Since quite a while I’ve been looking for a good excuse to check out the riding and fabled trail systems at our neighbours in the north – Oregon.
Enter the inaugural High Cascades 100, which had a very appealing premise: one huge loop, pretty much all singletrack. Ok, that one loop actually included two sub-loops (Swampy Lakes), but few would whine about that, since it was supposed to be a very fun sub-loop.
We were greeted by a brisky 34 degrees at 6.15 in the morning on the Wanoga parking lot, hence I put on a jacket; and decided last minute to ditch the small camelback and go with bottles, as the forecast predicted high seventies max and we’d pass aid stations every 20 miles or so. From the start, I mainly remember a huge dust cloud and riding the first mile or two pretty much blind, just following the wheel(s) right in front of me. A fine way to wake up and get the adrenaline going! It must have been quite dry here lately, as sand and dust proved to be a bit of a constant today. More about that soon!
The first singletrack descent (near the Mount Bachelor parking lot), and I decided to take a soil sample. Not sure what exactly happened, but having clumsily overcooked a corner sounds plausible. No harm done though, except to my stem clamp, which apparently felt like it needed to slip a few degrees to the left to absorb the impact. I was too hasty (or lazy) to get my multitool out of the crevasses of my seat bag and rode on with a slightly tilted handlebar until I met a volunteer – with tool in hand – who happily adjusted it for me.
More downhill singletrack then, leading to the aptly named Lava Lake. Race promotor Mike Ripley had promised sharp lava rocks and he did deliver. In eager anticipation, I had inflated my tires to a rather high pressure, which did prevent me from flatting indeed, but proved to be not quite the best choice in the traction department. And did I mention there was sand, and lots of it? It took me quite a while to get the hang of this terrain but the descent to Lava Lake went by uneventfully (a good thing) and was a lot of fun – I didn’t waste too much time at the first aid station, but about a mile out I noticed my right shoe cleat had been unthreading itself and was about to come off. These sort of things never happen, except during races. So I ended up having to dig up that multitool after all.
The first major climb – singletrack alternating with rugged doubletrack, technical in spots and sandy on many others. I felt pretty strong at this point and went out hard, though I would have probably been better off pacing myself better. This climb led us to Kwohl Butte, from which we would descend along a four mile section of what Mike Ripley had called ‘moving lava’. My visualization of red glowing molten earth sucking up unsuspecting mountain bikers into a tectonic abyss luckily didn’t prove to be entirely accurate; steep sandy stretches littered by tons of loose jagged black rocks turned out to be more to Mikes point. It was tough going, bouncing all over the place on the boulders, and constantly being on the brink of wiping out in the sandy corners, but I actually quite enjoyed this section of trail. I had decided to use a Cane Creek suspension seatpost on my hardtail, and here I was very glad I had done so.
The first real pain of the day came to me on the connector to the Swampy Lakes area – a three mile or so slog climbing through at times steep sandy hills. It hardly registers on the elevation profile, but it felt pretty bad. Next up was the Swampy aid station, and I must have done something wrong there, since I felt terrible during my first 20 mile long Swampy loop that ensued. Hydration-wise I was doing quite well, so it must have been food: maybe that peanut butter sandwich didn’t go in well? I got passed by many here as I was limping along. The 1500 foot climb out felt like double that, but eventually I dragged myself back into the aid station.
There I noticed what had been missing before: banana’s! I had been getting sick of my diet of overly sweet gels, blocks and energy drinks, but I didn’t have trouble devouring the banana’s so I stuffed some more in my jersey pockets for the road. Was it the banana’s or a placebo effect, I didn’t care, but my second Swampy Lakes run went by in a blur, and I felt great – on the descent I was fully in the zone and passed a few folks, and then I cleaned the entire climb. At mile 80, I knew it was in the bag. But we weren’t quite there yet…
A quick ripping descent and then a few miles of dirt road connector back to Wanoga would lead to the final ten miles, a loop on Funner and Tiddlywinks trails. Unfortunately, this dirt road connector featured a couple of sandy hills that wouldn’t have looked bad in that Dune movie. When finally the Wanoga station came in sight I was happy to tackle Funner and get things over with. My happiness wore off quickly as I was pondering the prospect of the final 3 mile, 1000ft climb on Tiddlywinks, but in the meantime I managed to enjoy and clean most of Funner’s drops and rocks. The final four miles were a house of pain for me – I probably was exceeding my maximum daily dosage of suffering – but like all things would also end, and soon enough the finish line was looming. Hurray and the finisher’s growler was mine!
The volunteers here were awesome, the event was very well run, a great course and the area and trails well worth the trek from Cali…