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Tom’s email corrects me, “It’s not the RUSA K-hound 10,000k I’m after, it’s the R 10,000”.
What is that? I want to know.
It’s the accumulation of two full Audax Club Parisian series (200-300-400-600-1000k set of brevets), a 1200k, completion of Paris Brest Paris, a fleche, other ACP brevet events that bring you up to 10,000k and a Super 600k.
Super 600? What’s that?
A 600k brevet with over 30,000’ of climbing. You get 50 hours to ride it in (or more with even more climbing) and they are sanctioned by the French randonneuring club (ACP) that runs Paris Brest Paris every four years.
A 600k with over 30,000’ of climbing? That’s sick I think, who creates these routes? And who are the nut-jobs that try and ride them?
I shoot out an email to the rando list to find out more. Turns out there are four sanctioned Super6’s in the US; in North Carolina, Oregon, Washington and here in California, and only a few people have completed them. The ACP website has a list of all of the sanctioned routes and a list of everyone globally who has completed them. Lots of Japanese riders and Europeans…few Americans, and to date, only 3 women.
The route is a permanent and there are special rules for the Super 600. Your bike needs a homologation tag, sent from France, and at every control a picture is taken with the bike in it, to prove “proof of passage”. All information is collected and sent to France and Sophie checks it all out. Very official.
GB has the only sanctioned Super600 route in California. He tells me that he and 3 buddies will make the first attempt of it (last weekend!). He sends me the route and fills me in on the tag logistics. I want to give it a go, but I don’t have anyone to ride with. I cast about for a potential partner, but everyone is busy, or is just plain smarter. And, the weather doesn’t look good – rainstorms in the mountains in the late afternoon. I decide not to go…
GB and his crew are successful! Very cool, it’s doable! They are fast riders, and I am mid-pack, and I really don’t know if I can pull it off. Still, I am hooked on the idea of trying. Damned challenges.
On Monday I email Willy,
Wanna do a Super600 this weekend?
I explain, and Willy immediately say’s sure! I knew I had him, he’s been at this sport for a while and is up for new cycling challenges, new roads and an adventure. We’ve been riding buddies for a few years now: we trust each other, are completely comfortable riding together, and are pretty close in terms of speed.
We make a plan: lightweight bikes, minimal gear, but! Bring everything we’d need as there is no support, and the route is pretty remote in places. Too, I knew I’d be riding really late at night and so we’d need clothing for the extreme temps of summers in the Sierras – high 40s for the lows, low 100s for the highs.
GB’s crew started Friday night and ended Sunday evening (everyone needed to be home for work on Monday). Willy and I would start early Saturday AM (at 4:00) which meant we needed to be done Monday AM at 6:00.
The route starts and ends in Sonora. It heads up to Arnold, continuing up to Bear Valley and over Ebbett’s Pass, dropping you in Markleeville. From there, you head up the Kingsbury grade and drop into South Lake Tahoe. Then, you ride around the Lake clockwise, taking 89 up to Truckee, do a quick stop at the Donner Museum and then ride back to the Lake via 267. Continuing around the lake back to South Lake Tahoe and then ride 89 to Luther Pass. Back to Markleeville and this time through, you head over to and ascend Monitor Pass dropping you onto 395. Head south on 395 to Sonora Pass, ride it, and scream downhill back to Sonora.
Piece of cake.
Hahahahahahaha. Lots of people have ridden over Ebbett’s, Monitor and Luther – it’s all a part of the Death Ride or Alta Alpina. Add in another 250+ miles and a few other passes, and you have one kick-ass ride. I haven’t been over any of these climbs by bike, it’s all new territory to me.
Our plan has us slogging the 70+ miles up to Ebbett’s in the early AM on Saturday, hopefully beating the heat. Kingsbury will be hot and S. Lake Tahoe will be a zoo – filled with touristas. If we time it right, we’ll ride around the lake at night and return to SLT before sunrise. Catch some sleep and then head out to Luther on Sunday AM, and over to Monitor, which just looks hard! Sunday evening we’ll head up Sonora and then back to the town of Sonora by 6:00. This plan chunks the ride into something close to a 350k and 250k. GB cautions us to find a sleep spot and gives us the names of a couple of places that might be open when we go through.
Up and out the door before 4:00 so we can take the first pictures of our bikes at the Applebees in Sonora. Town is quiet and temps are warm, it’s gonna be a hot day. We work our way up to Arnold and Bear Valley. Stopping at a convenience store we shoot the early AM coffee convo with a bunch of locals who oogle our bikes and gear and wonder in amazement at our riding plan. Up and up and up. By the time we reach Bear Valley, I am ready to call it quits, my head is already in the gutter. We continue on and my mood improves with the elevation and scenery. I just love being in the mountains. I reach Ebbett’s Pass and take a picture of my bike and the sign. A bunch of sleek tri-assalete boys from Stanford are up there too. They’ve come up from Markleeville and are making a bit of a big deal about their accomplishment. If they only knew what these middle-aged riders who look like cycling hoboes were up to…
The descent is outstanding! Very technical near the top, but the road isn’t in the greatest of shape. We fly down to the valley and over to Markleeville for lunch. While resting and grabbing a bite to eat, a gentleman strikes up a conversation with us. Nice guy – he has stopped riding bicycles because of knee replacements and he’s switched out his carbon frames for a fast steel motorcycle. Sid offers us a place to stay in Tahoe City during our ride, but it doesn’t fit into our overall time scheme. What a nice gesture from a stranger.
At the deli, Willy reminds me that we are on track with a 10mph moving average. At this rate we need to be up on Sonora Pass at midnight on Sunday evening to make it to town by 6:00. Snails climb faster than me and so I am doubtful that we will be able to hold this tempo, but I keep it to myself.
We head out and over towards to Gardnerville and the base of Kingsbury Grade. It is late afternoon and the grade is exposed. At the base, a sign warns cyclists… It’s hot and there’s lots of fast moving traffic, needing to arrive in Lake Tahoe NOW! We take our time and get on up there. What’s up there at Dagget Summit is Heavenly Ski Area, and a road surface that is under major construction and sucks. We are careful as we descend into the Tahoe basin. It’s a short descent, as Tahoe is at +/- 6000’ in elevation.
People are EVERYWHERE. Hordes, throngs, mobs, packs, piles of people. It’s unimaginable to think about Lake Tahoe without people. At one time since the world began, Lake Tahoe was a pristine wilderness. Yep, wildernes. Consider that.
Willy and I park ourselves at an Applebees, because it’s easy. There’s seating and we can see our bikes. We call around and luckily secure a room for the night and eat a little bit. I have a Lagunitas IPA – who knew, at Applebees? We head to our hotel room to drop off stuff from our bikes (my Camelbak, which had been crucial during the heat of the day) to make the trip around the Lake and up to Truckee.
Once out of SLT, the roads quiet down and it doesn’t take long with nightfall for the roads to empty. We stop at Inspiration Point for a control picture, dress warm and continue on. In Sunnyside, we pull over at a market for ice cream and coffee and have a lovely convo with the store owner. He is amazed at our weekend ride, asking us all sorts of questions and wanting to see our route on the map in the back of the store. Other folks come in to buy wine and munchies and are encouraging to us while they launch into their biking stories. The store owner, Leigh, brews us fresh coffee, and hands Willy a postcard to remind him of this adventure. The postcard has a map of California on it, and Lake Tahoe is about the size of a pea, but who cares? It’s a nice gesture.
A tailwind pushes us up the Truckee river valley past Squaw and we arrive in no time. Actually, I have lost track of time in between control pictures, but at this point in the ride, I am listening to music and don’t care what time it is. The control point is at the Donner Trail Emigrant Museum and we are supposed to have our bikes in a picture with a statue. Prior to the ride, we are sent a .pdf file with all of the places we are supposed to have our pictures taken and it needs to match up.
Willy and I ride around the parking lot and we can’t find the statue. We look everywhere but can’t locate it. We pull out the route sheet, we look at the .pdf file and we cannot see this damned statue. I am getting irritated and want to take pictures of a sign that will prove we were there. Willy scouts around a bit more and finds it – it’s just a bit behind the buildings, and it’s HUGE! In daylight, there’s no way we could miss it, but at midnight….
We stop in at the Truckee Safeway for a much needed break/nap and a bit of food. Willy snarfs down some sushi and I graze on a salad (yes, you are correct in thinking that there isn’t much caloric energy in a salad). An hour later we are on our way to the Lake. Back to Tahoe over Brockway summit, around the Lake, stopping at the top of Spooner for another picture, we find ourselves back in SLT at 6:00 AM. We have been awake for 27 hours. We crash for 3 hours of sleep after hot showers.
What I wanted was a sit down breakfast – a feast of an omelet, potatoes and a cappuccino…What I got was a breakfast meal at McD’s, coffee, OJ and a chocolate shake. The crap I eat as a rando…
We pick our way through Sunday traffic and head out of town. Once the road splits from Hiway 50, things quiet down again, and we make our way up Luther Pass. This might be the easiest Pass on the route. The actual sign isn’t even at the highest point, it’s a bit farther down the road. No matter, we take our picture and blast on down to Markleeville for lunch again.
The waitress at the deli is happy to see us again. We are ahead of schedule! So we chillax and eat and breathe. And then a fabulous thing happens – the sun disappears. We have high cloud cover. No threat of thunderstorms, just clouds keeping the direct sun off of us. Woohoo!
This means that Monitor Pass, which is next up and a really tough pass will not be in the open, hot searing sunshine. We saddle up and ride on over to the turnoff. I am ahead of Willy and I get into my climbing rhythm, which is, at best, slow, but music is helping me along and up I go. Monitor is long, and the steepest sections are in the bottom third, and then the road plateaus, and then steepens again as you wind your way upwards through a few mountain ecosystems.
In the steep spots I feel like I am really crawling and so I do what I often do when riding along and alone – I summon the strength of fellow rando-pals, and get them to help me up the hill. This is all fiction in my head, but it helps! And then I’m not suffering alone…. Knowing that few women have completed the Super 600 I think of my randonistas: badass Miller, the tenacious Sarah, fabulous Megan, mentor Catherine, buddy Irene, unstoppables Kittycat and Kerin, heroine Lois, smart and strong Elaine, Heidi, who glides through every ride, gentle yet tough Juliayn, fast Jules from Atlanta, the ever-loving Kimber, whacky-fun Stacy, tough as nails Jan, both Vickies, and Brenda, Bethie, and Pam, and Asta, who makes everything look easy, and Susan O, who keeps turning the pedals no matter what… the list continues on, but I’m still not up the hill. Come on ladies – get me up this damned pass!
Finally, I get up onto the plateau and breathe a bit easier. There are aspen groves up here and I stop for a few snaps. I am looking ahead and spy a fire look-out on top of a hill that looks to be the top of the pass. There’s a steep road cut that goes up to the fire lookout and I am thinking that I need to ride up that road. While considering this I arrive at the pass, and almost ride past it thinking that I still needed to get up there.
I take the photo and wait for Willy, who arrives shortly. We are really beginning to feel like we might have a shot at completing this within the time frame, but we need to get some dinner and then tackle Sonora Pass. We bomb down the hill. The road is smooth and perfectly banked and I let loose. I love to descend – it’s the reason why I climb. I suck at the climbing part, but man, give me a good downhill. We have been talking about top speeds and so at the bottom I check my computer.
Top speed: 65.9mph.
Smokin fast and unlikely that I’ll ever reach it again – it was one of those descents when everything clicks into place and is effortless, like a great day of powder skiing. They are few and far between, but amazing to experience.
We are on highway 395! I can hardly believe it – we are on the Eastern side of the Great Sierra Nevada. Bishop is 115 miles away and we are heading south. We pass Coleville, which looks like a ghost town, and a few miles later I see a KOA. We stop and get some info from the nice guy who told us straight up that we were, “fucking crazy”, when Willy told him that we were going to eat dinner and then ride our bikes over Sonora Pass…tonight.
He sells us on BBQ in Walker, and we make our way to the restaurant. We get there just before they are closing (whew! close one!), and we eat – BBQ for Willy, salad for me (it had grilled chicken on it), and we both downed Mammoth Brewery’s Epic IPA. Perfectly named for our ride.
All along the ride Willy reminds me that we need to be at the top of Sonora Pass by midnight, if we are going to have a chance at completing within our 50 hour time limit. My watch tells me it’s about 7:45 PM and we aren’t even at the base of Sonora. It’s 13 miles away and the road tips slightly uphill. Time to go.
It feels like a slog to the base of Sonora and I have left Willy behind me. He’s not far back, so I chug along. At the turn off to Sonora, I make sure I am as reflective as I can be, and start up. It’s 14 miles to the top of Sonora, and it tops out at 9600’. We start at about 6000’ so it’s only a 3600’ climb. This math, I can do, but what I’m not adding in is how tired I am, nor, the gradient of the climb.
The first 4 miles are sweet, fast, and flattish, and then it begins. I could mentally call up everyone I know to help me up this pass, but it wouldn’t help. It is really steep. The snow poles with reflectors keep you on asphalt, and they provide a guide to gauge steepness. It’s dark, there’s no natural light of any kind, and the road is empty except for a car every now and again. They aren’t a problem because you can see their headlights from a distance. Only thing is, the headlights shine from above you, which gives you a glimpse of how steep the road is. I’d rather not know. (to write this, I checked on the grades of Sonora – there are 26%ers. Glad I didn’t know…)
I continue to grind up the road. At one point a police car zooms up the road by me and a bit later on his return, the CHP officer stops to check on me.
Are you alright, maam?
Where are you going?
To Sonora. I need to be there by 6:00AM.
Are you in a race, maam?
You are doing this for fun?
I guess so.
Would you like a powerbar?
Uh, sure, thanks.
He fishes me out a powerbar and I take it.
Have you seen my riding partner? I ask.
Yes, he’s 2-3 miles behind you.
What time is it?
How much farther is it to the top?
5 miles or so.
I need to be there by midnight.
You’ll get there… but it gets steeper.
Thanks for the powerbar.
Be safe now.
We go off in opposite directions. I take a bite of the powerbar, but it’s dry as cardboard and I can’t get it down. Still, its nice to know that he’s around and has seen Willy, who’s not too far away, and isn’t in the police car with the officer. All good. I carry on grinding my way up the pass.
It completely kicks my ass. I scratch upwards, gasping at times for O2, and get off my bike and walk when I know it’s faster to walk then to turn the pedals. I’m riding a compact crank with a 36 tooth cassette on the back – those are low gears and I could use lower. Still, I am moving forward.
I round a corner and finally, there is the sign. Sonora Pass, the second highest pass in the Sierras – Tioga is higher. I park my bike and look at my watch: 11:45 PM. I can hardly believe I made it before midnight. I take the necessary pictures and then sit down on the side of the road and put every stitch of clothing I have on me and wait for Willy.
The skies were clear and cold, black and thick with stars. Having spent 10+ summers in the Sierras as a kid, I said hello to the constellations that I knew and watched for shooting stars that are numerous this time of year. I saw three.
And I got cold. Really cold. I tried to eat, but my stomach was having no part of that idea, and Willy hadn’t yet arrived, so I decided to get to a lower elevation and wait for him down the road.
Another fast, twisty descent, but this time in complete Sierra darkness, so I took it conservatively. I was shivering on my bike, which made it twitchy, so I focused on keeping my breathing in check, and the wheels pointing downhill. I stopped at the 7000’ sign and took a quick powernap on the side of the road. Headlights woke me up, but they weren’t Willy’s.
I began to worry about the time cut-off. I was pretty sure Willy was fine behind me and if I kept moving at a regular pace, he’d catch me. It was time to finish. It’d be great to say that it was screaming descent all the way back to Sonora. In fact, we had told ourselves just that, “It’s all down hill from the pass – 60 miles downhill.”
That is so not the case.
The next 30 miles included slow grinding hills that felt like passes given how tired I was. I really didn’t have anything left to give after Sonora, I needed it to be downhill, I was spent. When gravity was helping, I would give a bit of a push on the pedals, but any uphill was in my lowest gear. I was anxious that the sun would rise and I would miss our time limit. With about 20 miles to go, the road finally tipped downward and gravity pulled me downhill. I blew through campgrounds and towns that weren’t yet awake, and reached Sonora just at dawn.
Pictures taken, bike in car, cycling clothes off, seltzer water and fritoes in hand, I wait for Willy and wish him in on time.
He’s a full value guy – he shows at 5:40.
This ride was an amazing adventure – epic in scope and execution. I was unsure about whether I was strong enough to complete it, and the topography is daunting. The idea of riding through the Sierra Nevada is not to be taken lightly, and no one should undertake such a ride without a solid plan. I am glad I did not attempt it the first weekend when I was considering it – the weather on those passes can be deadly, and alone? No way. I am really glad I did this with a partner – it’s safer – and IMHO, no one should attempt a ride like this alone. The mountains here in the US West are more remote, there’s not a hotel at the top of the pass like in many of the European mountain ranges, and for more than half of the ride, cell service was absent. If things go wrong, no one would know. You are out there.
34,378’ of climbing
49hrs, 7 minutes total time
11.4 mph ave
4 hrs of sleep + a 15 min powernap
R 10,000 completed!
4th female (and 1st US) to have completed a Super600
Huge thanks to GB for his route planning and his support of our expedition. That’s what this was: a rando expedition. Thanks to Tom H. for putting this idea into my head and to my close friends who knew I could do this, when I was completely unsure. Facebag support was enormous – thanks everyone who sent me/us a shout-out. And most importantly to Willy, he was the perfect partner and friend for this epic adventure.
Last, thanks for reading!