1 part gravel, 1 part mountain enduro, and 1 part road race
The sun had yet to rise when I awoke. The Uinta Mountains to the east might have had seen some sun, but Park City remained in the dark and a misty fog brought with it a bone chill. Gathering my things, I summoned an UBER—perhaps a touch preemptively. But hell, it’d light a fire under my prep time. Fifteen minutes. OK. Shoes, helmet, snack bars: check. Chargers, SD cards, cameras: check. Pedals…shit! I look at my phone—four minutes.
I toss everything into my Patagonia Black Hole and run out to the garage, tossing my cyclocross bike onto the stand and fishing out my 15mm pedal wrench. Two minutes… ah! Ok, which way again? I pull counter clockwise on the drive side… right? Ugh, this is what YouTube is for… passcode, app launch, search… GCN - How to Remove and Replace Your Bicycle Pedals. Select. PLAY! Buffering… “the drive side unscrews in the conventional manner, anti-clockwise.” Umm, what’s that? Oh, right, British for counter clockwise.
"Your UBER is arriving."
After a quick bump on the wrench the pedal threads off. Ok, clockwise on the non-drive side. Thump, the pedal hits the ground. Gathering my greasy SPDs, I stuff them in an old grocery bag, into my duffel and I’m out the door. I’ll be missing my trusty Cannondale CAADX, but look forward to making a substantial upgrade—the Santa Cruz Stigmata CC is awaiting on the other end of today’s travels, thanks to the good lads and ladies at SRAM.
An hour later, I’m at the gate, preparing for my flight. Breathing heavily and going over my mental gear checklist, I open Twitter to survey the hype surrounding the upcoming event. #Grinduro is going off! Talk of custom bikes, delicious food and event prep status fills countless tweets. By sundown some 400 riders will have descended upon the quaint town of Quincy, located 144 miles Northeast of Sacramento in the American Valley at the base of the California’s Sierra Butte Mountains. The cause? Grinduro.
Once in Sac-town I’m quickly caught up in the growing excitement radiating from a group of fellow “Grindurers” huddled around the nearest coffee drip. Soon thereafter we’re on the road for a 3-hour tour up I-70 and into the heard of the Sierra Mountains.
WTF is Grinduro?
Grinduro is unlike any other bike race in the world, because, really, it’s much more than just a race. It’s one part gravel road race, one part mountain bike-style enduro and one part road race, plus three parts bike culture festival. It’s as much about racing as it is about building and supporting a community of like-minded cyclists. Of the 62-mile course, just four segments are timed. The overall winners are determined by the cumulative times posted over each, totaling just 17.5 miles. Nevertheless, the ride presents plenty of opportunities to chat and get to know your fellow Grindurers—that is, if you have the stamina for it.
The course consists primarily of dirt and gravel fire roads, with two road portions and a singletrack downhill to finish. Two climbs total 28 miles with a “healthy” 8,000 feet of vertical gain. Conceived and largely organized by Giro employee Dain Zaffke, with notable input from U.S. editor of Enduro Mountainbike Magazine and former pro racer, Joe Parkin, the event is clearly designed to challenge the cyclist and their machine of choice.
After a restless night’s sleep due to temps in the low 40s and anxious anticipation for the day to come, I arose to a light breakfast and French-pressed coffee from SLO’s Honey Co. Coffee. The distinct sound of derailleurs clicking through gears as final adjustments were made to the steeds of choice could be heard throughout Quincy’s Plumas County Fairgrounds.
Naturally, the 8AM start rolled around quicker than expected, leaving me scrambling to fill water bottles and shed thermal layers. Glancing at my Strava stats from the week prior (seven measly miles logged), I was a little stressed about the race… though not overtly so, after all I had elevation on my side, and had been slaying Park City’s singletrack all summer. Nevertheless, I took my place in the mass Gran Fondo style starting lineup. The bikes in my immediate surroundings ranged from cross racer rigs and full-squish mountain bikes, to single speeds and carbon hardtails. Straddling my orange Stigmata CC, I tried to focus on the beauty of the dawn’s golden hour filtering through the fairground’s pine trees while simultaneously reminding myself of the event’s ad fodder stating that “the Grinduro isn’t meant to be a sufferfest.”
Fifteen hundred feet into the first 3,000-foot climb and I had already shed every extra layer I'd started with. Jersey pockets swollen to the brim with base layers, wind breaker and three disposable cameras, I began to fall into rhythm with my surrounding riders, making small talk, discussing bike choices and learning the various paths Grindurers had taken to arrive at the event.
After 14 miles of climbing, we reached the final mile to the top of big Grizz, the first timed stage of the race. I grabbed a sip of water and threw in a few pedal strokes of momentum before crossing the RFID sensor start line, launching myself into stage one of Grinduro. Sufficiently dust choked and grunt-worthy, it became apparent that now was when my abilities on a bike were to be put to the test. But wait, wasn’t this whole thing designed specifically NOT to be a suffer fest?
Topping out on Grizzly Ridge I resumed a more comfortable pace as I pedaled southeast through logging-impacted National Forest land. Morning heat and rising light filtered through the forest’s high canopy of Douglas Firs, White Firs and Ponderosa Pines. This, combined with stunning views of American Valley to the south, created a sense of surrealism along the ridge’s gradual ups and downs. Atop one of the many rolling hills I noticed a group had paused to take in the view. Stopping to be sure everything was ok, my nostrils were instantly overtaken by the pungent serenade of California’s most valuable crop.
Now this is my type of bike race.
Stage two was six miles of fast, packed dirt road goodness. The Stigmata’s disk brakes and tubeless tires performed magnificently through drifting corners and over sneaky shark fins of rock, which left tube-dependent riders off to the side fixing flats.
After a quick snack and a few pumps of air at the festive support camp, I partnered up with some others from the PR team to continue the descent to Emigrant Creek. Lined by granite walls and the largest Douglas firs of the day, the smell of mountain juniper and pine intensified as the valley walls drew closer.
Leaving the dirt fire road and joining a rural residential street, our team approached the third stage of the day and the one timed road portion of the ride. With a harsh cross wind blowing, teams began to form to combat the submissive breeze with numbers. Riders of like bikes approached the stage in mini pelotons, trading pulls along the meandering country road for the six-mile sprint.
Recalling my Strava stats and looking down at my bike’s knobby rubber, I knew this was going to be a challenging stage. Regardless, we lined up and sent’r out the gates with all the gusto our pistons could pump. As our group dwindled down to only three, we traded off breaking wind, bonking after each pull. Whooping and cawing in pain, our camaraderie and commitment to the team held us through to the end of segment.
Arriving at lunch in Taylorsville, we were greeted by prosciutto and veggie sandwiches on focaccia, potato salad, kale and black-eyed peas of gastronomic sorcery prepared by Portland-based chef Chris DiMinno of Chris King's Gourmet Century rides.
To my credit, I forewent the temptation of a large portion. Having looked at the map, I knew that looming just around the bend lay the tight topo lines of the China Grade ascent back up to the top of Mt. Hough. With the grade averaging about 12% and sustained pitches of over 20%, my hope was to actually keep what calories I could consume, down.
China Grade was a slog, a deep dig, one of those moments in every rider’s career when they think their legs may just pop off and start squirting blood out like a fire hydrant. But, I made it. We all made it.
Now, 58.4 miles into Grinduro, it was time to rip some technical single track on a cross bike. No problem…
Built by volunteers with the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship—the same group responsible for many of the trails around Downieville, CA—the trail’s 3.5 mile, 3,000-foot descent is celebrating its inaugural year. Overtaken by 200+ riders before I graced it’s hand-shaped beauty, the Mt. Hough Trail’s downhill singletrack was ready to party with all the deep troughs of dust confetti, loose dirt, banked turns, rock gardens, small airs and drops the Stigmata and I could handle.
As I crossed the finish line, refreshment in hand, I looked around at my fellow Grindurers. Their sweat streaked brows, bloody knees, dusty shins and broad smiles spoke of accomplishment, experience and community. We would take this energy back the final stretch of pavement to Quincy and through the night.
With a photo booth, awards show and a concert by Ray Barbee and Mike Watt and the Missingmen, followed by a DJ set, the party didn't stop until the wee hours. The shared exhaustion we felt in our bodies seemed unable to overshadow the endorphin-filled accomplishment of finishing Grinduro. So, we partied.
I am Sore
Awakened the next day by a level of sore I had blocked out from any and all recent memory, we prepped the bikes for one more quick jaunt around town to work out what lactic acid we could before heading home. Riding through American Valley, it’s easy to see beauty in the pace of life enjoyed by the community’s 1,728 residents. Quincy’s wooded lots, free-range cattle grazing upon open fields and a quaint Main St. sector of basic amenities overlay a volatile economic history of gold mining‘s boom and bust, succeeded by extensive logging practices and now what appears to be a burgeoning destination recreation economy. The increasing demand for trails amidst mountain biking’s surge in popularity shines a new light of opportunity upon a region rattled by the mercurial traits of an extraction-based economic history.
Back at camp there was a hopeful sense of community forming around this multi-faceted event in the Sierra Buttes. After packing up the van, we made the rounds of handshakes, giving proper homage to those who had envisioned and realized Grinduro. Parting words were pretty simple: “see you next year.”