Building Character at the High Cascade 100 MTB Race (Bend, OR)

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!

And finally, thanks, Mudslinger Events. Great ride.

See you on the trails!

Angela Sucich, Freelance Writer

Posted in Bend, OR, Biking, Oregon trails, Racing/Competition | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mountain Biking 101 With Sturdy B Racing

A few weeks ago, my mountain bike team, Sturdy Bitch Racing, held a women’s coaching clinic for new mountain bikers at Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park in Issaquah, Washington.

For a couple of ladies, this was the first time riding singletrack in years. For at least one rider, it was the first time ever on dirt. For all of us, it was a great time, full of smiles and laughs. Learning is always better when it’s fun.

Needless to say, the clinic focused on the basics: body positioning, shifting and braking, and staying loose and fluid on the bike. After several lessons and practice sessions, the group took their skills to the trail, riding Duthie’s Boot Camp and Step It Up trails.

The ladies navigated singletrack turns and negotiated obstacles like roots and even ladders. These intrepid beginner mountain bikers impressed us all.

Here are a few videos taken during the lesson portion of the clinic, led by Coach Kathy Malvern.

Lesson 1: Body Positioning

Video: Coach Kathy teaches beginning mountain bikers the basics: correct body positioning on the bike to prepare for riding over obstacles.

Lesson 2: Shifting and Braking

Video: Kathy gives beginner mountain bikers tips for shifting and braking.

Lesson 3: Dynamic Movement

Video: Beginner mountain bikers learn how to stay loose over rough and variable terrain.

See you new mountain bikers on the trail!

Angela Sucich, freelance writer

Posted in Biking, Issaquah trails, Washington (Western) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Smooth—But Not Easy—Riding at the Echo Valley Endurance MTB Race (Chelan, WA)

It may have been a “roadie” course—with not a rock or root to be seen—but few would call the Echo Valley 30/60 Endurance Race an “easy” ride. Last weekend’s race certainly made me work for my 3rd place finish.

Host to the second race in the NW Epic Series (and many mountain bike events in years past), the Echo Valley Ski Area trails presented mountain bike racers with miles and miles of smooth, flowy singletrack. Of course, even smooth, flowy singletrack can start to feel hard when you’re 40+ miles into a 60-mile race…

Distance: 60 miles (in 4 laps)

Elevation: 8,500’+

Terrain: Smooth, fast singletrack with some fire road climbs.

Notables: This “fast” course was not without its challenges, from the grueling start up a 2.3-mile gravel road, to the near 2,000’ of elevation gain per lap (which, with the extra climb at the start, ended up totaling more than 8,500’ overall).

The descents were fast and fun—and easy to do on my Diamondback Axis hardtail. Knowing there were zero rocks in my path made descending a simple matter of “point and shoot”, though personally, I’d trade a little speed for a variety of terrain, any day.

The Race: “Brutal” best describes the start of the race: 2.3 miles, straight up. Anyone from Seattle or Issaquah who spent last winter doing Tiger Mountain fire road climbs would have had their training redeemed that morning.  I started off slow—not only because it was in my plan (having gone out a bit too fast at last month’s Stottlemeyer 30/60 Endurance Race)—but also because I had no warm-up time. Despite my measured pace, I felt a nausea that would linger well into the second lap.

But once that first big climb was over, there was singletrack to welcome us. Smooth and rolling, the ribbon of trail took us all along the hillside and valley. Throughout the course, the singletrack ranged from narrow to wide, opening up to double track in places, which allowed for easy passing.

As I finished the first lap, I thought to myself that the “roadie” mountain bikers who had signed up for this race were likely in heaven now: the sustained climbs were perfectly suited for über-fit riders, and the course posed no technical challenges to slow them down. But then I passed my friend Carl Hulit, carrying his un-rideable bike back to an aide station. Carl, who last month won the first race in the series for the 30-mile event, somehow had hit a stump while trying to pass one of the race leaders. While I was surprised to learn that he had found a stump somewhere out there to hit, I knew how easy it was for a fast, non-technical course to encourage riders to take even greater risks.

And speaking of safety, there was also a section of singletrack with two-way traffic on it, which could have posed a safety risk. But the race organizers worked to make part of the course safe and navigable by including race tape, signage and other dividing barriers—and all the racers I encountered handled this section conscientiously.

Highlights: The best part of the race was the screaming fast descents (obviously). Apart from Carl’s mystery stump, there were no obstacles to hit, so you could really open it up—as long as you made a few crucial corners. The course topography also made it easy to fuel, which is key to sustaining energy during long races like this one. The aid station volunteers were friendly, and the stations were well-stocked with food, if without a Coke or Pepsi. Sigh.

Lowlights: The low point of the race for me was not the grueling climb at the start of the race, but something that happened during my third lap: mechanical. Something came loose in my bottom bracket. I stopped several times to try to isolate the problem, but neither I nor another kind racer who stopped to help could figure it out. So I got back on, hoping my bike could stick it out for the last two laps. It was a challenging two laps—with every pedal stroke, something internal would catch and shake my entire bike—but my Axis is a tough bike, and it helped me finish the race in 3rd place, in under 6 hours. (It’s appropriate, I think, that I race for Sturdy Bitch Racing…as it turns out, my bike is one, too:)

Natasha Hernday put in a smoking time to win the 60-mile women’s open event, while Russell Stevenson swept the men’s event, and didn’t even look tired doing it.

Although this course may not have played to my technical strengths, it was a fun, well-organized event. And I have to say, it was nice to finally ride under sunny blue skies, given the cold, wet spring we’ve had in Seattle. One word of warning: if you want to ride the nearly tree-free Echo Valley trails, be prepared to go home with indelible tan lines.

Directions: Driving from Chelan, take Hwy 150 towards Manson for about 1 mile and turn right at Bodum Road (look for the “Echo Valley Recreation Area” sign). Follow the Echo Valley signs for about another 6 miles to the Echo Valley Ski Area.

Check out my previous post about the first race in the NW Epic Series, the Stottlemeyer 30/60 Endurance Race.

Update: Yep, turns out my bottom bracket was toast. But I just got a new one, and I’m back in the saddle. See you on the trail!

Angela Sucich, freelance writer

Posted in Biking, Chelan, WA, Racing/Competition, Washington (Central) | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stoked on the Stottlemeyer 30/60 Endurance Race (Port Gamble, WA)

Who knew racing could be as fun as riding? Cross-country mountain bike racers know what I’m talking about: the courses we race around these parts tend to be devoid of the technical challenges we actually love to ride.

There are a number of factors to explain why races in Washington State—and most XC races in the western U.S.—are this way, including race logistics and safety reasons. But for those who lament the lack of technical XC courses, here’s one that’s actually fun to ride: the Stottlemeyer 30/60 Endurance Race, held May 14th in Port Gamble, Washington.

Before you get super-excited for next year’s event, this is not a Whistler-, Squamish-, or BC-styled XC course, routed over startling features and built structures that you’re amazed you can ride—not to mention clear at speed. But Stottlemeyer boasts the kind of singletrack that got you hooked on riding in the first place: twisty, rooted trail through thick stands of trees, fast open sections you can ride in the big ring, and plunging descents that make all the climbing worth it.

That’s the kind of mountain bike race I can sign up for. The first race in the NW Epic Series, Stottlemeyer is an annual endurance race that lets riders choose between two race course lengths: 30 miles, or an epic 60 miles. That translates into 2-4 laps on a 15-mile course. And with the hard climbs, snappy descents, and a spider web of roots to navigate, this course had something for every kind of rider to love.

Distance: 60 miles (in 4 laps)

Elevation: 3,800’

Terrain: twisty, rooty forest; several very steep but short singletrack climbs; some fire road.

The Race: This was first race of the season, and my first chance to represent Sturdy Bitch Racing, and it may have started off a bit too fast, given my limited warm-up. But it’s hard not to get caught up in the charge of adrenaline and nerves at the start of any race. However, I maintained a good, solid pace during my first and second laps.

For the first 30 miles, the course was crowded, filled with 30-mile racers plus my own 60-mile contingent. Often I would find myself in a train of riders, weaving in a graceful line along forested switchbacks. Then we’d be jockeying for new positions, depending on whether the terrain started to climb or descend.

By the third and fourth laps, the riders had spread out, and most of us 60-mile racers were riding alone or in pairs. By the third lap, I had slowed to a crawl before I realized that I had forgotten to fuel appropriately. My friend Brian, who was riding with me for a while, kept me going. It was very kind of him, especially considering how I had accidentally led him astray in one section by taking a right instead of a left at a crucial moment. But that’s what fatigue does to my brain—makes it impossible to see the big sign with the arrow, pointing out the course direction.( Thankfully, we only lost 5-10 minutes at the most.)

Pounding some GU and chewing a few Cliff Blocks helped me find my second wind for the final lap. Having learned every corner of those trails by the third lap, I powered through the fourth like I was riding in my backyard. I snapped up fourth place just a few minutes ahead of the next open/pro women.

Highlights: My Diamondback Axis was nimble on the twists and turns, responsive on the climbs and dependable on the steep climbing sections. And it was rock-solid on that super fun, flowy singletrack descent (sure, there were others, but you racers know the one I’m talking about) that dumped you  out—grinning from ear to ear—at the fire road to the finish.

Lowlights: Deep in the forest, there were several route options, and at one crucial T, I tried to take the wrong path. As I over-corrected, I banged my knee against the top tube, and, finding the one sharp corner of my housing guide, cut myself. My knee wouldn’t stop aching until the following lap, but it was merely a flesh wound, after all. It’s not mountain biking until someone draws blood:)

Directions from Seattle:

1. Take I-5 North

2. Take Exit 177 for WA-104 W toward Edmonds

3. Turn right at WA-104 W/NE 205th St/Lake Ballinger Way

4. Continue to follow WA-104 W, follow signs for WA-104 W/Kingston Ferry

5. Take the WA-104 W/Kingston – Edmonds ferry to Kingston, Trip Time roughly 30 Minutes

6. Continue straight onto WA-104 W

7. Turn right at NE East 1st St, go 0.3 Miles

8. Turn right at WA-104 W, go 3.7 mi

9. Turn right to stay on WA-104 W, go 3.3 mi

10.Turn right onto Event Grounds

See you on the trail!

Angela Sucich, freelance writer

Posted in Biking, Port Gamble, Racing/Competition, Washington (Western) | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Is McGarry’s Secret Weapon the Golden Hair or the Diamondback Dreamliner? You Decide.

If you listened to pro rider Mike Metzger talk about Kelly McGarry’s “lovely golden long hair” while announcing last Saturday’s Ranchstyle Slopestyle Competition in Grand Junction, Colorado, you might think he’s half in love with the Diamondback-sponsored rider from New Zealand. But it’s quite possible that anyone watching the Kiwi throwing down the back flips and no-handers last weekend would have fallen in love with the spectacle.

The video above shows 3rd-place finisher McGarry in the final round of last weekend’s Slopestyle Competition, held in the Glade Park area of Grand Junction, Colorado. The second clip, below, shows him on the Whale Tail, a unique feature that let the best riders combine back flips and 360s in one fell swoop. In the final clip, when you hear the guy with the career in bike acrobatics say his Diamondback Dreamliner “does the job,” you tend to believe him.

Finally, lest we seem too partial to the Diamondback athlete, here’s a video of the 1st place Ranchstyle Slopestyle winner, Greg “the robot” Watts:

Want to read more about the 2011 Ranchstyle Mountain Bike Festival? Check out the previous post, Big Tricks Win Big at Ranchstyle Slopestyle.

Posted in Biking, Colorado, Grand Junction, CO, Racing/Competition, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Big Tricks Win Big at Ranchstyle Slopestyle (Grand Junction, CO)

Back flips, tail whips and 360s were the ticket into the final round of the slopestyle competition at the Ranchstyle Mountain Bike Festival yesterday, May 7,  in Grand Junction, Colorado.  But it took the best riders of the Freeride World Tour throwing down big tricks at every launching point, from the “Whale Tail” to the “DT Swiss Drop”, to make it into the money.

Entering the final round, it was anyone’s competition to win. It might have been crowd-pleaser and last night’s Best Trick winner, Mike Montgomery, or New Zealander Kelly McGarry (identified by pro rider and announcer Mike Metzger as “the tallest rider in the competition…with the golden, flowing locks!”), who ranked first as riders took their final run.

But it was Greg Watts (aka, “the robot”) who took the podium with big back flips and consistent tricks at every turn. Second to Watts was Anthony Messere, followed by McGarry. Fourth was crowd favorite Montgomery, and rounding out the money winners was Tyler McCaul in fifth.

Ranchstyle continues today with the Big Slalom competition. This is the fourth year of the Ranchstyle Mountain Bike Festival and the first year the Grassroots Cycles-sponsored event plays host to the Freeride World Tour. The other two U.S. stops on the tour are Crankworx in Winter Park, Colorado, and  the Teva Mountain Games in Vail.

Here’s a video of 3rd-place finisher and Diamondback rider McGarry’s amazing run in the finals:*

More videos and pics are on the way. See you on the trails.

– Angela Sucich

*Full disclosure: I’m admittedly biased for Diamondback. And they’re awesome.

Posted in Biking, Grand Junction, CO, Racing/Competition | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Argentina Wine and Wheels Tour

Wineries in Mendoza—Argentina’s equivalent to Napa Valley—may be a little late to the wine tourism game, but they’re sold on it now. For the last several years, select wineries (both big and small) have opened their doors to visitors eager to tour the facilities and taste the fine Malbecs and other varietals cultivated in this arid land. So what’s the next big idea in wine tourism for this vineyard-covered town in the foothills of the Andes? Wine and wheels, of course.

The notion of touring the wineries by bike has been catching on over the last few years, especially in the Mendoza neighborhood of Maipú. There, it’s easy to pick up a rental bicycle and a convenient bike & wine touring map at one of the many bike shops in the area (we rented ours from Maipú Bikes). Then, start hitting up the boutique wineries, which welcome visitors as early as 10 or 11 a.m. and stay open until 6 p.m.

Our tour began with a stop at the small Viña María. The tasting room is tiny yet quaint, but we preferred to take our wine glasses with us as we strolled the grounds, marveling at the grapes on the vine and the ripening olives. Established in 1889 by the Cavagnaro family, Viña María produces varietal wines, olive oil, jam and marmalade. They also run a rural B&B on the ranch property.

The next stop was Bodega La Rural (Rutini Wines), which has a more dramatic room for tastings. The wine offered for tasting is decent, but the real treat is a walk through their wine museum, which is filled with photographs and wine-making tools from another era.

Trapiche was the next winery on our list, and it made a powerful impression. Certainly bigger in scale than our previous stops, this mid-size winery greeted us first with a security guard, then with acres of vineyards, a manicured lawn and a glass pyramid structure in the front of the winery reminiscent of the Louvre. A little pretentious, to be sure, but the wine was a step up, and the tour was informative.

The terminus of our wine & wheels tour was Familia Di Tommáso, an intimate boutique winery that should not be missed. This family-run affair offered the local flavor we had been looking for that we felt missing from Trapiche, and the warm welcome that didn’t quite come across at Bodega de Rural. At Familia Di Tommáso, the sommelier told us more than we would have thought to ask about wine, and she never cut short her answers to any of our questions, even when it was long passed closing time. The wine tasting selections were delicious.

If you go: Start your bike tour early, as there are numerous stops to make along the 7-10 kilometer route to sample both wine and olive oil (another big export). You’ll pass countless casual restaurants, so you can stop at any time for a bite to keep up strength (and keep the wine from going to your head).

Bike rentals and route: Don’t expect a lot of options, bike-wise, but these simple machines work fine, even on Maipú’s rough roads. There’s a bike lane along the major route, but the street itself isn’t scenic. The ambiance changes when you roll onto the winery grounds. Olive tree lined and thick with vineyards, the scenery is just as indulgent as the heady scent of ripening grapes in the air. Drink deeply.

Posted in Biking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment