Ride Report - Tahoe Sierra Century

Shannon & Matt at the Finish Line (Jody Pritchard) More photos below.

By Matt Pritchard

In February of 2002, I suffered an unfortunate accident while skiing at Alta, Utah. Actually, "skiing" might not be the right word - walking on the deck of the lodge would be more accurate. I slipped on ice, I fell hard, I dislocated my kneecap (sublexed my patella). What it lacked in glory, it made up for in monumental pain. It brought my ski season to a screeching halt. While no surgery was required, my sofa-bound approach to rehab left me with a seriously weakened right leg and head start on a sedentary lifestyle. After four months of doing nothing, I decided that if I didn't start building my legs back up soon, next year's ski season was in peril too.

In June, I pulled out my dusty steed and began by doing a short, 8-mile ride through Golden Gate Park three times a week. It felt great to be active again, but after a couple of months, I decided that my training needed some direction. I signed up for a three month stint with Carmichael Training Systems. While I wasn't always impressed with the attention given by my coach, I did like the program she setup for me. For the rest of the fall, I was riding longer distances and getting out 4 times per week. By the time the ski season rolled around, my knee was still not 100%, but it was good enough to enjoy 12 days on the mountain.

My goal to start riding again in April came and went and it was June by the time I started a new program with CTS. This time I decided that I needed a more concrete goal. Getting in shape and strengthening my leg is a fine goal, but it's a bit nebulous and not easily defined. I decided that I would try to complete a century ride by the end of the season. It was a big goal for me - much farther than I had ever ridden before. But I knew plenty of people that had done them and I like the non-competitive nature of these rides. I worked with a new coach at CTS this year and was very happy with the attention and dedication they had to my program. All of my questions were answered and they really tried to fit a program around my goal. Choosing a ride was difficult. It needed to be late in the season to allow for ample training time and I really wanted something in Northern California. After talking my friend Shannon into joining me, we decided on the Tahoe Sierra Century.

The Ride

To be honest, the ride intimidated us a little bit. After putting in 1,300 training miles over the summer, the distance wasn't really the problem. It was the amount of climbing that had both Shannon and I worried. 5,500 feet of climbing was spread out over 4 major climbs. And the entire route was above 6,000 feet. We both tried to include as much climbing as possible into our training regimen, which helped enormously.

Shannon, Jody, and I drove up to Truckee the night before the race. Work schedules and last minute details en route had us checking into the Holiday Inn Express at about midnight. This wasn't an ideal bedtime the night before a big ride. 5:30 A.M. came very soon and we stumbled through the motions of getting ready. The start time for the ride was listed as 7:00 to 8:00 A.M. Knowing that we had a big day ahead of us, Shannon and I wanted to get on the course as early as possible. We were among the first to arrive at the start area at Squaw Valley. It was still dark outside. After checking in and receiving our shwag bags, we grabbed our bikes and started to get ready. The guy next to us in the parking lot, a Chicago transplant named Don, was a first timer as well.

At 7:15, Shannon, Don, and I set off into the bitter cold to get this thing underway. The first section of the ride took us out to Highway 89 and south through the Truckee River Canyon toward Lake Tahoe. The sun was still hiding behind the steep walls of the canyon and the bitter morning air brought with it numb fingers and lethargic legs. The sight of Lake Tahoe was welcome, as it meant that we were out of the dark and could finally start warming up. The route veered east around the north shore of the lake and within a few miles, we were already at the Carnelian Bay rest stop. We were all very impressed with the spread of fruit, baked good, and assorted drinks that were available to us. After quickly fueling up, we got back on our bikes and headed off towards the first big climb of the day.

According to local lore, Greg Lemond holds the record for this climb at 14.5 minutes. Our time was somewhere north of that.

When we reached Kings Beach, the route headed north on Highway 267, towards Brockway Summit. The first climb of the day came and went without much fanfare. It was tough, but totally doable. Sometime during the climb, our new friend Don decided we were slowpokes and he sped off in the distance. Despite Don's desertion, finishing this ride was beginning to look like a more of a reality. A long, fast descent down the backside of Brockway took us past Northstar and into Truckee. We skirted around the perimeter of the city and headed into the hills north of town. We took our time at the second rest stop, knowing that the toughest climb of the day was on the horizon. Again, we were greeted with smiling faces and a well stocked rest area. This was a great ride

The second climb of the day was absolutely punishing. From the second rest stop, we headed back towards Tahoe Donner and began a step ascent up Alder Creek Road. The suffering took a turn for the worse as we merged onto Ski Slope Way and got our asses thoroughly kicked by an obnoxiously steep residential street that just kept going. After some heaving and whimpering, we topped out at 7,350'. We were toast and were only forty-something miles into the ride. A mercifully long descent led us through Truckee and around Donner Lake to the third rest stop of the day.

About this time, Shannon and I realized that we were definitely bringing up the rear of the pack. That was OK by us, but we decided to get a move on to the lunch stop before too long. The 3-mile climb up Donner Pass road was tough. The sun was high in the sky and the grade didn't relent. Switchback after switchback led us up what was arguably the most scenic, but also one of the toughest sections of the ride. According to local lore, Greg Lemond holds the record for this climb at 14.5 minutes. Our time was somewhere north of that. After cresting Donner Pass, we began the 12 mile descent past Sugar Bowl and Soda Springs. Roughly following Interstate 80, we made our way down Donner Pass road to the turnaround at Cisco Grove and the nearby lunch stop. The 14 year old girl fixing sandwiches at the lunch stop looked a me sideways when I asked for a peanut butter and cheese sandwich, but she made it for me nonetheless.

Shannon and I muscled down our lunch and reluctantly headed back onto the course. We had an easy, but long 12 mile climb ahead of us before we were in the home stretch. My body was beginning to feel the effects of the ride and soon my back started cramping really bad. I couldn't take deep breaths without the muscles in my upper-mid back spasming, squeezing the breath out of me in a cruel cycle of suffering. I thank Shannon for her patience on this portion of the ride as we inched our way back up Donner Pass, leapfrogging another pair of riders that were also having a tough go of it. By the time we reached the top of the pass, we were among the last 25 riders still on the course. Thankfully, we only had 20 miles to go and it was all pretty easy.

A fast descent back to the Donner Lake rest area and a quick refueling got us back on the course without much delay. The final 15 miles of the course was like a race to get it over with. Riding through Truckee and back down Highway 89, we kept an average speed somewhere around 17 MPH, despite the slight incline. We just wanted to be done. Soon enough, we found ourselves turning right onto the Squaw Valley access road for the final 2 miles of the day. We rolled in nice and easy and smiled from ear to ear as we finished our first century. But wait! We were done with the ride, but my bike computer was only registering 99.8 miles! There is no chance I'm going to do a century and not see that third digit on my bike computer turn over. A quick lap around the parking lot solved that problem and we headed to the van for some well deserved rest. Total ride time - 7 hours, 45 minutes. Total time on the course - a skoach over 10 hours. Umm, we took a lot of breaks.

A pile of pasta, a few slices of pizza, and good beer brought some life back into my body. Both Shannon and I were very impressed with the overall quality of the ride. It was well organized, well supported, and the route was absolutely beautiful. It probably wasn't the best choice for our first century, given the challenges of the route, but that made finishing it that much sweeter. Time to start training for next year.

Questions or comments about this trip report? Let us know.