What’s worse than riding your mountain bike 100 uninterrupted miles? Riding it one-hundred-and-six miles, which was the length of this year’s Mudslinger Events High Cascade 100 race course, held last Saturday in Bend, Oregon.
And what’s worse than riding 106 miles? Taking a detour that added on several more miles.
Yes, a little part of me died inside when I missed a crucial turn mid-race, which would not be my only route confusion of the day. However, I’m here to celebrate the many high points of this event. But first, the trail beta:
Distance: 106+ miles (and some added miles for those not born with the GPS gene)
Elevation gain: 12,000’+
Highlights: Lap 1’s Storm King-Tyler’s Traverse-Larsen Trail loop
Lowlights: See “Distance,” above.
The course: First, congratulations to race organizer Mike Ripley and Mudslinger Events for their third annual High Cascade 100. Every year, the event seems to run more smoothly. From the streamlined, efficient race meeting on Friday, to the well-oiled aide station machines on race day, this organization and its committed volunteers really know how to put on an event.
That isn’t to say the organizers faced no challenges: putting on this show meant re-routing the course as late as last week, due to the consequences of a heavy winter and late snow melt. While COTA (Central Oregon Trail Alliance), a beneficiary of proceeds from the event, was able to clear a thousand downed trees from the trails in time for the race, countless others still littered the original course around Mount Bachelor. Hence, plan B: a 40-mile Loop 2 up Bridge Creek Burn to Farewell Spring and Tumalo Falls.
The re-route may have meant missing out on my favorite Lava-Edison trail, with its technical rock riding, but we did get to ride sections of trail on Loop 1 that I’ll remember for years to come. Fast, flow-y, swoop-y—only the silliest-sounding words seem to capture the pure, child-like fun to be had on the loop connecting Storm King, Tyler’s Traverse and Larsen Trail. I’d buy a ticket to ride this smooth, fast-rolling coaster anytime. (I vote we just do multiple laps on Loop 1 next year.)
The Race: More than 200 riders started off on a seven-mile paved climb in just-above-freezing temperatures, then stormed down a fast-rolling double-track descent and through the two-way Tiddlywinks trail.
I vaguely recall singletrack and double track climbing in the first lap (there was 4,000’ of elevation gain, apparently), but it was the descending that left an impression. At one point, a guy riding behind me let out a whoop, saying, “I forgot we were racing. This is just like a trail ride!”
By the first aide station at mile 35, my hip flexors were killing me, so I dropped my saddle a bit and rolled on. Lap 2 was a big one. Totaling 40 miles, it included hard pushes around Bridge Creek Burn and Tumalo Falls. At some point I missed a course arrow directing racers into hidden singletrack, and I kept riding along until a sinking feeling led me to notice that there were no more trail markers. I spun around and put in a hard effort to get back on course and back into the race.
Loop 2 was Mike Ripley’s plan B for the course routing, and while it had its moments, it did mean two passes through Flagline Tie and Flagline trails, with their soul-crushing false flats. Needless to say, I wouldn’t terribly mind if I never ride those trails again.
Two times through Old Swampy led us to the final 25-mile lap. The climbs on Lap 3 were steeper, if less sustained, and each straining pedal-crank brought us that much closer to home. A few short, technical climbs up rocky singletrack hurt my body but kept my mind interested. And every time the trail turned downward, I felt a surge of renewal, remembering, yes, this is what we do all this for.
When I hit the last fire road stretch, punctuated by a few steep, ego-busting hills, I kept an eye on my cyclometer, counting off my extra miles, telling myself that they were character-building. When I rolled across the finish line, I made a vow to be in better shape and more observant next year—and wondered if I had made the same vow last year.
The High Cascade 100—whatever the chosen course, and however many miles it happens to be that particular year—is itself character-building. It’s one of the few events I know of that offers mountain bikers a perfect balance of support and pressure to push them to and beyond their limits. It’s an event focused on finishers as much as winners.
This year I finished 6th in the pro women’s category, and 9th in the open women’s category. I may not have had as strong a finish as in year’s past, but I was proud to earn a finisher’s growler for the third year in a row:
Huge thanks goes to Big Tree Bikes, who overhauled my fork and fine-tuned my brakes and shifting for the race. My Diamondback Axis hardtail handled superbly. Almost no one—save one guy on a full-suspension bike—was able to pass me on the downhill.
I also want to thank Sturdy Bitch, my team’s title sponsor, for giving me a strong philosophy and attitude to fall back on when enduring was the only option. And a big shout-out goes to my Sturdy Bitch Racing teammate, Katie Jackson, who finished her first 100-mile mountain bike race at the High Cascade 100!
See you on the trails!
Angela Sucich, Freelance Writer