I just finished the biggest challenge of my life? What to say? Bittersweet, stoked, dazed and confused?? Hmm content but still sore!!! Yep - I don't even know how far it was yet! The California 14ers consist of 15 high peaks over 14K elevation starting with Mount Langley near Lone Pine, CA in the South and spreading across about 600 miles via bicycle ending furthest North at Mt Shasta.
My good work buddy Dana Anderson came out and camped out the night before to share the stoke for the send off! I left the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead at 6:10 AM totally amped up on adrenaline and in slight disbelief that I was actually doing this! I tried running immediately off and on, but felt silly letting myself run with SOOOOO much to come ahead so settled for a brisk walk on all but a few downhills. I enjoyed a nice sunrise winding around the mellow terrain through the Cottonwood Lakes. It was my first time on this trail. I took my time stopping to adjust shoes & gaiters and starting to apply tape to potential hot spots. Going into this, my feet were my main concern for the long haul!
I made it to Langley summit in about 4 hours (possibly a fastest GPS time in 2018 from if you believe Strava, but I thought I was holding back a lot more than that!) and stopped to sign the register then off to the giant sand hill down the backside of Langley (there would be some perks to doing this whole route North to South instead, but finishing up the hell of a sand hill(s) on the back of Langley as the final challenge would definitely not be one!!). Feeling good, I ran a bit more and passed a few hikers. I came across one couple with massive packs slogging up the winding rocky passes headed toward Crabtree Lake, and they just looked at me and both started laughing out loud after seeing my tiny running pack way back there! Okay have a good day though guys really!
I found my first real challenge on the giant sand hill on the back of Discovery Pinnacle and for the first time kind of wished I'd brought those trekking poles I'd left behind! "Sandatory Trekking Poles" would be awesome here, oh well! That hill is mean, but short lived and over in about 45 min. I dropped down soon to Trail Crest briefly hitting the JMT headed toward Whitney. A man eyed me up and down in my full running kit and asked, "What is this, one of those ultra runner challenges? Yep! The fourteeners, hopefully all of em' this week!" I quickly cruised up to Muir Summit and then back down to the trail headed to Whitney Summit. That's 2!
Whitney was the usual busy scene and I waited in line to quickly sign the summit register and snap obligatory photos, then headed down the Mountaineer's Gully. I had plenty of water on me already and decided on a small wild card move here - heading straight down the choss slabs on the North side of Whitney from the midway saddle on the Mountaineers Route. They definitely weren't as scary as they looked from some angles, but were probably in the top 3 loose sh*#ty choss scrambles I would do this week (oh, but definitely not the worst yet!). I down climbed loose gullies and crack systems full of readily exfoliating garbage blocks - kind of like ice climbing when it's so cold everything is dinner plating!
The steep gully heading up the South Side of Mt Russell was next and went relatively uneventful - a steady steep one, a grunt! But, when I got to the top, I felt a tinge of weird dizziness for the first time traversing the summit ridge. Something was a bit off. Am I bonking?? I ate a couple packs of fruit snacks and started the somewhat funky slab traverse that heads down far looker's right off the summit (for seemingly a good ways every time I do it!). It was around 5 PM on the summit, where did this day go already? That's 4 peaks down though!
I headed on to start crossing the first big talus field sections of the route with a little bit of down climbing around the cliffs between Russell and Wallace Lake. It was dark by the time I rolled up to Wallace lake and I’d stubbornly refused to stop and put on a headlamp yet and payed for it by stepping into the grassy bog mess on the south shore in the dark - getting both my shoes thoroughly wet and soaked through just in time for dark!
Not to worry, it's dinner time ;-) I pulled out a bagel, some almond trailbutter, beef jerky, & a snickers and pretended to make dinner for myself while sitting in the bothy bag (a want to be tiny emergency windbreaker tent that sometimes greatly helps morale at cold times alone) near the lake. I topped off my water adequately. Oh the next section is my least favorite of the route and I'm planning on being up all night tonight! I popped my first caffeine pill and went ahead and changed my wet socks after "dinner". Alright let's do this! I tried to crank up my pre-loaded Spotify playlists downloaded on the phone, but because the phone was totally out of service I was stuck with just one song - Runaway Train by Soul Asylum. I went ahead and rocked out to a couple play throughs anyway and began the charge up the steep rocky gullies above without hint of trail from the lake. Into the dark - Williamson here we come!
This is one of my least favorite sections of the route because it literally is composed of just 90 % or more giant Talus fields pretty much endlessly without relief from here till Shepherd Pass - a distance of about 6 miles or so with 2 more fourteeners thrown into the mix + about a 13,800 foot bonus climb on the pass over Mt Bernard East just for kicks! Alright well get to it!
Somewhere in the middle of this mass of dark endless talus fields is a lake called Lake Helen of Troy. An aptly rugged name for sure, if there was somewhere in the world where a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings monster was going to pop out and drag you away into the depths for good, this would probably be it. At least that's what I think every time I come through here at night - just a dark vibe! The entire shoreline is steep 70% + angle unstable couch cushion size blocks or snow that drops straight to the lake with no real shoreline (and would be lots of fun to try to attempt to climb back up out the water via the frozen snow if you biffed yeehaw!). My first time through I felt like I was playing "adult Jenga" touch a block - feel a half dozen more shift and creaking, repeat.... This is the loosest shittiest talus I've ever found anywhere in 20 years of climbing that I've needed to cross. I "couch surfed" several spontaneous blocks down prepared to full on bail immediately even into a committed intentional face plant if necessary to escape the potential carnage if required! Luckily tonight I found some better beta that I'm going to give away here - stay high and right as possible and come in on a high angle avoiding the entire South & East sides of the lake if you can. More adult teeter-totter, less playing threat to life Jenga! Alright!! Psyched!
Williamson... Oh Williamson you broke me! If the sunset dizziness on Russell was a warning, at 2 AM on the steep gully heading up Williamson I found the wall! Ugh. I crawled up the hill one step at a time as literally (on hands and knees) things slowed to what felt like a snail's pace and no matter what I did, weren't improving anytime soon. Stumble/falling up hill ahhhhhhh!!! Come on! I was too dizzy to stand up straight - something was totally off. Even on the final push of the Badwater to Whitney records where I'd occasionally seen flashing white halos at the edge of my vision, I'd never felt this out! I'm out here alone with no bivy gear pushing through my ultimate limits in the dark on the second highest fourteener in the state! Okay man! I keyed the GPS in to make sure I was in the right gully and not doing anything weird.
I finally arrived at the base of the 4th class chimney leading up to the summit ridge. I'd practiced it 2 weeks before effortlessly, but looking up at it at that moment, I knew I absolutely could not & likely would not survive climbing it right now. Besides it's so damn cold!! What to do? I decided to try everything - all layers of clothing on - check, bothy bag on, another caffeine pill, eating - eating a lot!, lets do a 30 min nap awkwardly sitting here cross legged/fetal position too! Alarm clock on! I rose up 30 min later feeling less dizzy - okay I can do 4th class carefully! I placed my hands against the cold rock making the last moves one by one while squeezing my body inside to the top. The summit was just as cold. I was disappointed not to find the extra Clif Bar “marked for someone who needs it” from the week before in the register too as I sat in the Bothy Bag and signed my name.
As I approached the dark downclimb back into the chimney, not so dizzy, but still half bonked, I took off my gloves to climb with greater sensitivity and thought "this is for all those years climbing Ryan, don't mess this up!". I might be dizzy, weak, and cold, but I know how to climb easy rock and squeeze inside wide cracks correctly. Hold on good! The slog down the rest of the gully was uneventful and I was glad to have my gaiters on to keep the infinite loose pebbles out of my shoes. That's 5 peaks in a day!
The sun wouldn't be up till 6AM and I didn't feel comfortable heading up Tyndall in my current state in the dark. I stumbled across the big talus fields and took a break topping off more water and drinking next to the last lakes before heading up the mountain again. Maybe I should just go home? Can I even climb Tyndall right now? This week is all over if you don't do it right now! This is for the mission (oh how these decision moments would become an all too common theme in the week ahead - make or break time).
I was slow enough that I didn't have to wait long for the sun to come up on the mountain and start the grind up Tyndall. The North Rib of Tyndall is a choss pile, but far from the worst this week. Basically you climb a ridge like feature around the loose choss blocks piled all over some class 3 slabs. I felt weak- even slower than Williamson. Am I just going to tip over or have a seizure or something? I'm moving still, this isn't hard, and the warm sun feels good! Bad news though - we are almost out of food after eating up on Williamson and a long ways from the trailhead! 24 hours in! I summited with a half pack of Clif Shot Blocks and about 400-500 calories of GU Roctane sugary/carb drink left I hope! I sat down feeling dazed and complacent on the summit. Mixed feelings. Is my record attempt over? I feel done? My God this will be a long hike out with no food! Take it one step at a time!
After carefully scrambling back down the slabs, I was glad to soon hit a real trail for the first time since starting out. I was supposed to do this in the dark though hmm. I guess my time isn't terrible though? Six fourteeners in under 30 hours off trail? Oh man I'm stumbling along now! The sunny sandy switchbacks soon became heated up in the direct sunlight - 90 degrees, 95, 100, 103?! Still no food!? The sand became hot and began to burn my shoes which inflamed and woke up every blister sore in my feet. Aghhhhhh please stop! Why is there no shade trees even like once a mile on this trail!? This is my new least favorite trail....... I texted out to Jo. Mixed feelings. I'm over this! I have terrible feet blisters to the point of audible yelling/dancing?! I stopped and pulled out the med kit and tried different things for the blisters. One pair of socks was too tight, ahh that blister pad feels great - no it hurts like hell worse than before 15 min later, what now? My surgical toe from my foot surgery let me know it was pissed off too like no other - burning, screaming at me, EFFFFF.... ugh! I'd saved one trump card for my surgery toe - a special soft rubber toe condom called a Bunga Toe Cap - designed for ballet dancers with black toes to keep dancing. I placed it on carefully with added foot lube between all my toes, put on the loosest pair of socks, and used a needle to drain a couple other blisters - then trimmed them with the tiny scissors of my Swiss Army Knife! Woot this still sucks, it's still 100+ degrees with no food, but it is no longer torture!! Winning!
I stumbled on wishing again for real I'd brought those trekking poles to push down the sandy hill (I would bring them next time specifically for Shepherd Pass post x 6 peaks). I tried running off and on, but my body really wasn't having it with the overall soreness. This is when I started to have my first real hallucinations on the trip. Every time I was near water, I could hear country music blasting non stop. I kept hearing people on the trail behind me, but they were never there. I tried to race them down the hill anyway! Out of the corner of my eye at turns I'd see someone over and over, but they were never there when I'd try to find them. Oh look a family playing in the river. Hmm? Nope they aren't there! At least I got country music on blast! There was nothing else to do, but slog on. I wasn't sure if the the attempt was over or not. Hmm this is weird! I finished the half pack of shot blocks and slowly sipped on the remaining Roctane carb drink. Trickle calories! Keep at it huh?
After the eternally slow slog I finally made it down to the trailhead a couple hours before dusk (5 PMish). I found my cache and started up the stove to rehydrate a Mountain House freeze dried meal and a Tasty Bite. I wish I'd packed double food extras. Too late now! Luckily I'd anticipated this section or the next might take a day and a half compared to Sean O'Rourke's ambitious record splits and packed an extra day of trail food just in case! There was nothing to do but eat, sit, take some time to clean up and tape my feet with the extra medical supplies, and decide on what to bring next! I pumped up the bike tires and loaded my 3rd string older bike bags on the bike to carry the few extras. Zip! Well I'm on the bike and it's not dark yet! Down to Independence! I really wished it was Lone Pine in a way for better food options, but it was what it was. I headed to the Independence Mini Market (arguably the worst food store/market on the Eastside as a whole including all the gas stations ha!). The store is notorious for having no air conditioning even in the middle of 100+ degree summer days. I had a soda, and bought even more trail food - peanut M & Ms, 3 snickers bars, Beef Jerky, Gummy Bears, that should help!
I was on my Cross Bike with knobbier tires - for the paved road not totally ideal, but I just cranked along steadily up the highway towards Aberdeen and the turn off for Tinnemaha Campground and Red Lake trailhead. I decided to take the more direct dirt road turn off paralleling 395 on Tinemaha Road (is it an insult to rednecks that the spelling is different for the campground and the road through it??). This might have been a bad call - while saving a few miles in directness, the skinny cross tires spun out and crawled along up the dirt on the loaded bicycle, but it did get me mentally warmed up for the steeper dirt to come! I had a deal with myself in my mind - finish this and you get 3 hours of sleep at the trailhead tonight! Yeah!!!
Fuller Road and the dirt roads that wind around the back of the mine to avoid the private property soon proved full value! UP, up, and uphill we go! Sometimes the bike would lose traction and I would do everything I could to spin it up to high cadence and keep going up the loose less traveled road, but I didn't win them all and I would biff it. I had my first few crashes of the trip trying to force the bike on uphills it didn't want to do! Wish this was my mountain bike for tonight... too late! Biff!! Ugh. Fate would hold that while looking forward to my first 3 hour sleep break of the trip, about a mile from the trailhead, my tubeless tire went flat. I tried to pump it back up, but it wouldn't have it nope! HDFU time Ryan - it was a sandy slimy mess to pull the tire off and it was full of trail grit/sand stuck all over the sealant. I used my finger over and over to remove the tiny rocks now plastered all over the inside of the tire......oh I want that sleep break... well if any mountain lions are stalking me out here tonight nows a perfect time with me sitting around here alone in the sand at midnight!!! I loaded a tube and got the tire up and running finally on my way... then I got a bloody nose - not sure why - just because this is one of those adventures. I packed a gauze 2x2 from the med supplies up there and hit it. Come on! A half hour till sleep ahead!
I'd left the Bothy bag behind and swapped out for a SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) emergency bivy sack - the top of the line one that can actually breathe and has a zipper and draw cord. Stoked, I laid it down on the sandy dirt and got inside it with my clothes on - sans sleeping pad, but who cares! I set the alarm for 3 hours and 5 minutes! (got to give myself those extra 5 to fall asleep for full credit?? =) Hey this isn't bad I'm warm at 7,000 feet in possibly the tiniest sleeping bag equivalent known to man! Oh if I knew what is in store later though.....
BEEP....BEEEP... BEEEEPPPPPPP. Wake up 4:30 AM! I ate a breakfast of gummy bears, a 350 calorie Ensure Plus, and a GU Waffle! Alright stashed the bike on the other side of the river laid down behind a big boulder that involved crossing through sticker bushes. No one will come over here!! I sent 2 Garmin InReach messages out to Dana describing the location. If you have time to grab it this week up this off road trailhead here's some coordinates, I'll cover the gas $, otherwise no worries, it's my least favorite bike - if it gets lost, I'll survive!! I still wasn't sure about how this would go on Split Mountain ahead, but this was my first "just one more mountain" and see how it goes moment. I knew I had to go see. If I totally floundered then I'd know I was really done if so.
The Red Lake trailhead approach to Split is rough, bushy, and a little tricky to follow with multiple faint trails to choose from intermixed with seemingly random cairns, but generally you get a feel for the style of the trail creators and follow the right one mostly! Pants were nice starting out. I still got stabbed by plenty a sharp desert plant in the legs and some of the trail is full on almost jungle status bushwhacking for short times! I was stoked to get above the brush line and into some real trees. The first sight of Split Mountain is absolutely beautiful.
Soon I was eyeing talus, snow, and the start of false summit plateaus. I caught my first pairs of hikers heading for the summit. One older couple - that asked me in detail what I was doing, how I was moving so fast (I'm moving fast again?! Woot!), and how old I was? It was her 60th birthday and I told them that was awesome!! They insisted I stop for a photo. Alright I'm moving again feeling okay! I passed 3 more hikers on the way to the summit and was soon at the top. Maybe I can make the Palisades today! It was cloudy and I heard thunder for the first time a few times, but far away. I texted the InReach for a weather update - 10% chance of showers and clear tomorrow. I'm good sweet! The descent off the mountain is largely a giant steep talus field that finally hits some grass at the bottom with some nice lakes. I spoiled myself and took a full 5 minute foot break soaking them in the cold water before applying a few more new strips of tape and new socks. Ahhhhhhh :)
This was the cruiser part of the trip. I soon hit the JMT and was the spectacle of weird looks, chuckles, and questions to other trail hikers as I enjoyed the novelty of hiking on the nice trail. "No Pack?!" - Yep - It's going to be a long night! "Now that is ultra light - look at him!" "Is this just going on a walk through the park for rock climbers?" "You have a camp somewhere right, you are just day hiking around from?!" Nope... "Wow we won't keep you long!" The novelty and conversation was nice as I motored by a couple dozen hikers. I'm not bonked!
I knew it would be short lived though as Middle Palisade and the big off trail hillside approach came into vision. That's where I belong! I had some sense of dread, because the few reports online and couple conversations I'd had about the Farquhar route had all referred to it as loose & gnarly - something you would only climb for records' attempt sake. One local guide had even mentioned doing 7 rappels to get down it with a client and he wasn't even sure what route it was or not. Sounds about right! The "Farquhar Death Chute" eh? It was 5 PM again. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of heading up possibly the technical and danger crux of the entire route with darkness looming, but this was another "for the mission" moment. I wasn't about to sit on my hands below a few hours till dark and the next morning. It has to go tonight or not!
The route is extremely loose. It's one of the worst I've ever climbed - sandy loose blocks piled in steep exposure linked by intermittent rotten physical full body chimney systems... What did I get myself into?
From the Summit Post description : [Secor states, "This route is exposed and has much loose rock, and it is easy to get off route. Only experienced climbers should attempt this route." This I believe to be a gross understatement. During our climb one member of our party was almost severely injured by falling rock, and afterwards we decided to rename the route "The Chute of Eternal Peril". There is not a solid rock to be found on the entire climb. On top of this is constant severe exposure, and guesswork for route finding. Just when you think the climb can get no worse, it does, and if you are planning on descending the same route you will find no peace of mind while on the summit. If you decide this route is for you, be prepared for a very serious and painstaking undertaking. Each step will be cautious, and each decision critical. Climb up the face/semi-gully along sandy ledges and very loose rock. Even if you get the privilege to stand on something solid, it will be covered in slippery sand.]
WTF?? Winning?! Good thing I didn’t read any of that before heading out too!
I made my way up carefully climbing precisely over the loose blocks and bulges occasionally knocking off large dinner plate + size rocks. I finally got to the chimney crux a couple hundred feet before the summit. You have 3 choices - all rotten wide crack fun times - pick one! I took the middle one, but was unwilling to climb it inside the tight loose chimney (is that a thing?) with my pack on. I was hesitant to be split from my pack near dark at 14,000 feet, but it had to be done to get through this garbage. I headed up quickly to the summit in the fading light, signed the register, and started down... wait? All these junk chimneys look the same and are ridiculously exposed. No slings in sight here either. Does anyone climb this? I went back and forth across the summit ridge. Sh#t I should have marked the top with a cairn grr stupid. Being stuck up here tonight with just a puffy jacket would be really bad! I started down one of the gullies and realized I could pull out the InReach and track exactly where I was in comparison - ah the right system is 30-50 feet down and right! I trended down and right till I got to the top of the steep crack. There's my pack!! I carefully climbed down again inside the crack. Stoked!
Dark with hardly a ledge to stand on and definitely not sleep on... I'm tired. I've had 3 hours sleep total in 3 days and of course I'm here right now 8 fourteeners deep. I felt like I was a guide guiding myself - 2 different people - one confidently watching over everything from the outside knowing I was in a deteriorated state needed guidance, the other a goofy little kid that just wanted to go home and sleep with some kind of shaky balance. I was even talking to myself that way. It was definitely time - I pulled out my secret weapon. Just in case I ended up climbing the Palisades in the middle of the night somehow... I'd brought along what I've grown to call the "God Light". It's saved me and partners multiple times before when we've been caught in alpine terrain well past dark. A special designed runner's headlamp by Light and Motion, it's the best thing I've found money can buy that is both light and bright - like turning on 5 or 6 Petzl/BD lights on max bright. Once you turn it on, you've got 6 hours baby! Oh man it's a long steep way down.
Back down at the saddle "safely" below the crux headwall I made a gamble - Some of the notes I'd taken suggested at least one speed record had aborted the choss route and booked it right exiting down the other side of the face here (NW Bowl). I'd put the precise line into the GPS program back home just in case. I decided to go have a look. Am I losing my mind? I think I really just didn't want go back down the Farquhar right then! I scrambled down for about 15 minutes and I got a bad feeling. My mountain sense said no. This goes down to vertical face that is too steep and too long for your 30 meter rope and if the raps don't go you'll end up stuck! It was probably only 200-300 feet, but in the dark onsight it wasn't worth finding out. Back to you Farquhar! The battle is with you tonight! I'm so effing done with this record attempt right now... Is it really that bad or am I just tired? F#*K
I carefully picked my down climbing carefully kicking and pounding on the many loose rocks to see if they were "secure" enough then using the God Light on sections in between to decide if I could down climb them or not. The sloping sandy slabs above exposure scared me more than the choss mostly and I opted to rap. That was pretty much how I proceeded off and on down we go! Anchors that I was willing to actually rap off weren't particularly easy to find among the loose blocks & without trad gear. I'd only brought 20 feet of 5mil cord to rig anchors and after a few raps soon went through it all. Luckily I was getting closer to the ground. I could see the final crux chimney direct I'd taken that had felt about 5.8 on the way up guarding the bottom of the route. Definitely rapping! Thank God for the God Light! Well this record is over anyway - I thought I might as well straight line it off and leave the rope fixed, why carry it out? I thought about it for a minute, but that seemed poor style - I thought of Vic and Frank heckling me at the Zoo house telling em' how I'd left my rope behind in some alternate reality then arresting me (both old roomies became real cops recently) ha really right now?... Ahh get the knife out Ryan! I was out of webbing, but I knew I could cut off part of my rope shorter and leave it fixed as an anchor then rap with the rest! In 20 years of climbing I'd never intentionally cut my own rope on a route. It pissed me off and just seemed unsettling somehow - a failure, but it was the right call. Okay well now I've got a 25 meter rope!
I was down, but I was not on the ground, just loose talus infinity. I wanted to get down to one of the lakes below - lower elevation would be warmer - in hindsight maybe it wouldn't have made a difference - they were all at 11,700 + too. I realized I really was bonking after coiling the rope - it was 1:45 AM. I worked my way down the talus and I fell hitting my hands hard and cutting them. I got up and and walked some more and soon fell again, hitting my hands hard once more. I knew I had to stop or I was going to fall my way down this hill in worse shape. I found a small rock overhang protecting me from potential rock fall from above and literally dug out the talus against the wall like an alpinist chopping out a snow ledge to have a place capable of laying down. I put on all my clothes and got in the emergency bivy sack. This is going to suck. I don't think I'll die though or it is that serious - just definitely sucks! Luckily I had plenty of extra food thanks to my Market shopping stop and was able to put some down before hunkering in for the night....
The Shiver Bivy... how long will I be here? The cold settled in and while my upper body and torso were warm in the puffy jacket, my legs froze. Fetal position, back, fetal position, back, sit up - rub the legs good! Eat something. Okay back to laying down... shiver brrrrr brrr. Up again. Back down! Fetal, Back, Fetal, Back. I can't get up now. It's too cold. I'm going to have to wait the whole night till the sun is up. I spent from 2 AM till 7:30 in the shiver bivy according to the GPS track but it seemed like forever! Ahh the sun is out!
I tromped down to the lake feeling (surprisingly?) okay. Should I go down to the JMT and just have a nice hiking day out over Dusy Basin? That'd be nice and it'd be plenty warm if I needed to camp again? Nah I should at least hike up to Mt Sill and learn the beta for this section! Bailing off behind Polemonium is probably easier than the JMT anyway. I started my morning march eating and chugging along after topping off my water. This isn't too bad hmm. I felt a second wind and thought maybe I can do the Palisades right now! I started to push harder - nice and steady up the giant talus hills and passes behind Mt Jepson and Mt Sill. Mt Sill by 12:45 that's not terrible? I thought of my friends back home watching - look at Ryan casual starting the Palisades at 1 PM that cocky crazy guy?! Sure.
I knew I couldn't afford to spend another night exposed out high no matter what. I'd have have to hit Thunderbolt by 6 PM at the latest to ensure 2 hours of daylight to get down the easy descent chute. A non-negotiable deal with myself as I considered the possible easy bail out points with my short rope. Oh not this again - it's for the mission time! I reluctantly laced up the pair of comfy Mythos climbing shoes I'd been carrying all along (ouch my feet don't want these!) at the striking knife edge ridge line climbing onto Polemonium. I made quick work of the ridge, stopping shortly to booty the first bomber fresh looking anchor cord I found since I'd left my extra webbing on Middle Pal. The climbing shoes hurt my swollen feet, but boosted my confidence immensely on the steep terrain. Mt Sill to Polemonium ----> U notch in under an hour. Hey I got some gas pedal back baby! I'm not bailing!
It was a quick climb up the chimney onto to North Pal and summit with a few minor down rappels - a little trickier than what I'd rehearsed with my now custom shorter rope! Soon I was at Starlight eyeing the pointy summit. I tied a rope loosely around one of the spikes at the base then to me and started up. The worst part of Starlight is the start then you are on the summit before you even realize! I rapped off the fixed anchor into the corner below to more scrambling (hey this is way more solid than anything Farquhar!). I'm actually having fun!
I passed the site where Jo had fallen and gotten seriously injured the week before with a concussion and 3 head lacerations leading to a full value self rescue and waving off a helicopter evac, while rehearsing this part. Yuck! I didn't linger long at all. I realized that where she fell we were basically totally down off the technical in the class 2/3 walking zone near the bottom of Starlight - almost safe, but she had found a harder way to climb and somehow slipped a hand or foot unexpectedly. So crazy! A reminder to take extra care!
The slab connection up to the chimney on Thunderbolt was the only onsight part of the traverse for me. I'd never gone up it. It was exposed and a little exciting, but good holds or crack were always available. I moved quickly across the most exposed moves from the slab into the chimney system. To the summit! This time I would attempt the rope lasso to protect this thing. I watched my old guide friend Jed Porter's video and replicated the toss perfectly the first time then used my belay device in reverso mode carefully on the 7.9 mm rope to easily self belay myself to the summit - 4 hours exactly nearly from Sill to Thunderbolt not bad - not even 5 o'clock yet! 13 out of 15 fourteeners down!! Woah. Three days 10 hours in! That's not that slow?
I was stoked making quick work of the gully and Thunderbolt Col heading over to Bishop Pass still in the daylight. I enjoyed another sunset descending the pass. I'm going to be in Bishop before 10 o'clock tonight I might even sleep! For the first time I felt like I was really doing this and could. Now it's just 3 days of biking in a row! I'm making it to Bishop!
I bombed down South Lake on my road bike in all my layers from the Palisades. My South Lake cache was bare minimal - mainly just water and a fresh bike - so I quickly jumped on the bike and got going remembering to watch out for the notorious deer while moving so fast. I got a jolt of excitement at the bottom crossing the Indian Reservation at night as 2 particularly vicious looking “rez dogs” charged me and I got to out run them wearing my puffy, pack, and mountaineers coil rope over the shoulder! Peace doggies... that woke me up though! Soon I was at the garage that would be my only multiple stop transition hub. I quickly made a tasty bite and Mountain House Mac & Cheese, then went to bed again around 12:30. I'll be nice - 4 hours sleep tonight for 4 days. You've earned it!
All I have to do is ride bikes now? What is this challenge?? It was a mental milestone and frame shift to picture myself just riding around on bikes the next few days. I finished packing up, made my oatmeal, and was headed out geared up on White Mountain by 6:30 AM. I updated social media for the first time since starting off on the way out - for the first time, I truly believed I could probably do this. Believe it Ryan! If I could out and back today on the steep hillside canyons up and down White Mountain with a decent time and without terrible/significant knee pains/injury etc, I could certainly grind out some flat miles on the highway! This would be the final “for the mission” limit testing hurdle between me and actually being able to send this thing! Just a 71 mile mountain bike ride with 14,750 feet vertical gain today!
I enjoyed the novelty of spinning around on the bike starting up the wide dirt road at the bottom of Silver Canyon knowing what was ahead - a 14.5 mile road climb with a max grade of 43%, possibly the steepest climb on the Eastside. I’d long decided this would be my route during the weeks of planning logistics - both the most direct route and not some kind of fancy extra + road bike to mountain transition via the Bristlecones. Maybe I lost some time with this decision, but it just seemed the honorable way whenever I thought about the mountain and then putting the Sierra mountains finally in the rear view today! It reminded me of taking Old Priest Grade by choice when I set the Trans California Direct bike crossing record. To do anything involving going around and not taking it straight on, would always be a personal cop out for me. The last sentinel on a grand sized life adventure to not forget!
I did my best, soon climbing the numerous 20% + grade sections in the cool morning air. I rode more than I had in the past on the only other ascent where I’d biked up here with skis for a winter ascent, but still the road traction proved difficult - even my 3.25” fat tires eventually spun out at all but the highest cadence on the steepest sections! I would power up and spin my legs quick, but when traction was lost I’d have to quickly unclip from the pedals and bail out at the last moment to avoid crashing the bike. I’d then walk for a couple minutes and try again. Hours passed… I crashed a couple times when I wasn’t quite quick enough. I was getting a real honest blue collar ass kicking fight from the mountain, but hanging in there!
11:30 AM - I finally crested the summit taking a rest and swapping out for a pair of clean socks. I encountered a group of off road jeepers curious how I was riding a bike up this road (they were mountain bikers too- “There’s not enough traction to ride up this road with bike tires, we tried it once”). I said, “Just one pedal at a time I guess!” I realized I hadn’t had the benefit of a mini mart stop today and was feeling the food stress with my new incredible appetite - “I’ll probably make it, but this will be close.” I pulled out the $20 bill I always carry with me on these kind of adventures and asked, “How much will this buy of your lunch? I’m probably okay, but this one is kinda epic!”. They laughed and said don’t worry bout that - handing me a handful of classic granola bars. Trip insurance today woot!
The upper section of White was a mellow and easy spin compared to the canyon. This kinda feels like the first rest day of this week almost - I’d probably never say that on any other day! Passing the Barcroft station at 3 PM I knew I was a little later, but not too bad! My favorite part of the day was picking the technical/balance-y lines riding from Barcroft to the Summit saddle - a fun challenge for a change! It kept me motivated and I rode all of it without a single step missed. I love this mountain bike!
I used Chris’s beta from the Aerohead bike shop - the fastest way up White is to leave your bike at the top just before the final downhill to the summit at the Saddle - otherwise it’s a mandatory push bike heading back up. I left everything else but the InReach, a windbreaker, 1 GU, and “summit snickers bar” and headed for the top! OH my…. I loved the feeling of being so light, but for the first time now on my 14th summit push in 5 days, my calves were pumped up like they were borderline approaching compartment syndrome - so tight woah!! I decided to keep to the nice road switchbacks instead of cutting cross country direct via talus and just moved it steady - lead calves huh they’re so pumped?! I hit the summit just before 5:30 PM and savored my Snickers while writing an excited note in the register! 14 peaks down 1 left!?! Shasta is finally locked in the sights this is unreal!
I used my new stoke to run down the hill on the talus direct option - I feel strong. I never used to run talus like this, and in cleated bike shoes!! I was excited to get back on the bike and rip the downhill back to the canyon. It was fun and technical picking the lines once again with a few short uphills and just letting the bike roll. Barcroft at 6:30 PM. Think I can get back to Silver by dark! It’s a bit of a grind to Silver Canyon with one notorious final uphill before the end (got to get those 14K+ vertical feet in!), but besides a few layer changing stops was uneventful. I flipped on my regular headlamp starting the climb just cranking along and finally hit the top of the canyon descent at 9PM. Some hunters stopped on ATVs to ask if I was okay, then dropped into the canyon like wild men at full speed. Wonder if I’ll catch `em!?
I’d brought a regular bike light to run at full strength to do this descent in the dark at full speed. I should have just enough battery! The descent was a blast. I had to be extra careful to hold balance at speed around some of the steepest corners. The ATVs stayed ahead of me until the last sharp corner where I finally caught up! I’m going to go ahead guys! Yeehaw! Ha!
Out of site of the ATVs about 2/3 of the way down now I rounded a corner and saw something I’ve never really wanted to see on a bike. AGHHHHHHHH! A mountain lion crouched in a rock embankment about 15-20 feet off from the road. He/she looked about as startled to see me as I was to see him. The lion head checked back and forth quickly - left then right - almost cowering against the rock. It was startled by me and didn’t know whether to run or move, but definitely not pursuing. I was hauling ass lit up with bright lights - literally 40 MPH + plus down the wide open dirt road. There’s no way he can chase me woah!! Ciao!! Yikes.
Sweet I’m fine! I hit the first water crossings a few minutes later. At the second one something went wrong? My wheel was out of true? Hmm the wheel had gone into the frame now just a few miles from the pavement, but also still a few too close to that spooked out lion a couple miles back! I should have slowed down more for the water! Ugh. I considered my options and felt creeped out sitting down on the road messing with the wheel. I pulled out the tape reserved for my foot blisters and wrapped it quickly around the bike frame several times & tried hopelessly kicking at and pushing the wheel back in line. It’s GTFO time on White Mountain! Oh well a bike frame is $1000 worst case… This adventure doesn’t stop just yet - definitely not here and not mountain lion bait tonight!
It was like riding a resistance trainer downhill. I pedaled cringing as I knew I might be sealing the deal on my beloved bike’s final ride. Sad. The tire kept spinning rubbing tightly against the frame. I couldn’t keep it upright through the remaining water crossing sections and had to just walk through creeks knee deep carrying the bike. This is supposed to be the easy cruise to the bivy site for some sleep! 10:30 PM - back at the pavement I kept grinding through the rural Laws neighborhood until I was also sure I was out of reach of angry errant dogs and ahead to Hwy 6. The bike situation wasn’t improving. Finally I stopped and took a closer look again - the adjustable rear drop outs on the Salsa frame designed to allow different wheel sizes to fit had moved on one side just enough to send the wheel off on a crazy angle (I thought I’d tightened those as tight as I could before?!). I was able to push it back adjusted some - it still rubbed out of true and the derailer was now confused, but I was able finish last couple miles back to the garage finally - 11 PM I’m done!
I wanted to get up as early as possible to start the 450 mile bike tour/odyssey to Shasta. I tried to pack the road bike for the final touring load out while waiting on my now customary Mountain House and Tasty Bite dinner. This was the first day I really felt sore in general at the end. Bummer about the bike - I was almost here! Packing was nearly a lost cause - this or this? I don’t know. Let’s go light? I’ve never bike toured a day in my life before tonight hmm!? Probably should have! It would be so nice to get out of here early! I laid down on the garage floor with my rehydrated (and always immediately too hot to eat for a while) dinner. What else can I snack on? I didn’t want to get up off the floor - my legs wanted to be stretched out straight. Lets just eat and sleep…. I only finished half my food this time before I found myself reaching for the cozy sleeping bag - 4 AM again alarm. Check!!
I figured out that the key Mike left opened the side door to the empty house - I’m taking a shower and shaving real quick before this bike epic - better to ask forgiveness than permission! Maybe it will wake me up some! I took a caffeine pill and jumped in the shower - wow that feels good! Day 6! This was beginning to feel like the challenge that never ends - it just resets every day with a whole new tough objective.
Packing inevitably took a while as I pondered what were the things I really needed to bring to bike all night through how cold of weather? How much food? Batteries? How much Roctane Carb Drink? Bring the flip flops? A sleeping pad? I loaded up probably a little heavy, but afraid to go too light! 7AM start - oh well. I should have packed better all ahead of time, but not terrible! We’ll just bike forever!
I started out hitting the Sherwin Grade almost immediately climbing the 4,000+ feet out of Bishop. Okay this is slow, but not that bad… steady spinning! And there is a restaurant at the top with something other than food called “Mountain House” after 6 days!!! I was excited knowing I’d hit Tom’s Place in time for breakfast and that easily kept the stoke going up the big hill climb of the day - better to get it done first thing - that’s kind of my style!
I sat down at Tom’s Place and felt like a total king - a real chair, coffee, ice water and a full breakfast spread no way!! I’ll take my shoes off! There was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be! I talked with a few tourists and was very grateful for every bite of some real food! Okay if White Mountain is a rest day, today is a vacation! Who cares if I’m going to attempt to ride all night?! I was happy. So happy!
I enjoyed cruising through the familiar spots and and passing my home in Mammoth Lakes, CA. I feel good on the bike! I stopped whenever it was convenient - it was even worth a few extra pedal strokes to head up to the Mobil Mart in Lee Vining (good thing too for + calories - I’d have a mostly steady headwind to contend in against from here on to Carson City yet unbeknownst to me. Oh yeah!). I had my first mechanical issue soon heading north - a brake got twerked out weird by some road debris and I had to get the bike tool out to force the stuck rocks out and adjust it - some new scratches on the frame, but mostly fine! Glad I got tools!
I started the next big climb of the trip up to Conway Summit - 8,143 feet from Mono Lake - this should be the last real big climb till Shasta yes! The climb was long and steady, but I spoiled myself with a sit down stop at the famous Jolly Kone in Bridgeport. Here I had a decision to make - there are 2 danger cruxes for the bike route from Bishop to Shasta - roads I would only ride on a record attempt/race and not without some urgency. Walker Canyon is the first section. My friend, James Nichols, had urged me to consider the alternate route through Yerington bypassing Walker and the narrow/no shoulder road canyon. It was approaching dusk and I knew while this was a longer alternative, it was probably not the right call to head up Walker Canyon right now - besides that will scratch out 50% of the major bike hazard time totally and all the ongoing current road construction! I’d never headed towards Yerington before, but lets do it!
I didn’t know if I’d find any water out there, so I stopped along the river and used a “BeFree” water filter to squeeze out a few bottles before really getting out there. The water was slightly brown, but seemed okay enough so I went with it! It was funny leaning down over the river perched on rocks trying not to fall in - in my awkward bike cleats/shoes! The ride proved to be very pleasant - mostly flat rolling hills through rural countryside.
Eventually it got dark and the road started descending fast enough I stopped for a layers break. This was the first time I’ve used a dynamo hub (power generator in the bike wheel) to self power a bike light - it works pretty great and totally alleviated the stress of constant battery problems riding indefinitely into the night. It could also charge my phone, tracker, and rear flasher lights. Cool!
Eventually I started to get a little anxious- this is taking longer than expected? Where am I? There wasn’t a single store or business in site on this route! Good thing I had the sense to top off water! I figured out that the outskirts of Nevada towns/cities out here all start the same - storage units and garage warehouses 20 miles out like endless strip malls - nothing else, no businesses or gas stations. You don’t notice it so much till you are on a bicycle!!
10:40 PM I finally hit the familiar HWY 395 again. Wow I’ve rode all day! I was stoked for a town or something, but nothing was in site and it was surprisingly a good long steady hill climb ahead. It was getting quite cold here - 35 degrees F on the bike computer. This is how I’m going to do this though - I’m the ultracyclist - I ride forever!
I stopped and adjusted layers, made sure to eat, and trudged on!
At midnight, finally approaching Gardnerville!! I got pulled over by a Nevada Highway Patrol Officer. I updated my social media with this status : “I just got pulled over for “hypothermia biking”. He says people have been calling concerned tonight there is a cyclist on the road this late and so cold out (mid 30s). I had to show him I had a whole nother 2nd down puffy jacket, watch me while I put my 3rd pair of pants on, and pull out the heavy gloves! I came ready for this!! Some couple (probably the ones that called) even insisted on going and getting me random fast food and so now I have Taco Bell here too haha!”
So I sat on the side of the road in the dirt with all my clothes on eating a totally unannounced Taco Bell burrito and chatting with the officer in front of the police car lights. After explaining what I was doing and that this was a competitive effort and major life achievement he understood and with a very informal “standing sobriety” check let me go with recommendations for a few motels ahead. Thank you sir! That’s never happened before? PS Hey by the way, that’s a pretty sick bike, I’ve never seen a bike like this in my life! Right on!
I was stoked to arrive in Gardnerville. I headed for either the first fast food or service station to scrounge for something. I saw a Jack in the Box. The inside hours were well past close, but I headed for the drive thru and found a teenager in line in his car trying to order late night food. I pulled up alongside his window, “Hey buddy!” What, what, huh? He thought I was the drive thru speaker and was frustrated trying to order. “Hey dude!” Yeah, yeah, yea - I’d like to order… “No over here. Hey guy!” Huh? This was getting slightly hilarious. I was ready to give up, but then he finally saw me with my flashing bike lights. “Hey I’ll cover something on your order if you help me order some food. It’s just late and I’m hungry for anything and they won’t let me on a bike.” He turned out to be a real nice guy - apparently this has happened to him a few times before when he was here late at night on foot. Cool! I offered to pay for his whole meal this time, but he wouldn’t take it and was happy to help out. I stood carefully astride the freshly puke stained ground from other recent late night customers and handed him my debit card. He paid me in cash for his portion. Wow you rock teenage guy. Definitely fist bump! (and 6 x tacos + a burger too!)
I went over to the closed Taco Bell next door and sat down on the flat sidewalk against the wall because the lights we’re still on. They were totally closed, but the cleaning guy noticed me sitting outside. I told him I just wanted a place to sit & eat and was on a big bike adventure. He thought that was awesome. “What’s your favorite soda?? Wait one minute. I got you!” He returned with an extra large Mountain Dew. “Don’t worry, the cops won’t bother you here for another hour while the lights are on, take your time!”
I headed north from Gardnerville at 1:42 AM. Onward! At 2:12 AM I made an error and somehow turned around and headed back south to Gardnerville before I realized this scenery looks way too familiar. Deja Vu! In an ultra running or bicycle race, it’s usually a classic sign to stop if you ever find yourself pulling this maneuver in the middle of the night. I’d done it! I started to look for sleeping spots, but was uncomfortable in the urban setting - the motels all said no vacancy. Really?? I would have paid $100 without a thought! Keep pedaling!
My Dad sent me an InReach message, “You need to stop and sleep. You are barely moving. You will be better after you rejuvenate and get some sleep.” Alright thanks Dad. Trying out here! It’s always funny to look at yourself in these moments as an outside observer - yeah need to sleep I’m too slow… sleep spots are bad. Can I hide in those bushes by those houses, nah it’s too close to the highway though!? It’ll be okay it is what it is!
I decided to sit and eat at least. I pounded a half lb of gas station gummy bears and some beef jerky! I was now on the long straight away of nothing climbing towards Carson City, but fenced in on both sides on the highway by little fences. I’d had dreams of making the In N Out Burger in time for closing just ahead originally many hours ago, but that wasn’t happening! At 3:43 AM I found an apartment complex that had some of kind decorative garden terrace out front a few levels tall - no one will climb up that! I hoisted up the bike and found a nice flat dirt space - in clear site of the highway, but far enough out of the way I bargained no one would bother me by the time I was gone!! Awkward peeing off the edge towards the road though!
I set the alarm for 3 hours. I got up and took a moment to enjoy my flip flops while making oatmeal and marveling at the size of how small my modern day stove, cook set, sleeping pad, and bag were in comparison to the stuff I grew up with! Another awkward pee and we are out of here! I felt good to be in Carson City. Reno was my original goal for the first night, but made it pretty close! The next section would be downhill too. I felt okay enough - oddly, my fingers were the most sore of anything - likely from touching so many rocks over and over again through the Talus crawling and Palisades - swollen up like sausages and 2 split fingertips where they callused up and cut. I struggled to adjust the twisting boa buckles that close my bike shoes - it felt like pins and needles in my finger tips and I just couldn’t get it tight enough - guess it doesn’t matter too much - my feet are swollen bigger anyway!
I stopped in a service station and bought a couple large Coca Colas and more snack food (I eat everything in sight now!) to bulk up my rations again; a nice man and lady both held the door for me as I carted my bike around. I soon caught up with the Carson City scheduled local weekend bike ride as riders gathered together on the street readying to start the morning ride. Where we going guys?! I took a moment to socialize. Most of these guys were 60-70 years old and had some stories to tell. They thought I was crazy, but congrats so far! I headed out ahead, but nice visiting! The fast riders in the group soon caught me passing in little pace line groups way faster than I had any hope of wanting to try to go at the moment. Finally about 20 min later the 70 year old guys caught up to me. Want to ride with us for a minute? Sure.. more stories. I almost could keep up! I hung with them for a couple miles cranking it for me before my bike started making a noise and I pulled over to double check it. Nah you guys go ahead. Thanks for the company for a moment and keep at it! We’d tag team each other passing and catching back up at the many stop lights the next few miles, but they were always just ahead of me. I guess I’m just meant to chase you boys today! Thanks for the motivation! Our routes soon split off as I headed straight into the city to avoid the freeway.
I saw the only person I actually knew in route for a moment. My work buddy Dana, who had dropped me off at the start of all this, was coming back from the Reno Rib Fest and shouted at me standing up out his truck window in passing hooting and hollering then texted, “You look like Forrest Gump except you’re on a bike. Sorry no time stop or I would have. Keep crushing it! Get’er done!”
I finally found my In N Out Burger on route and stopped for an early lunch. A nice couple watched my bike and asked all sorts of questions. Susanville here we come!
I turned on my old favorite Matchbox 20 album from high school and sang nearly all the lyrics aloud shamelessly while grinding along through the dozens of city stop lights and signs. It was 95 degrees +, but the silly music made it fun “Oh God I shouldn’t feel this way noooooo - reach down your hand in your pocket - pull out some hope for me! It’s been a longgggg day, always!!” and by the end of the album I was through the city! I got a call from my good buddy Jason Lakey to share the stoke while I was passing Renown Hospital. I’m doing it - in the middle of it! I sent a picture off to my coworkers and they sent a happy photo back. Yep I’m doing it!!
I knew I hadn’t checked on my bike derailer or chain since starting out a few hundred miles back so I was stoked to pass a bike shop - Black Rock Bicycles. I walked in and the door was open. No one was in there! I approached the back behind the counter and they clearly weren’t open. “Oh that door was unlocked?” They were swamped dealing with the aftermath of bikes from Burning Man, but they let me go ahead and take my bike behind the counter after hearing about the kind of adventure I was on. I used the shop tools and stand to do my own quick tune up on the bike, pumped the tires, and lubed the chain nice and good for the final haul (they even let me open a brand new lube off the shelf)! I offered them $ for the trouble and time, but they wouldn’t take it! Good luck! Cheers!
Putting the city behind me, I knew I was on the outskirts as I saw the standard Nevada 20 miles of storage units and warehouses come into view again. Alright this is the deal. The last push on the bike! I’d planned to dump the bike bags which would be useless dead weight for the final push and ride all night with everything to finish it all out (whatever that means at this point). My exit vehicle was coming up that night from Fresno and wanted me to leave them downtown somewhere at a casino, but I didn’t want to deal with going way inside and negotiating with anyone so I waited till I found a rural gas station once I was out of the city.
I immediately got a flat on one of the first big hill descents. Okay 300 miles for first flat isn’t too bad! I took my time fixing it and used the patch kit to conserve my fresh spare tubes.
It felt great to be on the bike with the bare minimum cruising the mellow highway and out of the city. I’ll make Susanville by dark, then it’s only 133 miles after that! I stopped and bought an ice cream, more Coca Cola, some gas station Pop Tarts, and Gummy Bears, and topped off water again. This is kind of mellow almost! Perfect temperatures too. I could feel that I was definitely not powered up like my normal self, but I was happy and glad to know that there was mostly downhill ahead until the final climb to Shasta! Beautiful mellow rolling hills and countryside on a nice road! Getting this thing!
I was almost to Susanville when I got a flat. I repaired it and got going, but soon I had a flat again WTF a half soft tire, should I just keep riding on it!? Nope all the way flat... Then I realized it - It wasn’t the tube - I’d broken the fancy custom made in China valve extender for my aero wheel. The tubes were fine, but there was no way to put air in them all the way inside the deep aero wheel without this special adapter. An effing tiny little piece! I never carry spares oh sh*t!!! I didn’t have any real good tools besides a small multi tool wrench and this thing needed a replacement! No bike shops open on Sunday or at 7 PM either. I called out to Dad and tried to think of everything a Walmart or hardware store might have that could fix this. Get a floor bike pump - a couple different kinds. Tire patch kits. Glue. Pliers. Duct tape. Plumber’s tape! What else possibly? A new valve extender if they sell it for bikes anywhere! Buy it all and just get here!!
I’d wanted to quit officially 4 times on this event by now in the hardest parts and I knew even this close to the finish something would likely come up that made me want to quit again. This was it! Another test so frustrating because I was stuck in place - no motion. When my feet hurt bad in the Palisades I’d found comfort in knowing I had enough medical supplies available to at least do something to help myself or try to. Fail. Eff! There was nothing to do, but find a place out of sight on the road and lay down. We might not find this stupid piece somehow till a bike shop opens tomorrow in Reno and I’m done?! I woke up 2 hours later to my phone ringing in my ear and Dad yelling at me to get up and start aiming lights at the road somehow. Where was I? I don’t know, not it a town! Like 17 miles from Susanville somewhere??! That’s the best I got! Look at the Garmin track - he didn’t have data service anymore. He called in to family back home to track me on the internet. Alright he’s close…. there!
We fought with the wheel. We got it pumped part way up, but not good enough. I got another flat. We tried again. This time we reluctantly popped the wheel with a nail intentionally to get the thing off while wrestling the tire levers since the valve wouldn’t release the air either. Finally with tape wrapping the connection and a hefty dab of patch glue, we tried again. The pump wouldn’t hold strong pressure! It hurt my swollen fingers pushing it into the stem with every bit of rock climber finger strength I could muster. For some reason I grabbed the basketball adapter side of the pump and tried it on the Presta valve. I pushed it down and held with all my strength no matter how bad my fingers hated it. It looks like it’s pumping up! It is. More pumps do it! Errrrrrrrrrgh!
I had a full pressure tire! 10 PM, oh well I guess I got a nap and was planning on an another all nighter anyways - into Susanville finally! A last stop at Safeway and Taco Bell for another big soda and stack of (6) bean burritos for the night push! I collected on my bear can cache just outside of town from my drive up to Shasta and loaded up my warmest ski gloves, favorite Dynafit jacket, new alpine pants, 4 more rounds of Roctane, nearly a full pound of Welch’s Fruit Snacks (the absolutely easiest thing to eat for calories when you feel like total crap - gas station gummy bears will work, but these are way better!), and pounded another 350 calorie Ensure right now - one to drink + one to take with - cause just because - more calories! I’d planned hopefully to do this last section at night intentionally from the beginning in a push to both mitigate the most dangerous sections of highway biking normally in daylight and a chance to finally somehow give’er my all to the end! Bottom of the ninth inning - just give me one more all nighter Ryan!!
Luckily it wasn’t half as cold as Gardnerville and Carson City. The road climbed gradually in the dark then continued through flats. At one point I was trying to open a fruit snack packet and managed to lose total control of the bike almost. I ran shooting across the far lane before stopping and dropping off the back wheel like a mountain biker headed down the hillside. My crotch got pulled into the rear brake and totally tore up my tights awkwardly - self-neutering attempt narrowly averted. I was luckily mostly fine! Never do that again!
Because the mechanical shenanigans, Dad would have to stay within striking distance and went off ahead to sleep in the car at rest stops. Hopefully no more flats in that wheel!! It’s on. Shasta or bust tonight! I didn’t drop the hammer (could I even have?), but did everything I could to move steadily through the night taking caffeine pills on the clock and downing a burrito every hour or so. Yay for downhill! I felt like I was cruising as more and more downhill sections came finally! I stopped at the rest station exit and the secret after hours water spigot I’d scoped out at the fire station to fill up the camelbak with the obligatory pre-measured Roctane carbs- my mouth had started to hurt literally probably from eating so much food in general, but I think most of all from the sugar bomb carb drinks and sodas. This stuff works great for me on 8- 24 hour pushes - I love the quick sugar, but a week of it and eating like this??! I’d developed a nasty chest cough too - no stranger to me in ultra events - it’s the sugar bomb of thousands upon thousands of calories. Does the body even actually process it? Where does it go? I’m finishing this bike tonight! GU Energy is my primary nutrition sponsor and I love this stuff racing it hard, but I don’t think anyone’s body is meant go through all of everything here above after so many days! Thanks again guys for the support!!
I did good till about 3 AM then I started to feel a wall coming. I was weaving slightly on the fast white line riding descents or literally slapping myself on the helmet while blasting pop dance music. Sobriety nap! I usually take 15 minute naps when it gets this bad. I don’t really sleep, but stopping and closing my eyes and eating something usually revives me just enough. I took 2 rounds before sunrise. I was relieved to see the sun rising without too bad of fire smoke! The course pre-drive had been on an extra smokey day and I’d crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t be getting smoked out like that on the final 50 miles. The best way to describe things, is that you could definitely see it, but you couldn’t taste it or smell it strongly - no coughing from it particularly either. The fire smoke has been terrible this summer! Alright some good luck!
Then I really found the wall again. I was optimistic I could get into Shasta by about 9 or 10 AM if I could just keep moving… The last 15 miles or so into Shasta are a steady grind uphill I’d forgotten about till now after seeming so easy on the drive in 2 weeks ago. It didn’t matter what I ate. The bike was crawling at 5 mph if lucky! There was nothing to do, but slog along. One pedal at a time right?! I finished one hill and took another 10 minute nap only to soon start another big one! The drivers were crazy. I wished it was still night - taking these roads intentionally at night had been the proper risk mitigation strategy indeed (Shasta was the other most dangerous road section I alluded to earlier of 2). The drivers and large forest service trucks barreled down the narrow 2 lane highway at 70-90 mph constantly. Must be no cops nearby around here!
The death pass - there’s one thing road bikers fear almost universally more than anything else. This is when you may really die - other people may die too, but you will definitely die - you only get so many of these in a lifetime and are lucky to survive every time. You are on narrow straight away 2 lane highway with no shoulder. A car is coming on straight at you. All of a sudden a second car passes the first car and comes head on at you in your lane at an extremely high speed - you have a second or 2 max to react. For a moment everything hangs in the balance you and both the other cars perfectly aligned with arms lengths or inches of space to spare. I edged slightly to the outside edge of the white line and we all hung in the balance - the oncoming driver doesn’t often expect to see you or they wouldn’t have been so stupid. They see you now and fate decides for everyone. That’s the death pass. I’ve survived 3 in my life. That’ll wake a zombie bike guy up! I’m wide awake!!!! Damn!
Unfortunately it was short lived as I climbed the final hill slogging into Shasta, counting down the miles in single digits now. How much further could it be?! 11:30 AM - I got to go down for a nap again. I pulled over in the dirt on a highway turn off about 20 feet off the road and laid down with the bike practically on top of me. Doesn’t matter. Set an alarm!! 30 minutes! This would be a new special low point - I woke up 50 minutes later with an alarm blaring and 4 missed calls from close friends and my Dad. The kicker - I had ants crawling all over me in the dirt aghh!! Wow man. You are out of it! I felt like my current life status = face plant. I knew there was no likely summit attempt happening today let alone the final big climb to the trailhead! I’d been hopeful to also break the women’s car supported running only record time too - just got to go summit right now and be down by 6:10 PM - definitely nope! I think it’s still a call out ladies that I was even close to striking! Get to it! ;-)
I rolled into Shasta at 1PM like I was auditioning to do a special David Hasselhoff slow motion music beach biking scene! Hello town well here I am... I know I’m zeroed. The crazy mountain climbing bike champ is empty - humble me for the finish! I was finally really out of gas for the first time the whole week. That poor Ryan that spent 6 hours in a shiver bivy at 12,000 feet could drop kick me like crumpled tissue paper right now. I really can’t…….
I pulled over at the first grocery store I found - an awesome little hippy health food store called the Berryvale Market. Perfect! It even had grassy park behind it for customers only. Yes! I bought Sandwiches, Cookies, Soda, Licorice, Random assorted snack bars, Waffles, and a Smoothie. Nap/Eat/Repeat!!
When I’ve hit near this low before usually at bike races I know it takes hours of eating and napping to revive. So I fell asleep surrounded by food and would wake up & eat more then go back to sleep! My bike computer had been showing around 7,000 calories per bout for a half day at a time. It’s safe to say that on some of these mega pushes I burned 20,000 calories in a 24 hour sitting at the end this late in the game and who knows how much during the 5 days I spent doing the first 14 mountains. No joke!! No wonder I could eat anything!
At dusk I was - go figure- still hungry. I took the bike down to Round Table Pizza and ordered a large pizza. The guy at the counter looked at me - “You really look tired man. Do you want to go lay down on one of the benches in the back and just sleep?” Maybe I should. Can I get soda? “Oh don’t worry about it I’m giving you a free soda this time dude! What are you doing right now anyway? The California Fourteeners by bike - all of them and I’m on my last one. Shasta!” I passed out on the bench in the empty restaurant. A random stranger walked by and I knew he was looking at me -“You don’t give an eff as much as me either haha!” he said. I didn’t even open my eyes. Nope I don’t I said! He laughed pretty good. I called my Dad and shared half the pizza with him to cover his dinner. He was now on perpetual standby for whenever this finished. “Your Mom is very glad you aren’t going up on the mountain tonight Ryan.” I high fived the pizza guy. I’m heading up to the trailhead thanks! I can do this!
Back from the dead! Rider Up!! It was so emotional to finally be facing off staring down the last mountain now at dusk after all this. I wasn’t strong, but I knew I’d recovered the steady grind… so this is what going 4th round with Haleakala feels like! (No one has ever gone 4 rounds with Haleakala - the world’s longest/highest paved road climb in Maui. I have a record for doing 3 times. Any takers?!? This is probably what it feels like though!). It even resembled the Hawaiian volcano a bit as I looked up at the last climb from town - yep just 10,000 more vertical feet now then this in the bag just like Haleakala. I’m coming! We’re finishing this finally! OOORAH!
I knew I could get onto the mountain tonight, but summiting would possibly be a full epic. I’m seemingly plenty good enough at finding those situations on my own, I don’t need to head straight into it! In hindsight now, I think maybe I should have headed up to the snow line with good bivy gear and got the dawn start, but in the moment, I decided to camp. How early to get up? This is still a record effort, should I get up at 2AM?! I could probably sleep till 2 PM ha! 6AM is definitely lazy. Your 4AM time is still a competitive effort and respectful… Done! I was moving on the mountain by 5:50 AM filling out a “summit permit” and headed out after the customary oatmeal (I’d saved special dehydrated Patagonia brand oatmeal for the start and summit days as a treat). I took the few extra minutes to have a real cup of coffee and left the caffeine pills behind this time. No Roctane or Tailwind carb drinks either (I brought GU Waffles I totally dig FYI for the record!). I didn’t need to force feed myself sugar syrups or Coca Cola any longer even if I’m a little faster on it. I wanted to enjoy this day. I didn’t need to zombie stumble the finish on in the dark all night once more with it all on the line in some new way. This was kind of just a special time for me now. I loaded up my favorite snacks and just enough water that I shouldn’t have fill up anymore - but brought the tiny BeFree mini filter just in case! I even get trekking poles for the first time! Good call 2 weeks ago - ha sometimes I get something right!
I started the steady climb up the mountain - It was a spiritual special moment and Shasta after all, so I played some Enya while I cranked along up the granite steps heading to the talus fields. Feeling good again! I passed one old local hiker out for a morning stroll to the Sierra Club Cabin and told him I was finishing this journey! He wished me well as “younger man in life” - “Enjoy finishing all that and congrats to you on something so big! You’ll always remember this!” He was the only person I’d see on route to my last objective.
I went straight up Avy Gulch. The local guides and rangers swear off this route late in the season and it is no doubt dangerous (always as far as I can tell), but I didn’t feel any worse off in comparison to the many things I’d been through this week. Everything that could melt and drop rocks was pretty much entirely melted out and the 5 foot wide strip of snow down the gut of the terrain would be easy to jump off probably well enough in time. No Farquhar moments today! I felt slow and toasted on the mountain, but stoked to be just holding it steady again. I was surprised to see later that Strava recorded my time on this section for the first 3.5 miles as the second fastest known recorded ascent of all time (and later the 3rd fastest conquering the summit plateau via Misery Ridge). Just no! I guess I was possibly the most acclimatized person to ever climb Shasta though likely!
I put on my crampons and used my trekking poles to head straight up the frozen the snow. It was the easiest path. Soon I was inevitably approaching the Red Banks aka The Mud Banks- these giant looming mud towers and gullies guarding the top of the mountain make Sedona, AZ mud clods look totally solid! It looked doable to physically jump about 8 feet and clear over the bergschrund on the back of the summit ridge line - actually fairly reasonably surprisingly, but I wasn’t sure if there would be another schrund crossing back up or more after, so I headed back down to the standard mud clod climbing route. For the first time of the day I thought of unholstering my ice axe I’d carried in reserve to pound into the crumbly mud for purchase. The first extra direct variation I tried probably would go, but had a little more exposure than I wanted for probability chance of a fall, even it was only 30%. The next chute over went okay with what felt like 5.9 mud climbing after breaking a few obvious holds while testing and few more unintentionally. Shasta is a unique personality choss pile challenge - cool!
Once out of the mud the summit was rather pleasant. I found a last remaining small snow field that turned out to be “sun cup hell”- melted potholes surrounded by 2 foot long sharp daggers of frozen snow and ice abounded and I quickly aborted the direct crossing and took the long way around a farther edge. The summit itself was pretty cool - unique in it’s kind and built seemingly from a free standing tower of quartz from the top of the volcano? I remembered seeing my friend Viren posting video of climbing the direct finish variation, so I opted for that up the slightly spicy loose quartz holds straight to the top - probably 4th class, but fun! It kept the last finish a little exciting. I signed the register with a sense of disbelief at how unreal it was to be done with all this - eating some nice cookies I’d saved from the Health Food store just for right now (thanks to my friend Tom Grundy for starting the trend of Summit Cookies! I did not forget!). I encountered one other hiker on the summit - a large Asian man that spoke rough English. He'd come in from another route just behind me and was excited to tell me that he’d seen his first bear on the trail! I listened politely and finally told him I had to get going, acknowledging gruffly to myself that these records officially end at the trailhead per tradition - I strongly believe records should end on the final summit and not an arbitrary trail parking lot, but it is what it is and I can only at least voice that opinion.
I got going - at least it would motivate me to get down quick! No glissading (sliding down the snow as a fun quick descent) today that’s for sure. The little strip of snow remaining was full of little baseball and larger size rocks that would have quickly ended such an attempt. I opted for the sandy loose talus on the sides of the snow. The sandier the better because you could slide down it on foot without hurting your feet in the larger unstable rocks. The worst of it had actually been the mud clod slabs - flat steep mud with softballs all over the top of the surface - it was nearly impossible not to fall at least a couple times as the ground washed away entirely. How many times have I taken that fall this week now?! Pretty much!
I made one last fall with a quick last second recovery in front of a woman just leaving the Sierra Club Cabin and she laughed, “Good save!”. From the Cabin down I could full on run. Part of my body didn’t really want to, but I was going to do it! Just a couple miles more! I did my best running the trail and stairs as it traversed the mountain, then down, finally straight down to the parking lot!! I booked it passing a couple of hikers right before the finish probably thinking I was crazy! Excuse me, sorry on your right! Yes I can see the finish!!!
I pulled out the Trekker- 2:49 PM - exactly 8 days, 8 hours, and 39 minutes! ! I’d made it!! I sat down next to the bathroom to finagle some shade and was immediately relentlessly harassed by swarming yellow jackets. I didn’t care! I had a fun time talking with a local ranger who shook my hand and was the only person on site to offer sincere congratulations and a little surprise I’d actually hit the Avy Gulch this time of season too!
I was slightly disappointed to just miss my original goal of a 7 day window by about 9 hours, but I did it and felt good about really giving this a good go and for a first attempt with inevitably a few big stumbles! Officially 36 hours, 2 minutes faster than the best known effort by bicycle.
Thanks for coming along for this adventure! Some of the wilder moments are about as far out there as I’ve been on on my own! Thanks friends for reading, all the encouragement, and helping me believe in a dream! I’m still sore. I’ve been resting at home for a little over a week straight now and back working at my day job!
What’s next? I want to be the first to attempt Aconcagua from Sea to Summit in <24 hours with my bicycle. I’ve started working and saving hard now and a fundraiser here: https://www.gofundme.com/aconcagua-seasummit-22841039 - I’m suggesting a $10 donation if you like following my adventures and believe in chasing the dream. Excited!
For Hans Florine and the first inspiration - #dohardthings
Footnotes, Stats, & Style -
From my best estimates : 72.1 miles Hiking, 555 miles Biking, 80,000 Total vertical feet gained
I wanted to do something bigger this year besides just finishing races or knocking a few more minutes off the speed record times on Mt Whitney. Also there was a bike record in the Sierra that included Mt Whitney and didn't even have my name on trying yet?! Saddle up!
From what I could tell looking at the history of few known ascents of the California 14ers by bike, no one had used the most appropriate equipment or direct routes yet. I would combine the available beta and my multiple quiver of standard ultra racing bicycles, local resources, ultralight running gear, and local experience to attempt theoretically the most direct and aggressive possible route . I tried to make it similar to Sean O'Rourke's car supported fastest known effort in practical execution not by having a team, but instead using well stocked supply caches (med kits, new clothing, food, stoves, special backpacks etc) available in between where he would have made transitions at each new trailhead. I would use 3 carefully selected bikes placed strategically in line to go point to point on near the same route as the car driving efforts. I carried the bare minimum to the point - it sometimes felt a little scary - hesitantly leaving everything from favorite gloves/jackets/and emergency shelter cached behind at these transitions if they hadn't been used frequently so far!
I ran/hike/scrambled in a + half size large pair of Salomon Speedcross 4’s - Extra wide version. I wore stirrup style hiker gaiters the whole time. I totally destroyed a 20 liter Salomon running pack that barely fit just enough!
I practiced the longer segments I hadn't done yet over multiple day trips or overnight backpacking a few days at a time to get in shape and decide on my own strategic route choices (it would also help later if I had to do who knows how much of these sections inevitably in the dark!). Since it has been so smokey in the Sierra the last few months, most of my base fitness came from these outings, weight lifting in the gym, treadmill time, and occasional late night/after work bike outings in the thick of the smoke when I was feeling extra stubborn. I would have preferred about 6+ more 100 mile rides in the last weeks beforehand, but the conditions were pretty terrible for road biking this summer!
The logistics took days to set up as I rested & awaited the full moon with 2 weeks requested time off work as a registered nurse in Mammoth Lakes, CA. I cached both my personal vehicles as temporary "bike lockers" at trailheads and arranged to use my landlord's empty garage in Bishop, CA (who was conveniently out of town at Burning Man for the week!) as a transition hub between White Mountain, Bishop Pass, and the Shasta 450 mile bike segment. I drove up to Shasta and carefully checked out all the available mini marts/shops/water spigots (key beta!) available on the more rural sections, found a safe enough way to mostly avoid the freeways biking through downtown Reno, a last push food/clothing/medical bear can cache after Susanville, and arranged to leave my crampons, axe, trekking poles, and the final summit pack in Shasta with an old roommate's Dad that happens to own the local guide service.
I knew I wasn’t anywhere near Sam Skrocke’s style and I wasn’t trying to be. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never met the guy, but Sam is the man and has the equivalent of the unsupported record in comparison where I schemed up and cached supplies shamelessly setting up each transition ahead. Hats off for your efforts and adventures! I envisioned and saw how I wanted to do it and went about it a very different way.
So what was my style? All out! Speed = Priority #1. I consider it Cache/Self Supported since I was alone 99% of the time carrying the gear needed for each section, but inevitably depended on others for a few things and didn't shy from occasional trail niceness offers when I was seemingly pretty rarely around anyone on the mostly off trail route (or nice people buying free food/drinks etc at restaurants/gas stations when they figured out what my goal was!). I unfortunately had to call out for mechanical failure on my aero wheel set that I absolutely couldn't fix and there was definitely a delay. I had friends on emergency retainer for that "pick me up” phone call or even mountain rescue emergency response (many are on the local SAR team) if it ever had to happen. I got pulled over by the highway patrol once for "hypothermia biking" near Gardnerville, NV and had to prove to the officer that I wasn't totally crazy by showing him I had a full stash of additional warm layers ready. I just biked until 4AM what gives?? =)
I mostly got lucky with mild weather this time, but the steady headwinds from Lee Vining to Carson City and again some from Reno up to Susanville, probably cost about 4 to 6 additional hours on the bike. I’d guess you’re likely going to get it bad somewhere though on a week long trip?!!
What an adventure! I think my style is close to the ideal possible speed method outside of finding someone to hang out for an entire week cooking and driving up and down etc between trails or having a couple of extremely fit friends capable of accompanying some of the mountain sections without any slowing down. I certainly made plenty of mistakes. Most of all - I wish I really would have dialed in the transitions, but it was harder to know exactly what I might need on a first attempt. The technical climbing cruxes in the Palisades are definitely fastest solo/free solo with just a 20-30 meter rappel rope for mere mortals like me! Knowing everything now, with the gift of perfect 20/20 hindsight, I would have gone just a little lighter even on nearly everything except heavier on food - but definitely less sugary/carb drink mixes in favor of real foods (I also really ate way too many Mountain House meals only for the first 5 days too ha - I ate 1-2 prunes a day to stave off any possible complications ;-) !!).
I’d like to return for 2 more attempts before I turn 40. One a refinement on solo/self supported - I’d have a personal exit van stashed at the trailhead that I could just drive home in at the end after sleeping as long/as many times as needed and relieving some of the final logistical stress. I’d really dial in the transitions in pre-prep packing and gear/route variations (definitely some improvement to be had in the Sierra!). With good weather & luck I would like to see this record solidly in the 7 day window (I believe 6 is possible). I might even do the whole route in reverse to change it up a bit.
For the other attempt I’d like to have a shot at a near full supported effort particularly with someone cooking and driving and possibly a strong friend or 2 for some of the mountain sections. I believe it’s possible to go within the 6 day window for me - 5 days being a competitive limit potential, if not mine. The main silent variable here - which is always hanging in all my record attempts till I really go out and do it on the ones that matter most - my real time trial bike would be allowed to hit the pavement. There’s really nothing that compares. On flat ground it’s 60 watts less effort at all times to be on the TT bike - add in no extra weight penalty at all and you’re looking at 100-150 watts less effort for the entirety of the biking. This could take a full day off the biking section - doing it in closer to 24 - 30 hours flat. I didn’t want to climb the mountains tired after slogging it out on the bike - but possibly you could go either way at such a pace potentially with little side effect with enough fitness.
I’m still a sucker for a good inspiring challenge and love that this one encompasses the Sierra! ~Cheers