Hairless mammoth


There are a lot of great rides that go off within striking distance of L.A. One of the legendary and generally airless ones is the Mammoth Grand Fondue. It starts up high with no oxygen and finishes up high with no oxygen. If you think you’re going to do it easy, you’re in for a surprise. If you think you’re going to do it hard, bring an oxygen tank.

A few friends drove up from L.A. the night before, did the ride, and sent me their recaps, which I have edited to enhance confusion and ridiculousnes. All of the errors, omissions, and wild fabrications are mine.

From Joann Z:

I was able to get up and take photos of the 7:00 AM group as they led out but I did the 70-miler an hour and a half later. There was a strong Big Orange showing in addition to a lot of people from the South Bay including Peta Takai and Kate Verroneau.

I had a great time! I started alone and was dreading it, as I’m still recovering from a serious wrist injury that has put my fitness back to square one. At Mile 5 someone passed me and recognized me as Big Orange, a fellow club member who has never ridden with the club. His name was Bill. He was riding with someone else I knew, Chuck, and we ended up doing the rest of the ride together. This is the best thing about doing a ride like Mammoth–you’re never alone, and you’re sure to run into old friends and make new ones.

At about Mile 20, Bill started to get nervous. I told him I had some extra BeachBody Energize and asked if he wanted it. He practically jumped off his bike while it was still rolling to take my bottle. He drank it so quickly I was afraid he might choke, but he didn’t. The BeachBody made him chippy, but I told him that if he got to feeling too frisky he’d have look to Chuck for relief and not to me. Chuck shut that down pretty quick, I might add.

They were both first-timers. Chuck had just got back from Spain and was in the best shape of his life. He is pushing 60 and looked strong as garlic. Bill, on the other hand, started to burp as his body began the slow process of realizing that even the best energy drink in the world wasn’t going generate new muscle tissue. Although 70 miles doesn’t sound that far, at 10,000 feet this ride was no joke.

Bill ended up bonking and getting kind of delirious but Chuck and I wouldn’t leave him. It took us about one hour to go the last 10 miles, which was fine by me. The scenery was so amazing. Bill survived and Chuck looked like hadn’t even ridden his bike. I felt super fresh after the ride, which was nice. Mammoth GF is a ride that you really can finish without feeling like you were a violent crime victim.

The course was well marked and the rest stops were so frequent that we ended up skipping a few. The people were nice and we only saw one crash. The food at the end sucked but the cookies were good. And although everyone can live through a bad meal, nothing makes everything okay like great cookies!

From Michelle R.:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic but the day certainly had its ups and downs. It started out on an up-note with me feeling smug that I was likely the only participant who wasn’t going to freeze their ass off that morning. Over my bike shorts I was sporting leggings with reinforced panels making them cold resistant up to minus 30 (I’m not exaggerating), wool socks, my jersey, a thick cotton hoodie, windbreaker, ski gloves, and a total of seven Little Hotties tucked into key places all over my body. So I was prepared for a late summer cold front from Antarctica.

Things took a turn for the worse as soon as we actually started moving, though. I’d rather not put this in writing, but in the spirit of full disclosure I have to report that I managed to get dropped on a neutral start. That’s right. I am so inexperienced in group rides that close quarters with folks jockeying for position makes me feel sketchy, so as a safety precaution for myself and those within five hundred yards, I slowly drifted toward the back of the peloton where I had a little more space in case I was riding next to, say, an aircraft carrier.

It was then that I realized that this was going to be a solo ride. My dreams of riding in a pace line and enjoying that elusive thing called “drafting” that real cyclists get so excited about were dashed. I guess it’s a good thing that solo riding is all I do.

The ride down Highway 395 was uneventful and I was anxious to make the turn onto Highway 120. I skipped the first rest stop and enjoyed the first big descent by myself. Then I started Sage Hen climb, one of the highlights of the day. The landscape was beautiful, the climb long but gradual, and the wind hadn’t yet started. It was on that climb that the day’s pattern developed. I would spin past many a cyclist on the way up, and the longer and steeper the better. Then I would watch many a cyclist speed past me on the way down. How did they do that?? Given that I had shed nothing but my gloves at that point, perhaps being as bundled up and bulky as Frosty the Snowman didn’t help my aerodynamics. But let’s get real. I could be naked and still not be anywhere near “aero.”  Maybe my next Peloton 101 class can give me a few pointers. In any case, pedaling as fast as I could, I still got my ass handed to me by virtually everyone I had passed on the way up. Depressing. Like seriously depressing.

Miles 50 though 65 were where things got challenging. An endless route of flat(ish) road and that freaking WIND. There’s something torturous about being able to see the road stretch out for miles and miles while battling headwinds and crosswinds and pedaling at your threshold power going all of 12 miles an hour. You do the math. It’s gonna be a long, long day. Another factor that came into play at this point was my nutrition challenge. I started off the day with a bowl of cereal. Good job. During the first two hours I drank two bottles of water with the BeachBody packets that Joann had given me at the start line. Excellent. Way to hydrate.

Two-point-five hours in, however, when I had my first Cliff gel thingy, my stomach protested. From that point forward everything that I put into my mouth, including water, ended causing a terrible sharp pain in what felt like my right ovary. Okay, spleen maybe? I don’t know, I’m an accountant not an internist. The point is that I had virtually nothing to eat all day. I kept up as best I could (which wasn’t all that great) while drinking BeachBody and hoping for the best.

I kept asking myself, “What would Kristie say?”

Kristie is my best friend and my worst friend all rolled into one. Well, what she would say is, “Wind, and flat tires for that matter, are good, they make you stronger.” Or, “So what if you can’t eat, that forces your body to burn fat for fuel.  You should be thankful for that pain.” The landscape in this part of the ride was sublime. Truly majestic. And even with all of the challenges I was dealing with, being out there all by myself in that spectacular setting evoked an overwhelming sense of gratitude and awe and humility.

Once the climbs started again, things got a little better. All things considered, I actually enjoyed that section. But the windy flats had taken a lot out of me. Around Mile 70, out of sheer desperation, I asked some rider with a La Grange jersey if I could follow him. I have no idea of the protocol of this drafting thing. Do you ask permission? Do you pretend that you have the strength to take a turn in front? I had a good ten minutes on his wheel and it was wonderful! I could do this all day! Then a little descent came and he was gone. But not forgotten. Never, ever forgotten.

By the time I got to the last rest stop, my lack of fuel had caught up with me so I had a bite of watermelon. Bad choice. I must have looked as bad as I felt because random people were giving me pep talks. “Come, on!  You got this!” The bike mechanic guy said, “It’s only like five more miles!”

Me: “REALLY? Can you please confirm that?”

Him: “Oh, my bad, make that 10.”

Fuck me.

I felt better than expected when I got back on my bike. But then the last mile came. That one mile 3%-ish “climb” made me want to cry. It felt like a cruel trick by the race organizers and hate might not be too strong a word for what I was feeling. Then it was over. Finally, over. And, in retrospect, after a good night’s sleep and a big bowl of oatmeal, my thought this morning was that it was one of the most awe-inspiring rides I’ve ever done. I can’t really find the words to describe the impact that landscape and that solitude had on me. And I actually look forward to doing it again next year. Maybe better prepared, but who’s fooling who? Most probably not.

From Geoff L.:

The Start: “Holy crap it’s cold!  Can you feel your fingers? Me, neither. I should have remembered my winter gloves.”

That’s how everyone starts the Mammoth Gran Fondo, with a jolting cold “neutral” descent and a big pack of cyclists and rolling road hazards all gripping their brakes, shivering and whining in the cold shadows of the early morning following a slow set of police pace cars gliding down Highway 203 towards the main road of 395.

After a few minutes of this, I was shivering so much that my front wheel started to shimmy from my arms trembling uncontrollably and I pulled to the side to keep my ridiculous wobbly line from taking anyone else down. Other maniacs totally disregarded the “neutral” idea and bombed headlong down the left side median strip to get to the front for the upcoming climb. A gang of us tried to stay together as we weaved past the wanker with full panniers, the psychos on hybrids and CX bikes, and the rich businessmen with shiny new Pinarello Dogmas who couldn’t hold a line to save their lives as we tried to find our way to a safer part of the crowd.

Finally, we made a big left turn as one big, sketchy, meandering mob onto highway 395 and things started to sort themselves out. We picked up the pace on the friendly 4% climb and everyone got happier as they got warmer. The pack stretched out, we formed long pacelines and found strangers matching our own meager ability levels who seemed a bit less strange as we got familiar with how they rode.

The scenery was gorgeous: National park-level backdrops throughout the entire ride.  The moon was still out alongside a big blue sky that was getting brighter each minute as the day opened up. It was still a little chilly, but now the pacing was solid and my teammates and I were trading pulls with a group from Las Vegas and another team from Northridge. The group from Northridge kept yelling at one of their big guys to “Slow down, Tommy! Pace yourself!” as Tommy repeatedly took pulls up the left side and away from the group, then fell back down the side. Apparently, Tommy was more of a crit guy and I thought to myself that we wouldn’t be seeing Tommy for long. Sure enough, Tommy started to fade back over the next few climbs. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but this just wasn’t a 400-watt effort kind of ride, at least not for us in the thin air at 8000 feet.

And so the day began as we rolled along through a beautiful day of Eastern Sierra roads far away from everything we were used to in the LA beach towns filled with honking, angry motorists and stoplights. Our day was pine trees, granite peaks, clean highway and long stretches of country roads which were blocked off for just for us.  It felt like we were travelling thru a Hollywood western movie set and Little Joe and Hoss were going to come riding along at any moment. Just for fun, a few of us started singing the theme song for Gunsmoke, or as much as we could remember, and we had a good laugh as we pedaled along. Later in the ride, we actually passed a family of wild mustang with four adults and two colts feeding on grass alongside the road.

The Mayor’s Daughter, a/k/a “Jonesie”: One of our teammates is a ski instructor in the winter and spent fifteen years of her life in Mammoth. Even more than that, her godmother has lived here for over thirty years is the unofficial mayor of the town. So we started referring to her as the mayor’s daughter because whenever we pulled up to a stop, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, knew her and stopped to ask how she was doing now that she lives in LA. The locals couldn’t have been any friendlier to us. As we rolled along, “Jonesie” was also recognized by all the local riders and many pull into our paceline as they said hello and gave her grief at the same time.

“Hey, when is Jonesie gonna take a pull?” etc.

Jonesie herself had kind of a rough start to the day with a horrible gremlin messing with her bike the night before so that she woke up to two flat tires, a dead Garmin, and a half dead Di2 shifter even before leaving the house. So now she had to get through the whole 102 miles in just her small chain ring. Fortunately, she was hella’ strong as a state champion mountain biker, so she kept up with us just fine despite spinning out on the downhills. Finally, towards the end of the day, her remaining Di2 charge gave out and she was stuck in third cog, yelling “Hey Geoff, I’m onna fixie now!!!”

She was still smiling her huge smile and laughing as the booth announcer recognized her and cheered her as she crossed the finish line. It was really fun to ride with the mayor’s daughter!

“We had an agreement”: We had a married couple on our team who always ride together. They constantly lead group rides up GMR and stuff like that. They are a solid couple, but every so often they don’t totally connect, just like any other couple on the planet. This can be kind of entertaining when it happens on a 100-mile ride. Here is how this one played out:

  • Act One: Hubby is anxious to get going, so he runs up to the front for the neutral start, while Wifey loses his trail and starts back in the pack with the rest of us.
  • Act Two: As we expected, we catch Hubby about an hour or so down the road as our paceline is passing his paceline which got kinda burnt going out a little hard for a long ride at altitude. Hubby and Wife are back together.
  • Act Three: We stop to help another cyclist with a flat and tell Hubby and Wifey to roll on to the next rest stop and we’ll catch up.
  • Act Four: As we approach the rest stop, we see Hubby hopping on his bike and he joins our paceline. We ask about Wifey and Hubby replies that she’s fine, she knows he was going to catch us as we came by. Hubby says “we had an agreement”.
  • Act Five: We stop at the final rest stop to have a beer at the Sierra Nevada counter featured at the rest stop and we ask again about Wifey. Hubby tells us again “we had an agreement” that she knew he was going to join back up with us when we rolled by. We ask where Wifey is, and Hubby says “Oh, yeah, I think she was back in the porta potty when we came by.” We’re a little stunned and give Hubby his rightful amount of shit about leaving her at mile 77 in the crapper. Hubby stands by his “we had an agreement” statement but looks a little sheepish the more we talk about it over beer.
  • Final Act: Wifey finally pulls up. As everyone suspected, the “agreement” wasn’t nearly so clear to her. Apparently, after exiting the porta potty and not seeing Hubby, Wifey spent a bunch of time checking around the rest stop for Hubby and looking thru the bike racks for his bike before leaving. Awkward laughter ensues and the rest of us retreat to the beer counter and bathrooms for some air.

Things worked outt fine as Wifey was very understanding and knew that Hubby was just kind of a goofball and didn’t mean any harm. “We had an agreement” became the running joke of the rest of the ride. I figured Hubby is stuck for a solid week of “Yes, dear” because that’s how marriage goes, regardless of the “agreement.” The real agreement was something called “marriage vows.”

The Finish Line: After sucking down more of our beer, we set off on the final climb back up to the Village at Mammoth where we started. Not much more about riding at this point; we were all kinda done with the ride part and the idea of relaxing in a chair at the finish was really calling to us. Mercifully, the final grade wasn’t that tough, at 4% to 5%, so we just spun steadily back up to the village. We pulled into the finish line and the MC announced each of our names from the reader at the finish line. It was very nice touch!

We grabbed food, our swag t-shirts (gotta show off something back home) and beer at the finish. The food was forgettable, but the beer was excellent and the music and seating in front of the stage were just great! We ran into our team president who was with the fast old guy group and got 7th overall, as well as his BonkBreaker teammates who together were the fastest team at the fondo. Awards were all given out by Wooley the Mammoth, of course. It was a really fun day, with great memories and a few quirky adventures. A perfect fondo.

From Meagan J.:

As a Mammoth local for twelve years I’ve ridden the Gran Fondo course at least a half-dozen times. We used to do it as a club ride in the fall the same direction it follows now and it was called the “reverse century” because the actual Mammoth Century started at the green church and went the opposite way a couple of weeks later.

It was a training ride and somebody’s nice wife or significant other would drive out to several locations along the way and leave a few gallons of water for us at various locations, but it was self supported. It was ALWAYS hard, the wind in Mammoth is always howling in the afternoon, sometimes in your favor, but uncannily it always seems to be a headwind!

This was the first opportunity I’ve had to ride the “Gran Fondo” as it’s evolved today. What a difference from my first “mammoth fall century” with Eastside Velo. Instead of  150 club riders and a fewfriends casually rolling out of Benton Crossing Road at 8:00 AM, over 800 riders lined up at 6:45 in 35-degree temps for a 7:00 AM rollout down Main Street! Every road in Mammoth either goes up or down, there’s nothing flat. The first five miles descending down Highway 203 offered the view of 800 cyclists swarming the neutral vehicle like a plague of locusts.

The lack of oxygen got my crew of Oranges to agree that this was a scenic ride, and although we would ride fast and hard, at the end of the day there were no egos to be crushed. Only legs …

The teeth-chattering descent out of Mammoth quickly changed pace as we started climbing toward June Lake, the gradual climb interrupted only by a few punchy rollers and then a climb to Deadman’s Summit. It’s truly not as horrible as its name, but it significantly weeded out the downhill heroes who had bombed to the front on the 5-mile descent out of Mammoth. At this point we were more of a small mob than a peloton. We had mixed colors, teams, guys with panniers on their bikes blasting music from their iPod, (think Burning Man on bikes without the fire).

Like a remora I attached myself to the largest, steadiest wheel I could find. I was not loyal! If another bigger, faster wheel came up, I would latch on without hesitation.
Finally we were free of the locusts, and had organized Oranges in a rotating pace line, my happy place. Eric Arentsen took control of the pace, taking the longest pulls known to man, and also reeling in anyone with more oxygenated blood who would blast off the front.

We hit our stride as a team and consistently started passing small gangs. Every now and then we would come up upon a group of locals, and I’d get a shout out “Is that Jonesy?” I’ve not lived in Mammoth for four years, and I’ll admit, my ego swelled to know that I was still remembered by my skiing nickname. My old Mammoth friends happily climbed onto our Orange train and went to the front to give us a break in the vicious headwind that had been steadily picking up. They pulled for several miles, and then broke off to turn around and go back to ride with their wives. I later got a text message that read “So much fun to run into you and your man slaves today.”

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere we came upon a guy fixing a flat; he had already used his spare tube and needed help. Oranges stop, it wasn’t even a question. We were not going for a record breaking time, or a podium, so we helped. Juniper was the guy’s name, and he was strong, so he showed his thanks for the roadside assistance by taking long pulls on the front until he flatted again. We took matters into our own hands, assessed the situation, and decided he was SOL. He had metal shards embedded in his sidewall; we should have vetted the situation more carefully from the beginning! We were five miles from the next SAG and Juniper thanked us and waited for one of the Velofix vehicles.

The ride back up highways 395 and 203 into Mammoth gave us a welcome tailwind. We were tired but not broken. Of the times I’ve done this route, this was the freshest I’d ever felt at the end, no doubt thanks to the teamwork. At Mile 75 I had started shouting a countdown from memory, as I was riding without a computer. “25 miles til finish,” “Once we hit the campground it’s only 20 miles,” “The 395, 10 miles,” “The 203, 5 miles.” I wanted a Nutella crepe from a place in the village so badly I could taste it!

Also, adding to my desire to finish and finish quickly, I had been having technological issues all day. My Garmin failed at the start, forty miles in my Di2 flashed low battery despite being charged two days before, I lost use of my big ring at Mile 50, and at Mile 90 my rear derailleur went into its neutral gear when the battery went completely out. I went into sewing machine leg-mode for my anti climatic finish, but the announcer and long time friend was shouting into the mic “And she’s in, Jonesy’s in, I’ve been asking where she was, but now she’s in!”

So awesome and such a great homecoming day!



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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could.


18 thoughts on “Hairless mammoth”

      1. Maybe in a couple of years. Backpacking next September, so only one big adventure can be done, but it would be nice to ride in that area again. I rode up through there back in 1981 with a friend. Met a Dr. from San Diego on the road who was scoping out a multi-day tour he would do later in the year with some friends. That is some commitment.

  1. Such a great event – thanks so much, Seth, for all your leadership and support for this and so many cycling events throughout the calendar! Caroline and her crew really do run a tight ship up at Mammoth and it really pays off in making the ride so flawless. Looking forward to trying to stay on your wheel up in ski town next year!

  2. Loved the write-ups! Loved seeing so many Oranges in Mammoth having fun. This Fondo is one of the best…well supported, beautiful scenery, and very cool that you can ride right next to pro, and former pro cyclists!

  3. These are the first ride reports I’ve read here that don’t include the slaughtering of baby seals. That’s enough to make me want to go try it for myself!

    1. Kind of sad that people would go on a group ride and not try to club a few close friends and relatives.

      1. What is the point of throwing a leg over a top tube then? What has this sport degraded to?

        Also it did not go unnoticed that SDL is a sponsor.

        1. I really recommend you read “Spitting in the Soup.” The sport hasn’t degraded. We have always had a two-track system, one for sports morality and the other for sports performance, same as in ordinary life. But the illusion that the two tracks are related can no longer be sustained. Bike racing has become too expensive and dangerous for the 21st Century, with too little reward. So it’s done.

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