Words by Owen Wood.
Photos by Daniel Sharp and Owen Wood
“How do you feel?”
“I don’t want to climb anymore”
It was January 2016 when I had to admit defeat, long before I toed a start line. The plan was to complete a notoriously tough ultra trail running race called the Diez Vista 50k and the fact that I have to drive past the Diez everyday really fueled the fire to finally try this race. Attempting this race as my virgin introduction to ultras may have been my undoing as it turns out my achilles heel is actually my achilles heels. Both had become so painful that walking barefoot across the kitchen initiated searing pain and running had become impossible.
But I could still ride my bike!
I love a good challenge (read: suffering) so with that in mind I searched the internet and landed on the Cascade Cream Puff 100. It didn’t take long to realize that the CCP100 checked off all the boxes; 18,000 ft. of climbing over two 50 mile loops that guaranteed exceptional levels of suffering, 20 years strong so they know what they are doing, almost guaranteed sunny hot weather, some of the best trails that Oregon has to offer in the Willamette and getting there would require a road trip to ‘Merica! It was reading the race report by local Vancouver Island speedster and 2015 CCP100 winner Terry McKall that sealed the deal.
Permission was granted from my wife Chris (permission sounds bad it’s not, in truth there was no way I could do this without her help, blessing and encouragement), the motel was booked and the training plan was instituted.
One thing I will say about the training is that I am still sort of new to the whole mtb xc racing thing so the last few years I have only ridden Squamish in “race mode” in the Test of Metal series. Let me tell you, riding around “training” on the trails of Squamish with no pressure and not knowing where I was half the time was a blast!
I stalked Terry at the Test of Metal so I could pester him for any advice on the Cream Puff. Terry’s best advice was pacing! “It was 38 degrees last year and guys will go out like it’s a xc race and you must be patient and let them go or you will die later because it’s a long hot day.” Terry emailed me his Garmin file from the race and I must admit, ignorance was in my favour until I made the mistake of opening that file. The profile looked like a couple of walls every lap!
August came quick and with Chris as my navigator/co-pilot and Whiskey the lab riding back seat shot gun we were off down the I-5. We had decided to split up the drive by staying a night in Portland on the way down and up because, Portland!
Oakridge is a one light town and our motel was located just on the outskirts. Upon first inspection, we were a little worried. Enough that we did a second lap of town looking for other accommodations but the town was booked up. Thankfully we were not murdered in our sleep, there was no bug infestation (as seen on yelp) and no chalk outlines were discovered. By Friday night the motel began to fill with a few more racers and we felt a lot more at ease in our little shag and cedar Shangri-La.
Once in town the first thing I felt after shutting of the car and checking things out was the heat. The car temp gauge was at 34 degrees. I knew it would be hot and I love the heat but after our crappy cold/wet spring/summer, 34 felt like two hamsters farting in a wool sock. Fortunately, on race day it didn’t go above 30.
Friday, I went out for a short pre-ride from the start to stretch the legs, check the bike and have a look at the only flattish section of the course that ran along the river. This section was only used for the second loop because it’s too dark on the first lap so it’s a neutral start along the opposite side of the river for a couple of miles on the pavement. Turns out the trail was littered with poison oak, as is a good portion of the course, but I managed to survive the weekend unscathed, even with all my 9 pee stops in the bush.
Back in the parking lot I recognized a guy wearing Republic kit from Brackendale. Turns out it was Mike Reed who lives a few houses down from my buddy Steve who I free load off of for every race in Squamish. I recalled Steve mentioning Mike and his penchant for “casually” going out for a 200km ride so I was not surprised to see him and I was even less surprised that he rode away from me on the first hill and I didn’t see him again till the finish. I’m not sure his exact age but he won the 55+ class, beat me by 20 min and looked way too fresh after so he will always be “Mike the Machine” to me now!
After a neutral roll down the road we hit the trail and the fun began. With Terry’s advice and knowing that it would be a long hot day, I sat back, said good morning and good luck to Mike and watched as most of the field rode away from me on the first climb. I’m not going to lie, that part was tough but that first climb goes up 3,000 feet and it wasn’t long before I started to reel in people who looked to be suffering a little too much this early in the day.
As the sun came up and we climbed ever higher, we were rewarded with the most spectacular views around every corner.
About 90% of the climbing is on FSR so it’s nice to just put your head down and plug away. I went back and forth a few times with a guy named Ben riding what I thought was an insane combo…. a hardtail single speed. It was mesmerizing watching him slowly ride away while standing up, his legs ticking over like two lazy diesel pistons. That kid is fit, but better him than me was all I could think.
I was warned about the aid stations in this race. Warned as in, they are awesome but be careful not to spend too much time in them because it will get harder and harder to leave as the day goes on. Sure enough, the volunteers and the stations were amazing. Awesome food (one guy was grilling bacon and cheese sandwiches) manned with volunteers eager to get you fuel, fix your bike and even lube your chain!
The trails were the main reason I was here and did they deliver. Endless buff single track wound its way through old growth forests and alpine fields with hardly a root or rock in sight. A ton of the trail was like a bobsled run through the forest and there were downhill sections where I rode for miles with hardly pedalling.
One thing that is a bit tough with the local races is the “no dogs” policy (which a few always chose to ignore) but with hundreds of entrants I get it, so I abide by it. With less than a hundred in total for the Fritter 50 and Cream Puff 100, dogs were welcome and so much so that they even had a dog friendly shuttle up the first climb to aid station 2 for fan and dog support.
As I rolled out of the half way aid station at the start finish I was feeling good but I didn’t think it was possible hit my goal of going under 12 hrs for the race. I had completed the first half in about 5:45 and from looking at past results I knew a negative split was next to impossible so riding 6hrs even would be really tough. It was hot now and climbing the switchbacks of the FSR left nowhere to hide from the sun but this is where my early pacing paid off as I passed all but six guys on this climb, with only one being able to pass me back about 25 miles later. After not seeing anyone for hours on end, to finally to see other riders and then pass them really lifted my spirits.
I cruised along the middle of the course on lap 2 until I reached the last climb, another long tough grind at about 80 miles in. Thankfully there is a final aid station at the bottom of the climb where I had my chain lubed and I pounded a can of coke, possibly the best decision of the day as it turns out.
The final climb is on an older, slightly overgrown FSR, and things got dark. I’m talking Colonel Kurtz Apocalypse Now dark. I was starting to hurt physically and with all the blind corners on the climb I started to lose any mental edge I had too. I started to swear out loud as I was continually denied the trailhead for another bloody corner and more ascent. The relentless teasing of rounding a corner only to be denied the reprieve of single track led to a flurry of expletives, the likes of which any sailor would be proud of.
As that can of coke finally took hold I located the trailhead and I felt a euphoric lift in spirits knowing it would be a mostly down hill blast to the finish. That last downhill might have been the most painful part of the day as my legs were so cooked I had to raise my dropper post to hold myself up since I could no longer stand. I left nothing out there and as I dropped into the finish area from above I had even managed to squeak in under 12hrs at 11:56. Glorious, but I had to pee again haha!
Top ten on the day were given huge cream puffs baked locally, these suckers must have weighed a couple of pounds.
I had a great time, thanks to my wife and number one fan/supporter Chris, the volunteers and the race crew. They are a well-oiled machine and they really care about the race and the riding area. The trails are amazing and there are a few companies that offer shuttle riding so you don’t have to destroy yourself riding up if you want a kick ass ride holiday. Honestly, I’m glad I did it but two laps are a grind. I had so much fun on the first lap that I was really looking forward to the second, until I was climbing again in the heat then the second lap wasn’t so much fun anymore!
Better fitness would help but I would also like to treat the race as more of a ride and enjoy the sights and those amazing aid stations (I used a liquid concentrate called Infinit and gels for fuel, no solid food, so I missed out on all the eating). I could see myself going back for the Fritter 50 because one lap would be so much fun.
Thanks as well to my brother-in-law James at The Fix in Whistler for prepping my bike. All that abuse and not a single mechanical. http://www.thefixinc.com/
Another big thanks to Chris Eatough http://www.chriseatough.com/ for providing the training plan that got me my first ever win, but more importantly, he got me to the start line knowing I had the finish in me.
More pics from Daniel Sharp
- 2 Infinit custom blend bottles, 1 at start of each lap (only have one bottle holder)
8 or so bottles of Scratch Labs from aid stations
- 4 x 500 ml Infinit concentrate, 2 each lap (never finished the 4th after switching to coke)
1 can of Coke
- 2 gel flasks (1 each lap) each with 4 powerbar orange dbl caffeine gels
- Rocky Mountain Thunderbold BC Edition, with my cheater American Classic wheelset 1380 grams– Racing Ralph rear, Rocket Ron front – 24.5 lbs race ready…not bad for full sus with dropper post.
- 94 miles
- 18,074 ft.
- 11:56 hrs total with 11:42 hrs ride time