Photo: Steve Schmunk
Changes to High Sierra Fall Century produce mostly positives, a few negatives
Saturday, Sept. 8 dawned clear and bright, a typically gorgeous day in the Eastern Sierra. Temperatures were mild in the wee morning hours as local and visiting road cyclists rose from their beds and prepared for a long day in the saddle. The stage was set for an unforgettable High Sierra Fall Century Ride.
Held each year on the Saturday following Labor Day Weekend, the HSFC is a tradition that has been taking place since 1995 when the Sierra Cycling Foundation created the event. Today, the Eastside Velo Club also helps organize the ride.
Over the years the event steadily grew, peaking at 900 riders in 2004. Following that high, however, registration began to decline until it hit a low last year of 530 riders. The blame was placed on a struggling nationwide economy as well as a not-so-favorable 10-day weather forecast leading up to the ride.
When the day actually arrived in 2011, the weather was a bit chilly in the morning, but turned lovely for the ride. However, the damage had already been done, and registration wasn’t up to par.
“This was a rebuilding year for the HSFC as ridership had been dropping-off for the last few years,” said Randy Fendon, volunteer in charge of marketing and promotion. “The 2012 goal was a minimum of 700 [riders] and we were able to get 773 registered [the majority estimated to be non-local] with 702 or 703 on the course on the day of the ride. That was a 42% increase in participants versus last year so event organizers were thrilled. Next year we hope to exceed 900 participants.”
The boost in participation was due in part to coverage of the HSFC in the June 2012 issue of Bicycling Magazine. The authoritative magazine for road biking named the HSFC one of the Top 10 Century Rides for its “jaw-dropping vistas.”
This national score would have been more powerful, however, if HSFC organizers had known when the article was going to be released.
“The issue arrived in subscriber’s mailboxes in May,” Fendon explained. “But we didn’t have the new website up until June 26.” Meaning the event may have lost some of those readers/potential registrants who saw the article and instantly searched the web for the rides on the list.
The new website was one of the items that organizers invested in to ramp up interest in the ride. Since going live, www.FallCentury.org has received 9,262 visits with 7,382 unique visitors, 30,571 page views and the average time spent on the site during that time was 21 minutes and 46 seconds, according to Fendon.
In conjunction with growing registration numbers and website views, however, event organizers will also need to iron out some kinks from this year’s ride.
In the past, support for the ride consisted of five feed stations and a lunch stop. Organizers had been noticing over the years that oftentimes people didn’t eat the lunch provided.
“People didn’t want to stop in the middle and eat a big meal,” Fendon explained. Since lunch was a large cost to the event and was made largely of perishable food items that could not be stored later, organizers decided to eliminate the lunch stop this year and space the first two feed stations out, proportionately.
“We threw our efforts into a bigger, better after-party and barbecue,” Fendon explained.
But with change inevitably comes criticism.
“Logistically, we did not have enough stuff,” Fendon admitted. “And we didn’t get the stuff to the right place at the right time.”
Feed stations lacked electrolyte drinks and Coca-Cola, two refreshments riders look for to replenish their fluids and urge themselves on toward the finish.
The lack of a lunch stop also did not seem to have been publicized enough as several riders didn’t realize they would not be treated to a mid-day meal until they were about halfway through the course.
HSFC staff has taken full responsibility for these missteps, and Fendon said they have already committed to fixing the problems next year. He did, however, point out several reasons for what some may have considered a lack of fuel.
First, Fendon said that the very first rest stop along the route had been moved. Instead of having a spread at Crestview (the bottom of Deadman’s Summit), organizers moved the station to Pumice Mine Road, which is at the top of the hill before you descend to the June Lake Junction.
“The Crestview stop was too early [only about 15 miles into the ride] and not many people stopped there,” Fendon explained. “While riders loved the location of the Pumice Mine Road station, we didn’t anticipate how many people would actually stop.” Organizers and volunteers ran out of food too quickly.
Second, 30-40% of the HSFC’s ridership registers in the last 48 hours before the ride in order to wait until the last minute to see if the weather [a constant variable in the Eastern Sierra] is going to cooperate.
“It makes sense,” Fendon said, “but it also makes it tough to plan.”
A few riders criticized the HSFC crew for trying to cut costs on the ride in order to fill their own coffers, but Fendon clarified that no one (sans the race director who receives a very small stipend) gets paid for the organization of the event. The ride benefits non-profits, and any net revenue goes to the Sierra Cycling Foundation, also a non-profit.
“SCF makes donations from the net proceeds to all of the volunteer and service organizations that help with the ride to promote their charitable and service activities,” according to the HSFC website. “The majority of the remaining proceeds go to the SCF to promote the organization’s mission of cycling advocacy and awareness in Mammoth Lakes and Mono County.
Currently, the SCF is beginning to direct the majority of its financial resources along with the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation (another local non-profit organization) toward the establishment of a youth cycling program in Mammoth Lakes, which we hope will grow into a junior cycling racing program.”
As is often the case, the few people with complaints are not the majority. HSFC posted an apology note on both its website and its Facebook page in response to two riders’ who made negative comments on the site following the race. Response to the apology note has been overwhelming with many riders claiming it was the best ride of their lives, and others saying they hadn’t even noticed a lack of fuel along the way.
Still, even after adding a ton of perks this year, such as the better BBQ, live music and FREE pictures of yourself from the ride (not to mention the completion of roadwork by Caltrans which filled the cavernous expansion cracks along the route), Fendon was clearly bummed by the negative feedback, no matter how small the contingent.
“We feel terribly for the people who had a bad experience,” Fendon said. While the lunch stop is more than likely gone for good, Fendon said the HSFC staff is already planning to have more sandwiches, electrolyte drinks, and food in general at all the rest stops along the way.
“We’ll spread it out so that people can choose how much to eat and when,” Fendon said.
The HSFC offers several ride lengths (30, 45 and 62 miles) for your convenience if the full Century, with its 6,000 feet of climbing, isn’t your thing.
The High Sierra Fall Century supports local charitable organizations such as Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra, The Mono Lake Committee, Mono County Sheriff Search and Rescue, and Mammoth High School Boosters. Proceeds from the event also help make a $2 per rider donation to the Multiple Sclerosis Society to fund research to help find a cure for MS.
“We really wanted to revive the event because it is such a magnificent and challenging ride and also because we know it brings an economic boost to Mammoth and the local area on a “shoulder season” weekend,” Fendon said. “We are thrilled with this year’s event and want to thank everyone who rode in it and all of the volunteers and businesses that supported it.
“There are countless people and businesses who help make the HSFC happen each year, but we want to especially thank Footloose Sports, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and The Town of Mammoth Lakes who provide tremendous resources without which this event could not happen.”
For other aspects of the race, including a story about current Reno, Nev. and former Mammoth Lakes resident, Will Lachenauer’s seven-hour completion time of the ride on a handcycle, visit www.fallcentury.org. On the website, you can also access links to YouTube videos featuring the course.