A while back I had sought advice about cycling at high altitude, in preparation for riding the Mammoth High Sierra Fall Century. Here is the follow-up report.
I had signed up for the Century do almost entirely to seeing some jaw dropingly beautiful photos posted by biker395. After signing up I got a little worried about coming up from sea level to start a ride at over 8,000 feet. The bulk of the recommendations were to come up early, but that was not feasible.
The Pre Pre Ride
Even getting to Mammoth Lakes was somewhat eventful, as I had to detour north due to fire related road closures. About 20 miles of the route up highway 108 was like travelling through a thick fog due to smoke:
The Pre Ride
After getting into Mammoth, getting registered and setting up camp, I set out for a training ride around June Lake. Again, at Biker 395's suggestion (listen to him folks, he knows what he is talking about) I started near the northern end of the loop, getting the uphills out of the way at the beginning and saving the best scenery for last. I started out going south on 395 - nothing spectacular, then stopped at a store before turning on to June Lake Loop. My legs were a little shaky from the uphill and some head wind, but otherwise didn't feel bad. The rest of the loop was spectacular!
The next day I pedaled up to the starting line, sporting my 50+ gear
The announcers were talking about expecting sub 5 hour times, and at this point I was thinking "How stupid was it of me to pay the extra for the timed option. Oh well, I guess someone has to be last."
The start was a neutral start which was interesting, but there were some riders who were trying to get through the pack to the front, which wasn't smart. At this point I glided towards the back and stayed out of the way(that's my way of saying I was going to go slow, might as well let the hot doggers at it).
The first part of the ride, with two big long hills (nothing overly steep, just on and on and on) was great, and the downhills even greater! If you have any fear of speed (which I did) this ride will work them out for you. No dangerous curves, no bad road, just great long bombing downhills that go for miles and miles (and of course the great long upphills to get to those downhills). Lots of smiles going on during that part of the ride, one of the biggest was due to the CHP truck that passed us near Sage Hen summit blaring "Eye of the Tiger.
After the second downhill, the road turned south into a headwind and a series of dips that turned into rollers that turned into a few walls that almost did me in before Benton Crossing.
After Benton we turned west, into more headwind (amazing how that works) and Wildrose Summit, which was supposed to be the toughest, but I enjoyed because it resembled some bay area hills - steep but short.
As we got closer to the finish, the wind picked up, and the rollers really started sucking the life out, but oh boy was the scenery great!
The last 10 miles was north up 395 AND WE STILL HAD HEADWIND. Combine that with getting buffeted by cars, the least scenic portion of road during the whole ride, and 90 miles of fatigue, and that takes the prize for the hardest section of riding I have ever done.
I finally pulled into the finish at around 4:30, 9 hours after leaving. Despite setting some of the fastest splits I have done, overall, this was my slowest Century yet, and I chalk that up to the wind at the end, and the altitude throughout. A lack of Oxygen was what definitely slowed me down. My legs weren't tired (I saw a lot of other riders cramping up) but I just couldn't get up much speed without my breath sounding like a freight train. My heart rate stayed low as well, which was kind of a surprise. I didn't finish last after all. In fact about 25% of the timed riders dropped out. I've told folks that was about the most fun I have had on the bike, but it was also the most challenging time I have had on a bike.
The ride organization was great, the scenery (except for that last 10 miles) was awesome. If I did the ride again I doubt I would sign up for the timed version, but just do the century (takes the same route) and then bail out at the last rest stop at the 90 mile mark if the wind was bad. I understand that in previous years this spot (a baseball field) was the start and stop of the ride, and this year they moved it into town to raise the profile. I think they made the right decision, as the after party was really nice, but they need to do something about that last stretch!
I'd like to thank biker395 for his photographic skills that inspired me to do the ride in the first place. His photos have prompted me to put a whole bunch of places on my bucket list!