Yahoo, it’s done. Check that biznatch off the list. This was one of those “once in a lifetime” rides. Doing it once in this lifetime was plenty for me. I don’t ever want to see Silver Canyon again. EVER. Although I wouldn’t mind hiking White Mountain with the family and taking them to Patriarch Grove to share the beauty of the Ancient Bristlecones, it will definitely be accessed via car, and not by riding my bike up 12,000′ into the sky. That being said, I’m reveling in the rare satisfaction that is only achieved through immense mental and physical suffering leading to successfully completing a lofty goal… and then whining about it after.
This was the toughest single day I’ve ever spent on a bicycle. One might ask, “What about 24 hour solo races?” Sure those are hard physically and mentally taxing, but they have their “comforts”. You’re doing a 10-mile loop with multiple climbs and descents. You’re also riding through your pit every lap. Cowbells and ass slaps, support and all that jazz. This is different. The only thing I’ve done that could compare is the Everest Challenge – but only if it was on dirt and without all the aid stations and sag support. It makes the Laurel Lakes Ride feel like a warmup. Maybe if you added a brutal 3,000′ climb right on the summit of Coyote and then another 3,000′ climb on the way back to Millpond the Sierra 7500 would be comparable. The point is, this shit was hard and I’m trying to pat myself on the back.
With that being said, I knew I had to be successful on the first try. If I didn’t make it all the way, I’m not sure I’d ever want to try again – and it would eat at me. I did a lot of research and prep before jumping in bed with this one. Although I couldn’t find any other singlespeeders to collect ride beta from, I found a bunch of other great resources and ride reports on the interwebs. One article in particular had a ton of technical info, stats, detailed ride data, and photos. Even though they took an approach that differs from mine (pre-riding, recon by car, putting numerous caches and water drops all over the place, etc), their article is very informative and helped me wrap my head around the route and create a game plan. If you’re serious about doing the White Mountain Epic, check it out: http://windinmyface.com/WhiteMountainPeakChallenge.html
My notes here gloss over most of that stuff, but I hope it’s still helpful to anyone considering this challenge. Email me with any questions or requests for more detailed ride beta – I’d be stoked to chat with you!
White Mountain Epic – Overview:
- The version I did starts at Laws Museum in Bishop (approx 4,000′ elevation). Climb up Silver Canyon to White Mountain Rd (6,400′ climb over 11 miles). You then continue up White Mountain Rd past the Patriarch Grove turnoff, through the “locked gate”, up to the Barcroft Laboratory, and eventually to the summit of White Mountain Peak at 14,252′. By the time you summit, you’ve climbed around 12,200′ over 32 miles. Then you turn around, and descend. But even the descent is brutal. You still have over 2,500′ of climbing to do over 21 miles before getting to Silver Canyon. A 21 mile ride with 2,500′ of climbing is a tough ride on it’s own!!! This brings the climbing total to 14,700′ over 53 miles. Bonkers. Just before reaching Silver Canyon, you turn right on Old Silver Canyon – a mining era wagon road that goes down the north side of the canyon and reconnects with Silver Canyon about 5 miles from the end. Then you bomb down back to your car splashing through the creek crossings you gingerly road up earlier that morning. The whole ride is about 65 miles long.
- White Mountain Peak is the highest elevation you can ride a bike in the continental U.S. at 14,252′. Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental U.S. at 14,505′ is just across Highway 395, but no bikes on the summit.
- I rode this on “open gate day” – the one day of the year they allow cars to drive all the way up to Barcroft – so there was a lot of traffic. I did this on purpose, in case things went sideways, I knew there would be people and vehicles around.
- Completing the whole ride without hurting myself or my bike, duh.
- The amazing landscape and scenery are second to none. The ancient bristlecones and moonscapes up high are unreal. The first time White Mountain comes into view after climbing past Patriarch Grove is magical. I’m gonna ride to the top of that? SWEET!!!
- Looking down off the top of White Mountain in all directions is spiritual. With all the adrenaline, oxygen deprivation, and overall cracked out mental state I was in, it was quite emotional. Something everybody needs to do.
- When I arrived at the summit, there were 6 people there clapping and cheering, hooting and hollering at me. Turns out, they were the same group that drove past as I was sitting on a stump eating my chicken caesar wrap at Patriarch Grove hours before, and remembered me. They were all mountain bikers (who were just hiking for fun) and understood the feat of climbing from Silver Canyon. Sharing that moment with them was great. I should’ve had a beer with them, but I needed to keep my remaining wits intact for the descent.
- It’s a great feeling hiking my bike past “real hikers” on the way to the summit. It’s an ego boost knowing my “bike pushing pace” after 7 hours in the saddle and 10,000′ of climbing is faster than many of them without bikes.
- Riding down Old Silver Canyon. That wagon road was so much fun and offered up unique views compared to the traditional route. Seeing the old cabin, and imagining this area in the mining hay day is always fun for a history buff like me.
- Bumping into Luke (another guy doing the “full monty” who had emailed me via Fat Bike Mammoth randomly). We were doing it on the same day, and started within 10 minutes of each other but didn’t cross paths until near the summit. He also said it was his hardest day in the saddle – way to go Luke!!
- The Silver Canyon climb – the last 4 miles after the gate always suck. Lots of hiking and steep ass switchbacks.
- Washboard sections on the descent from White – without suspension, my forearms took a beating trying to keep my teeth from rattling out of my dome and my fingers and hands got sore/numb from braking.
- The last 700′ climb back to the top of Silver Canyon as you’re coming back from Patriarch Grove. You’re completely toasted, and this one kicks you in the nuts.
- All the dust in my face from the cars driving to/from Barcroft.
- I left my Garmin on the bumper of my truck at the end of the ride as I rushed home for family pizza night. Oops.
Stashing Food and Water:
- Luckily, I had some friends (thanks so much Amy and Greg) driving up to Barcroft for open gate day. They also rode their singlespeeds to the top – represent! They dropped a cooler for me at the intersection of Silver Canyon and White Mountain Rd. This saved me from having to do it myself. In addition to that drop, I left another small cooler and backpack with extra clothes in their truck which was parked at Barcroft – so in essence, I had 2 “stashes” for the price of none. Lifesaver.
- I rode my Niner Air 9 Carbon- singlespeed and rigid, geared 32:22. I had previously done Silver Canyon on 32:20 but knew I needed to keep the HR low for the long haul. It’s funny to me when I read about geared bikes doing this ride with a 22:36 granny gear. Must be nice. Suspension would also be nice… but single and rigid is just so simple. I’m a simple guy.
- I used my Chris King/ Stans Crest Wheelset with Maxxis Ignitor Front, Ikon Rear – pretty much the only wheel/tire combo I ever use. Bomber.
- I kept a small tool kit, pump, co2, tube, emergency light, etc in my camelbak.
- I left some chain lube in Stash #1, in case my chain got jacked up at all the creek crossings on Silver Canyon – but didn’t need it.
- Zero mechanicals. It was the maiden voyage for this bike and I couldn’t have been happier with it. Light and solid.
- I wore my trusty Pearl Izumi X Alp shoes, knowing there was lots of hike a bike. Kept my dogs from barking too hard.
- I went back and forth on what to wear, what to carry, etc – but after a last minute weather check at Barcroft Station, odds were there would be 30+ mph winds and low 50’s at the summit at noon… I also knew it would be 50’s at 4,000′ when my ride started at 6am. My elevation gain would offset the temps rising, so I rode most of the route in the high 50’s / low 60’s with some wind and beautiful sunny skies. PERFECT!! This is what I wore:
- On my body, I wore leg warmers, swiftwick 4″ compression socks, pearl izumi chamois and pearl izumi canyon shorts, a short sleeve baselayer, a long sleeve jersey, full finger gloves.
- In my camelbak, I had a lightweight windbreaker and a thermal skull cap.
- At Barcroft I had a thermal vest, warm gloves, a spare jersey, and a spare baselayer. I wound up using the thermal vest and the warmer gloves for the final push to the summit. It was windy and cold up there, as the forecast stated, so the vest kept my core very happy. My body always has trouble generating heat as I get into longer rides, so layering is key.
- The clothing choices were perfect. Comfy and properly thermoregulated by simply zipping and unzipping the whole ride.
Nutrition / Hydration
- Ride Start:
- I had one 24oz bottle filled with gu brew and 50oz of water in my camelbak bladder. I usually drink 24 oz an hour, and knew it would take about 3 hours to reach the summit of Silver Canyon (where Stash #1 awaited me).
- I had two bananas and 2 gu gels (chocolate and espresso are all I can stomach) in my jersey pockets.
- I carried Hammer Endurolytes and potassium pills as well. I try to take 3 endurolytes an hour and one potassium pill an hour – until I start gagging a few hours into rides/races.
- Stash #1 – Silver Canyon/White Mountain Rd. – I never know what I’m gonna crave, so I pack a selection of stuff:
- cold water to chug and refill my camelbak
- 24 oz bottle with gu brew
- can of coke
- bottle of gatorade
- pretzel sticks
- chicken caesar wrap
- Reese’s peanut butter cups
- gu gels
- salami slices
- Stash #2 – Barcroft
- cold water to chug and refill my bladder
- 24 oz bottle with gu brew
- can of coke
- pretzel sticks
- gu gels
- Reese’s peanut butter cups
What did I consume?
- 60 oz Gu Brew
- 150 oz water
- 6 bananas
- 1 pickle
- 1 chicken caesar wrap
- 3 gu gels
- peanut butter cups
- 10 endurolytes
- A partridge in a pear tree
- Just before leaving the locked gate, I choked on an endurolyte pill, so no more supplements after that.
- I also gagged on my last banana at Barcroft. So no more food after that – I also was disgusted by the Gu Brew at that point (which is normal for me), so it was all water and a forced gu gel after that.
- Never cramped. Never bonked.
In closing – if ultra-endurance adventure riding is your thing, this ride is for you. Otherwise, drive your car up to the Locked Gate, and hike or bike your ass to the top of White Mountain Peak. It’s worth every penny of flesh and blood and sweat left on the trail – no matter how you get there.