Angela Sucich, Writer

About angelarides

I have many practical skills. I have a PhD in Medieval Literature. I can solder an LED hula hoop. Oh, and I ride and write about bikes.
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