August 2, 2015

A Social Century

The Mount Shasta Summit Century is the reason my biking buddy and I drove up to Siskiyou County. “Summit” is a bit of a misnomer; the ride ends, along with the paved road, at an altitude of 7,780 feet. There's quite a bit of mountain above that point, as the peak tops out at 14,179 feet.

The ride is put on by the local chamber of commerce, so we were surprised to see no hint of the event as we walked around town. No flyers. No posters. No signs. When we hiked at Castle Lake, we saw a notice that the parking lot would be closed on Sunday [rest stop], so we felt reassured that they hadn't called it off and forgotten to let us know.

We had registered for the full century, but as we did last year with the Fall River Century, we concocted our own route. We're the Goldilocks of cycling: 100 miles with 10,500 feet of climbing is too big, and 59 miles with 4,000 feet of climbing is too small. And of course we wanted to bike up Mt. Shasta. Shorten a loop here, skip a climb there, and go up the mountain. Just right.

Imagine our surprise when the first cyclists we met en route were a couple from our own bike club, on their tandem.

This event was the most social century of any bike event I've ridden. Normally, the hard core cyclists zip past without a word, intent on making good time. Not today. I had so many nice conversations with cyclists who slowed to chat. I called out to a couple of guys wearing a jersey from my home state—that's something I've never seen before, as it's hardly a nexus of cycling. One lives in California now, and his brother flew out to do this ride and spend a couple of weeks touring the Pacific Northwest.

There were also more women riding than I have ever seen at a cycling event (with the exception, of course, of the Cinderella). And they, too, were friendly. I was wearing a jersey from one of our club events, and some women admired it as they passed. One recognized the club and raised a fist in triumph, shouting “Sierra to the Sea!” She'd had the chance to do that ride.

Another first was the woman riding up the first climb on a mountain bike ... with three sled-dogs-in-training yoked together.

Raindrops started falling just as we finished lunch. We kept going. Sprinkles are fine; a downpour and slick roads, not so much. When I'd heard a thunderclap on the morning climb, I wondered just how we would find shelter in a lightning storm (surrounded, as we were, by really tall trees). A cyclist who was cutting his ride short offered me his jacket, asking only that I return it later to his hotel. But it was a warm day, and here's the thing: Once you're wet, you're wet. The raindrops actually felt good.

Early on the slopes of Mt. Shasta, something caught my eye just off to the side of the road. How silly, I thought; why would someone put a statue of a deer out there in the forest? [Duh.] It was a live doe, standing so still and with a coat so perfect she didn't look real. She was watching me. “Hi there,” I said. “Be careful if you're going to cross the road.” As soon as I passed, that's exactly what she did. Luckily the woman driving an oncoming car saw her, and slowed.

I was a bit apprehensive whenever I passed someone walking along the road. What are they doing, basically in the middle of nowhere? Are they going to harass me? The guy in the green t-shirt, carrying a paper grocery bag, cheered me on. “Great job!” he called out. The scruffy mountain man, with his long hair and longer beard, greeted me with a friendly hello.

The climb itself, 15 miles at a gentle 5.6% grade, didn't even require my granny gear. Nonetheless, being unfamiliar, it seemed everlasting. “You did the Death Ride,” I reminded myself: twice the climbing. Keep turning the pedals. I noticed the thinner air around 7,000 feet. “You climbed above 10,000 feet last year,” I told myself. No excuses.

By the time I made it to the top, I was more than ready to be done. And looking forward to the descent, with its smooth pavement and wide sweeping turns. Three of us took off at the same time, and I was finding it a challenge to keep a respectable distance. When I reached a comfortable place to pass them, I did. Later, when they arrived at the finish, the woman saw me. “You're a great descender!” she said. Thanks, I smiled. “I followed her all the way down!” she announced.

Two fast guys had flown past me; I know better than to give chase. A woman passed me, too, and gained some distance but stayed within sight. I could play with that. Just by tweaking my aerodynamics, and with greater comfort in the curves, I started gaining on her. She was surprised when I passed her. “It's a great descent!” she shared, when she pulled even with me again.

For the day, 79 miles, 7480 feet of climbing. My legs hurt. Just right.

No comments:

Post a Comment