This weekend I’m slated to do the best mountain bike race in the world, the E100. Up front, I’ll admit to a bit of hyperbole with this statement. In fact, I’ve never actually done a mountain bike race (unless it was part of something else, like adventure race). But I’ve looked at a lot of races and ridden their courses. Compared to some of the more famous races on the planet, the E100 blows them away.
At first glance, the race seems daunting. Its 100 miles with 18,000’ of elevation gain. When you delve a bit deeper, you find that the profile is just a piece of the puzzle, and the proposition begins to seem insane. Unlike Leadville and most of the other 100 mile and 24 hour races, the E100 is almost entirely on single track and doesn’t follow repetitive loops. The course is chosen for aesthetic beauty and fun riding, not for blowing through miles quickly. Much of the single track snakes its way through thick groves of aspens on rutted terrain. For most people, it’s not a course that gets ridden very fast.
The upside is that the riding, according to my friend Jeremy, “is on the best single track I’ve ridden anywhere in the world.” And he’s ridden a lot of places. For those put off by attempting 100 miles, there are 100k and 50 mile options. The 50 mile option takes the famous Mid Mountain Trail between Park City and The Canyons and is one of the most sublime rides I’ve ever done.
There are detailed maps on the web site. I helped mark the course this weekend. Here’s a quick rundown:
Stage 1 – After a mile of steep dirt road to sort the field, you head uphill on Billy’s Bypass and John’s, a slow twisty ascent through the aspens. This is the most technical climb of the race and it will probably still be dark.
Next you hit Mid Mountain, turn right, and take it past Red Pine lodge at The Canyons Resort. This section is world famous and rightly so. It’s only mildly technical but one of the most beautiful sections of trail I’ve ever ridden. It’s capped by a technical rocky descent down Holly’s Downhill to the base of The Canyons.
Stage 2 – Ascend Holly’s Uphill to Ambush to Mid Mountain. A difficult climb with some tight switchbacks and rocky sections lead you back to Mid Mountain, where you get 3 and some odd new miles back to the trail you came out on. Then you reverse Mid Mountain back to Park City, which is quite different in this direction. Then you head back to Park City MR down dome cool, twisty, single track.
Stage 3 – Takes you up Spiro, an aerobic sufferfest that is, thankfully, almost fully shaded. You turn left at Mid Mountain and take this back to John’s, the techie trail you ascended that morning. This is an outstanding serpentine descent through the Aspens.
Stages 4 and 5 – The 100 mile racers get the biggest climb at the end, and twice. It’s a grind up Spiro to Powerline to some steep dirt roads leading almost to the top of the Wasatch Crest. After 5 miles and over 3,000’, you’re rewarded with 12 miles of screaming downhill. Well, it’s actually not really screaming. Most of it is very narrow and parts are technical. It’s also not all downhill as you climb up onto the Deer Valley side of the canyon before dropping down a cool new trail I’d never seen before traversing above town and then dropping down a road for the last half mile.
I’m not yet signed up. The main reason is that Sandee and I were trying to plan a trip before her kids head back to school but, seeing as we’re both tight on cash, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. But I also have this bike dilemma. I don’t know which category to enter. I want to ride on my single speed but I’m not sure it’s a smart idea.
The geared bike would be easier. It would be more comfortable. I would almost certainly finish and I’d get to race against my age group. If I ride the ss I’ll be forced to race against the hammerheads that do nothing but ride where I’d probably come in last place if I manage to finish at all. But, mainly, I’ll be forced to do 6 big climbs in one day and each time I do them one at a time I feel right on the verge of puking. I injured my knee doing the Everest Challenge on large gearing (in honor of tradition), so there is some rational for choosing gears.
The only reason I’d ride the ss is for fun. I love riding this bike. I love the 29 inch wheels, the geometry, the way it seems to fit me perfect as I stand or sit or no matter what the terrain. I love the simplicity of not deciding on what gear to be in or how hard to push a section. You pedal when you can, stand when it gets hard, and coast downhill. It’s like being a kid; and I’m sorta just an old kid.
I’ve got too much going on to actually plan it. On the last day to sign up I’ll just wake up and decide. But it doesn’t really matter either. Worst case scenario is that I get to ride all day in the Wasatch, so I guess it’s not really a dilemma at all. No matter what I choose, life will be very very good.