I had just completed my first bikepacking race with the Stagecoach 400 and I was hooked: I would be in Banff in 2016. However, I needed another stepping stone until then and after looking at the calendar for another race, I settled on the Caldera 500: not too far and not too long. Or so I thought… Fast forward 6 months and many many hours of training. I finally made it to Mammoth Lakes and was checking in into the Alpenhof Lodge. After finishing during the night at 2am ans sleeping in the trunk of my car after the Stagecoach because all hotels were closed, I had decided to plan things a little better this time: the lodge is close to the finish line, open 24/7 and had low occupancy on both Monday and Tuesday when I would be back. Oh, delusion! I do a quick appearance at the pre-race meetup, meet with my executioner Alan and go for a last gear check ride on what I thought were the first two miles of the race… I took my last supper at the lodge and went to bed early. IMG_9487

Day 1: The “it’s probably just the first day” day

I was up at 6am before my alarm went off. What a fantastic night, no kids to wake me up. I ate my massive bowl of Biju’s oatmeal with some Nutella while sitting on the side of the bed staring at my bike. By 6:45, I left the room and I headed to the start. I quickly realized that I had been riding the last two miles of the race the night before, not the first two. First navigation mistake, way to go Arthur. What could go wrong during 500 miles on your own? At 7am, we were all lined up for the start trying to find a ray of sunlight to warm up. After addressing the usual Spot issues, the adventure started at 7:14am. I was now on my own. At this point, my plan was solid: I would ride until 4am or so, sleep in the national forest right before Bishop, roll into town for breakfast when stores open and ride the Tablelands before the heat hits. The ride started with a fun downhill singletrack. I took it slow and a couple of riders passed me. I did a very quick KitKat and water refill break at Tom’s place and head to the bottom of the first climb where the cues indicated more water at a campground. I got to the campground only to find a bunch of faucets, all locked with a “Not for public use” sign. The climbing started and so did the hike-a-bikes as I passed Isaac after topping off water from a creek. When I got to the RV campground, I was welcomed by a “You must be Isaac!” Sorry for the disappointment. Blake had left 5 minutes ago and told them Isaac was behind him. I got an ice-cream, more water and listened to the usual amused remarks. After a quick left turn, the Caldera finally shows its true face. A brutal hike-a-bike all the way to the top. The elevation was starting to play with the sea level rider that I am and I had to stop regularly to rest. IMG_9494 (2) IMG_9491 (1) IMG_9496 (1) It was already dusk when I made it to the top. The descent (with some complementary hike-a-bikes) to Big Pine was beautiful until it was pitch dark and the trail became a sand slide. I made it to Big Pine around 10pm where I was welcome by a friend of Alan. The market at the gas station was still open. I had dinner and packed up food and water for the 60 mile ride to Bishop. After not even 8 miles, as I was riding up Death Valley road, my legs felt tired and I decided to proactively set camp early while I am still at low elevation. I found a spot by the road and set my timer to 4 hours.

Day 2: The “I am first” day

1.5h later, I was wide awake and I couldn’t fall back to sleep. At 1:30am I was back on my bike and thinking that stopping that early was a huge strategic mistake. I was pretty sure everyone passed me while I was asleep. Once I was back on the dirt, more hike-a-bike by night awaited. At 6am or so, I couldn’t go any further without daylight and I decided to lay down on the side of the trail, using my helmet as a head support. 20mn later, I was woken up by my freezing legs. The sun was rising but I needed more sleep so I set up my bivvy and a 1h timer. By 7am I was back on the trail on my way to the top. My breakfast plans in Bishop were ruined but I still had hopes for brunch – which quickly became lunch. The beginning of the descent was slower than the ascent with fields for loose rocks. Finally, it became rideable and a fun ride began down to Bishop. I got there at 4pm and my mind is set: I am going for the Caldera 250. This was insane. In Bishop, I made a few phone calls and Leo had the last word: “you will feel better failing on the 500 than winning on the 250.” That’s not what I wanted to hear, I had such a good rationale to cut it short. IMG_9507 (1)After a good meal and packing up tons of food and water for the long stretch to Bridgeport, I got back on the bike and ran into Blake who told me about his decision to stop here. The climb into the Tablelands started as the sun slowly set. I made it to the other side and at 10pm I set camp on the side of the trail where I slept for a solid 4 hours. IMG_9509 (2) IMG_9515 (2)

IMG_9514 (1)Day 3: The “I am alone” day

At 2am, I started going up what seemed to be an endless climb. As usual more hiking than biking. I made it to the top at dawn and the downhill was pretty fun. I ran into hunters packing home and they offered me water and bananas. The place looked like bear heaven, and they confirmed that they had seen some. I continued the descent which quickly became a roller coaster. I flew by the junction without an opportunity to reconsider my decision. I would rather go 250 more miles than go back up this climb. Once in the basin and after topping off my water (with the hope of not having to drink it) by a parking lot, I started the 18 mile stretch to the start of the climb to Bodie. I could finally ride at a normal pace and it felt great. IMG_9517 (2) IMG_9519 (1) IMG_9523 (1)Unfortunately, I got into sandy territory at the bottom of the climb to Bodie at 1pm, the hottest time of the day. I pretty much walked all the way up, going from one tree shade to the next. It was so hot that I forgot to eat along the way and totally bonked by the time I made it to Bodie. The descent to Bridgeport started with a steady climb on a forest road and my legs completely gave up. One more time, some hunters stopped by to chat and offered me something to eat more exciting than the fig cakes I had been carrying since Bishop. My legs slowly recovered and I sort of enjoyed the descent to Bridgeport. When I got there, I couldn’t find a reason to keep going. I was going to DNF but I took the wise decision to not pull the trigger until I slept in a bed and ate A LOT. I entered a sports bar – the only place still open – and ordered one cheese pizza, one cheeseburger, one hamburger and two cheese sandwiches. All with fries. Please. I checked into a motel, ate the pizza and burger, took a shower, washed my bib and jersey, preped all my stuff for the next day and hit the sack. My mind was back into it at this point. IMG_9530 (2) IMG_9540 (1)

Day 4: The “I can do this” day

At 2am, I was wide awake and ready to go. No more DNF going through my mind. I rode until I reached the bottom of the Mt Patterson climb where I decided to wait for the sunrise. I ate a cheeseburger and laid down, facing east. I started the long climb as soon as the sun rose. The first 2 miles or so were rideable but I walked pretty much all the way to the top otherwise. The summit made the whole ride worth it. IMG_9549 (2) IMG_9552 (1) IMG_9556 (2) IMG_9608 (1) IMG_9580 (1)The descent to Walker was long and offered a very different scenery than the climb. Much greener. I made it to Walker at 3:30pm, are a lot and refilled. I got back on the road right away hoping to make it to the next summit by sunset which did not happen. After a surreal encounter with a regiment of US Marines doing a night training in the forest I made it to the Leavitt Meadows Campground at 12am and decided to sleep for a few hours. I didn’t even change clothes and fell asleep right away.

Day 5: The “I think it is the last day” day

At 4am, the day started with a narrow single track down to Poor Lake. Not long after, I realized I messed up with the cues while trying to keep them updated with the latest updates over the past few weeks. At that point, I didn’t know where the next chance for food was and the trail went deeper and deeper into the wilderness. I made it to Twin Lakes with an individual serving of nutella, one cereal bar and one serving of sports drink. I felt vulnerable but the scenery was beautiful with a succession of valleys eventually leading me back to civilization. IMG_9628 (1) IMG_9632 (1)In Twin Lakes, I finally ate and got enough food and water to get to Lee Vining. Soon enough, I was back on a hike-a-bike out of Twin Lakes and then onto another long climb before Lee Vining. Once again, my estimations were totally off and I was still very far from Lee Vining when the sun set. I wouldn’t make it in time to get more food there. Right before I got on the highway, a family that had been following me on trackleaders was waiting for me to cheer me up. Great timing. They gave me enough motivation to continue late into the night. I was also very surprised to see them again half an hour later with some homemade sandwiches! That’s five star trail magic right there. It was pitch dark and I wished I could see Mono Lake… IMG_9636 (1) IMG_9637 (1)The next climb was very long. I still thought I would make it under 5 days so I kept going. I didn’t reach the top until 4am or so and I was falling asleep pushing my bike and cursing life. After a technical downhill to Silver Lake, I decided to get a bit of sleep at an RV campground. I slept 1.5h and at 6am I got back on the bike. It was freezing but I was almost there. What I thought would be a couple of hours quickly became much more. I couldn’t believe I was still hike-a-biking so close to the end… I wanted to DNF as far as 5 miles from the end at the junction with the 250. Luckily, a friendly Matt was there to cheer me up and he offered me a Coke and a Snickers. After 5 pretty fun miles, I made it to the end. Finally. There was a little crowd waiting for me which was awesome. IMG_9643 (1) IMG_9645 (1) IMG_9650 (1)I was supposed to be back to work the next day so I started the drive back to San Francisco an hour after I passed the finish line. Twelve hours earlier I was pushing my bike in the dark in a moon like environment and here I was kissing my kids good night. It felt like I never left. A huge thanks to my wife and kids for letting me disappear every once in awhile, to Lynda from lwcoaching.com for her amazing coaching, to Leo for talking me back into the 500 and of course to Alan for coming up with such an amazing and grueling route. If you are looking for a new challenge, look no further.

7 Comments

  1. what a great recap and photos congrats Arthur . Inspiration

  2. Great report and the pics really show how the vastness and ruggedness of the route and glad you made a right turn at the 250 cutoff. Congrats on the finish and the win!

  3. Jim Reynolds

    Hey. I’m a non-biker and uncle of Matt Reynolds, the 250 slacker that gave you the Coke and Snickers bar. Great report. You guys are all nuts and I love it. What percentage of time do you think that you hike-a-biked on this trip?

  4. Jim – Thank you again for the coke and snickers! You saved me 🙂 We will get your name right shortly. Sorry about that.

    • Jim Reynolds

      You got the name right in your report. Matt is the Snickers angel and your fellow hardcore biker. My bike activity starts and ends with reading interesting trip reports. I’m more of an ATV guy at this point.

  5. Regarding your question about hike-a-bike, my guess would be at least 25% of the time. I must have hiked the majority of the climbs.

  6. Bravo Arthur! Photos incroyables.

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