I had a great time on August 1st at one of the most beautiful rides I’ve done. The Shasta Summit Century rides the roads that surround Mount Shasta, in Northern California. For those unfamiliar with Mount Shasta, in and of itself, the mountain is spectacular. It rises above and towers over everything within many miles: billions of trees, millions of trout, hundreds of miles of rivers, and thousands of hippies.
If you’re going to go to the Shasta area, don’t just go for the ride – there are a lot of things to do up there, and its a long drive from anywhere. Around Shasta you’ll find some of the best fly fishing in California, but there’s many more options than fishing — besides I don’t want you to fish there. That’s for me.
The ride was on Sunday, and we came up Friday night. The event apparently included a hill climb time trial on Saturday (which I didn’t know about or I would have crushed those guys), but we chose to take a tour of the caverns at Lake Shasta. We stayed in Dunsmuir, just South of Shasta (I’ve fly fished the Sacramento River there. Shhhhhh).
The Shasta Summit Century is a small ride – they were looking to get up to 700 riders this year, small in comparison to many of the larger rides nearer some of the State’s population centers. They ended up with 670. But, that’s part of the attraction of the ride – it’s in the middle of nowhere by California standards. The organizers promised sparsely-travelled roads, and it lived up to that. Many of the roads, even the minor highways, had very few cars on them compared to what I am accustomed to. All of the main roads had nice bicycle lanes as well, so even with the few cars wizzing by, I never felt threatened.
For me, it was exciting to be able to do a ride with both my longer cranks (195mm) and my new Spinergy Stealth PBO wheels. I had the wheels retensioned on my way out of town, and had only been able to do a single ride before the whole PBO spoke fiasco that I wrote about last week. On the Shasta ride, the wheels seemed to meet the objective of retensioning effort, because they were quiet — and got quite a bit of attention – not a lot of Spinergy Stealth wheels out there, and they do look sharp. Recall that the PBO spokes, being supple, are supposed to take some road chatter out of the ride. Some of the Shasta roads, while quite and rural, also had cracks as wide as your hand (and, as a Clydesdale, I have big hands). There were stretches that had these monster cracks about every 20-30 feet. It sounded like I was riding down railroad tracks – on the ties. I was impressed that the wheels were still in one piece at the end of this thing. Luckily, the PBO spokes did in fact seem to take the brunt of these impacts, and my back didn’t really get much of a beating like it could have. Although some of the cracks were so big, you just had to get up out of the saddle or risk the disintegration of your bike. A Clydesdale’s bike can only take so much.
The Mt. Shasta Summit Century is a climbing ride — the anathema of the Clydesdale classes, but I fancy myself somewhat of a Mountain Gorilla. There are several choices available, from a 30 miler with 2,100 feet of climb, a 60-mile “metric” century with 4,000 feet of climb – although my Garmin said it was 4,731, a true 100-mile century, with 10,500 feet of climb, and the “full ride” which is tougher than the famed Markleeville Death Ride at 135 miles and 15,000 feet of climb. It’s a very difficult ride. Bicycle Magazine named the Shasta Summit Century one of the top climbing rides in 2010.
This ride was supposed to be a family ride, as I had signed up the entire family (myself, my wife, and my two sons) for the metric century. If it were just me, I would have been honor-bound to ride the 135-mile ball buster. By ride time, it was just my wife and I – my boys ended up going out of town for an end-of-summer trip to my sister’s house.
The metric century was a pretty easy ride overall, with a massive hill thrown in towards the end. Although, while the hill was long, the gradient never got very nasty, probably ranging from 5%-8%. I know that the “full ride” had long, sustained climbs — both steeper and longer than what I did in the metric.
A tip to my fellow riders: When I ride with my wife, I normally ride at my “normal” pace up the hills, and when I get to a convenient spot, I’ll turn around and ride back down to where she is, then ride the remainder of the hill with her. This allows me to get a tough workout on the hills, and still stay with her throughout the ride. She likes it because she can go her pace without feeling like she’s holding me back. This has been my own secret to marital bliss. Normally, avid riding and a good marriage don’t go together all that well. Riding soaks up a lot of time. One alternative is riding a tandem, but I’ve heard tandems referred to as divorce machines, so I think I would treat that as an absolute last resort — to be considered right after picking up after myself, occasionally asking for directions, or putting the toilet seat down. Also, while I do think I look good in my lycra shorts, subjecting my poor spouse to 4 hours of that spectacular view doesn’t sound… fair.
My method also allows me to get more climbing in, because I end up doing the hills 1-1/2 times. On this big hill, however, I told her that I would ride all the way to the top, then come back down. The main climb is six miles long, and I was looking forward to the challenge.
From the very start, I decided I would climb fast.
I really put the hammer down, and was flying past everyone. My physiology is such that I can ride for a very long time at a pretty high heart rate, as long as I keep it below 179-180. Then, after a while, I will start significant suffering. On this climb, I kept an eye on the heart rate monitor, and whenever it was getting up to 179, I would back off a hair. The average during the climb was probably 177, and it felt great.
This was my first sustained climb with the 195mm cranks, and they are everything that I was hoping for. What an amazing difference. I had 195mm cranks with a 12-27 cassette, with a 39-53 in the front. I really felt for the first time like I had some sort of unfair advantage – I was flying past people. There was one skinny little bastard – a devil worshiping pedophile more than likely — that did pass me. He was probably all of 150 pounds. We talked for a while – he was doing the full ride — before my heart rate got up to 181, and told him I’d see him at the top. I could have tried to hang with him, but I came to my senses. I would have exploded at some point, and I wanted to keep up a good, yet sustainable pace. So, while the 195mm cranks make a tremendous difference, they cannot work miracles.
After the big climb, it’s pretty much a cruise back to the start. Incidentally, the start/finish is a small park that boasts that it is the headwaters of the Sacramento River. The Sacramento is one of the largest rivers in the West. It created that massive central valley that occupies the interior of California. It starts at the headwaters, and ends up in the San Francisco Bay. At this park, there’s a large spring where a pretty impressive amount of water emerges from the hillside. Because of its believed purity, the hippies/local folk were all over it.