High Cascades 100 Report

Sorry this is a bit long winded. I wanted to capture it for myself as much as for all of you.

A couple weekends ago Alex, Nate and I participated in the High Cascades 100 in Bend. I’ll stop short of calling it a race as it was (at least for me) more about survival than actually being competitive. Alex and I, testing the limits of our stupidity, chose go with our singlespeeds where Nate had a glorious spread of gears to choose from.

The race started out at 5:30 am with a few miles on the paved highway headed up to Bachelor. This stretch is really critical to spread out the 300 people that had started because the early trails are crazy-sandy and the air just fills up with dust. On the road the mass start broke into little sub-groups and the three of us tried to move up to the front as much as we could to limit the lung damage.

Once Alex and I hit the dirt on a little bit of sandy doubletrack we pulled our bandanas over our faces and started hammering even more. Now the goal was to reach the singletrack in front of as many people as we could. Alex and I took turns leading the clean path between the two tracks around dozens of riders. It was early but I felt good and wanted to make a lot of headway. Once that doubletrack turned to singletrack everything backed up as you might expect. Alex and I sat in and passed when we could. We were climbing Funner, a trail that is typically considered a downhill run but for some reason we got to climb up it.

At the Wanoga snow park we got a mini aid station and the trial turned to dirt road for a few miles. Alex and I powered through it best we could but we lost some ground to the guys with gears as it flattened out. As it turned uphill again in the sand we caught several more people (including another SSer running a 34×17!) pushed a bit of a steep climb and then headed into more singletrack.

At this point of the morning I was finally warmed up, we had made it through a lot of the traffic and the trails were just starting to get really fun. The morning light through the trees was amazing and the trails had such great flow. I passed a couple of folks on a climb and found myself for the first time in a little pocket with no one in front of me. I was able to just push at the speed I wanted to go while jumping and hopping around and taking risks one shouldn’t take in a 100 mile race. A this point I think I lost Alex in the traffic but I’m sure he wasn’t far behind.

I hit the next aid station at about 30 miles in, topped off my liquid fuel and headed out again for a fun descent down South Swede & Tumalo Ridge. For the descent I was still pretty much alone. There were a couple of people out there but when they heard my obnoxiously loud hub they pulled over. At the bottom the course crossed over to the other side of the valley and started a road climb that got steeper as it progressed. Just when you don’t think you can take it any more the course turns off on to side road and the next aid station (~41 miles). I dropped off my bike to have the chain cleaned and grabbed some solid food. Just as I was leaving Alex and our friend Mark pulled in, I knew they weren’t far behind.

The course started heading up Mrazek (which is a much better trail to go down) and that’s where Alex caught me. We rode together for quite a while before Mark caught up. The three of us stayed together for the next several miles until we got through Happy Valley. Once the climbing got really steep Alex dropped Mark and I in some traffic and we didn’t see him again for a long time. I passed and lost Mark at some point. When I got to the stream crossing at the “top” I decided to not ride through it and instead walk. Somewhere in the middle of that stream I took off my helmet and submerged it. I’m not sure what time of day that was but we were well on our way to the 96º high we were expecting and I wanted to cool down. After the stream I decided I wanted to catch Alex so I rode as hard as I dared in order to connect with him.

I finally made contact with Alex at the aid station at Dutchman (~60 miles). I’m not sure how long he had been there but he seemed willing to wait for me to get some food. Mark rolled in as well so we hung around a little longer until he was ready.

Mark led us out of the aid station as we started the technical descent down to Lava Lake. The descent was pretty dusty and was filled with piles of lava rock. Hitting the ground here had high consequences as that lava LOVES nothing more than ripping flesh off of bodies. I’m not sure about how Alex and Mark felt about it but I was having the time of my life… that is until we reached a group of riders huddled around the rider who face planted into felled tree off the side of the trail. There was blood everywhere so we think he broke his nose, and he may have knocked a tooth loose. He was already getting tended to by other riders so we passed through and took it a lot easier after that as it was a harsh reminder of what could happen to any of us at any time.

Just as we got to the next mini aid station at Lava Lake (~70 miles) Mark discovered he had a flat. Alex and I got our drivetrains cleaned of dust again and Mark got his flat fixed. We probably hung around here too long but I took the opportunity to drink a whole bottle of water before filling up again. We had been warned there was another climb ahead of us and that it was probably the hardest of the day. It was only 5 miles long but it was filled with steep technical ups through lava and sun exposure.

Alex’s friend Joe caught us at this station and as Mark and I left Alex hung back a bit. They eventually caught us and, in short order, dropped Mark and I on the climb. We never saw them on the trail again. All I will say about the my experience on the climb is that it made me swear a lot. And if I didn’t have Mark with me I may have walked a lot more of it than I did. I was so tired at the top that even the downhill after the climb felt like I was going uphill. Mark and I rolled into the last full aid station at mile 80 and I downed a can of Coke. We saw Alex and Joe briefly as they headed back on the trail.

Mark and I had convinced ourselves that it was all downhill from this point. At least that’s what the volunteers were saying. They were all liars. We climbed again for several miles with very little downhill (as I recall). At this point we were in the full heat of the day and I couldn’t eat any solid food without gagging. My bottles of some funky Heed+Perpeteum+Nuun mix and plain water would have to see me through the last 20 miles. We did eventually make it through the last climbs but with a lot of breaks and some more swearing. Alex will have to recount the tantrum he had at what I imagine was this same point of the course.

The final trail stretch was on Tiddlywinks & Storm King which I know from experience are mostly flowy downhill trails but at this point even the downhill was a chore. My hardtail felt extra hard at this point and every little bum was overly jarring. One again, if I wasn’t with Mark I think I would have just stopped for a while–even on the downhill. We just kept pushing each other along.

The course finished off with the same stretch of pavement on which we had started. At one point I thought that was kind of lame but at the end of the day the smooth pavement was all I wanted. Mark was running gears so I told him he could bust ahead to the finish but he said after riding the last 50 miles with me that would be unforgivable. Mark is a big guy so I was able to tuck in behind him and spin like a hamster for 5 miles. When we reached the finished we crossed the line together, it just seemed fitting.

In the end I had a much better time than my previous run at the HC100. I think I knocked off a couple hours. I attribute this to better training but more importantly to having a friends along with me for most of the ride. My body was doing ok but the company made the mental game a lot easier to manage.

Will I ever do this race again? I don’t know, I’d kind of like to just ride those amazing trails in Bend and not tart to loathe them.
-Zack Phillips