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102 Miles in the High Sierras: Mammoth Gran Fondo

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Sept. 17, 2014 — Enough with the fondos and centuries through tract housing, McMansion neighborhoods, freeway frontage roads, and urban areas where you have to worry about traffic and annoyed folks late for soccer on Saturday morning. Part of the reason we all got into cycling in the first place was to enjoy the outdoors and nature and to test our grit. Stop lights, strip malls, and dodging cars has little to do with that.

Ryan Yee/Steve Schmunk Photography

These days for recreational cyclists there are no shortage of century and gran-fondo-style events — ride 100 miles supported by cheerful volunteers at organized rest stops with your good buddies ands make it as competitive or relaxed as you want. There isn’t a right or wrong way to participate in these events as long as you remember to keep it fun.

We took part in the Mammoth Fall Century and Gran Fondo earlier this month and we were quickly reminded why cycling is the greatest sport on earth. Stack this event next to any similar event and it will be tough to find a category where the Mammoth doesn’t receive top marks. 

The event bombards your senses with the same visual ecstasy that captured the likes of John Muir and so many others time and time again with the beauty of the Eastern Sierras. Home of the highest mountain top in the contiguous US, Mount Whitney towers above the rest at 14,505 feet and is the pinnacle of the Sierra Nevada range that includes a host of other 11,000ft peaks, many of which are visible from the very valley roads you’ll travel during the Mammoth.

Despite the mountainous terrain the ride takes in only, 6,463 feet of climbing. Enough to feel a serious sense of accomplishment but still be walking the day after.

Not only will you find pristine beauty in Mammoth Lakes which is almost equidistant from the two largest cycling markets in the world, L.A. and the Bay Area, but you will also find quiet roads free from debris and potholes. That is a luxury not easily found in suburban areas. Over the course of 102 miles fewer than 10 cars passed us all day once out of town, which is always a welcome stat for any cyclist, especially one taking in the sights.

It’s also worth mentioning that the man now behind the Mammoth is none other than Bill Cockroft, a cycling visionary and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame Inductee who has been responsible for bringing cyclists and cycling events to the town of Mammoth Lakes since the ’80s. In fact if you’ve ever enjoyed riding mountain bikes at ski resorts you should probably thank him — he was one of the early innovators of bike parks at ski resorts during summer months. With Cockcroft behind the Mammoth this event will be around for many years to come allowing cyclists like you and I to enjoy the untamed Eastern Sierras.

Next year’s Mammoth Fall Century and Gran Fondo rolls out on Sept. 12. For more details check out fallcentury.org.