Ride Report from David Thompson:
I am remiss in not putting out a ride report on the Shenandoah sooner, but time slipped by and so I thought that perhaps comparing and contrasting the two rides might be useful for anyone thinking of doing one or both of these rides.
Timing — Both were held in June of this year — June 6-9 for the Shen and 24-27 for the Gold Rush. The Shenandoah was being run for the 6th time, 6 years in a row and the Gold Rush for the 4th time, on an every-four-year cycle.
Route — The Shen starts out from Leesburg VA, heads north to Gettysburgh PA then south to Mt. Airy NC and back north to Leesburg. The GRR starts in Davis CA, just west of Sacremento and heads north to the Oregon border and then back to Davis. The Shenandoah covers the same roads for a small part of its route; The Gold Rush is mostly out-and-back on the same roads.
Climbing — everyone asks about climbing. The Shenandoah is known for its climbing, hitting about 50,000 feet according to my Garmin. The Gold Rush, while only “featuring” a little more than half of the climbing of the Shenandoah, has that climbing compressed into part of the route since the first 95 miles and the last 90 miles are completely desert-flat. The Shenandoah has some steep grades but they are mostly short and rolling with only one notable long climb on the Blue Ridge Parkway of 9 miles. The Gold Rush, on the other hand, has many long climbs but mostly moderate grades with a few exceptions.
Heat — both of these can be very hot in June. This year, however, the Shenandoah was relatively cool, since we had rain on three out of four days (not all day, mind you) — four out of four for some people. The Gold Rush started out with rain and cool and ended up with temperatures in the high 90’s on that last run across the desert. The Shenandoah can be cool in the valleys at night but it was warmer this year due to the cloud cover; the Gold Rush is usually cold on those night descents (can be in the mid 30F’s), but again, this year was moderated by the rainy weather on the way out.
Support — very different:
The Shenandoah has minimal support with bag drops to the two overnight spots (Bridgewater VA which you hit out and back and Mt. Airy NC which is the turnaround spot). Otherwise, you’re mostly on your own. The other Controls are convenience store / deli locations so it suits self support. Matt Settle runs the Shenandoah with one or two volunteers, typically, which works well for this type of ride. He has been known to pick up riders in need, but that depends on where he or the other volunteers might be at that point in time.
The Gold Rush, on the other hand, has multiple volunteers at every Control, from legal open to legal close. From legal open outbound to legal close inbound, that’s a very long time! They also have mobile units which you see frequently on the route. Being neutral support, if it’s really hot, they are dispensing water as necessary. They also provide limited mechanical support. There are three potential bag drops but since you hit each of those locations twice, out and back, you may or may not use every drop.
Accommodation — again, very different:
The Shenandoah utilizes motels for the two overnights with shared rooms (two-per). You hit the Bridgewater location on the way out and back.
The Gold Rush, on the other hand, has community-center-type accommodation at the bag drop locations as well as a few others. Each of those has some sleeping area with cots and/or mats. Showers are available at the three bag drop sites but only one, Susanville, is actually at the site. Unfortunately the showers were cold at Susanville. I don’t know if that’s normal.
Food — On the Shenandoah, Matt supplies home-made, pre-prepared food such as pasta at the overnights, along with a variety of packaged foods. There is food available at the other Controls but you purchase that yourself. The GRR, using community centers and many volunteers, takes advantage of cooking facilities and does made-to-order in many cases. Some is pre-prepared, such as lasagna — I don’t know if a caterer supplied that or whether it was prepared by volunteers.
The Shenandoah route is suited to a four day ride with three days more-or-less equal distance and difficulty and a fourth at about 200 km. The Shen starts at 4am so the days follow naturally.
The Gold Rush starts at 6pm. That’s so that the first run across the desert can be accomplished in the relative cool of the evening — not an issue this year, but usually. From there you can think of the ride as 3×400 km days, perhaps, or break it up as you will, given the number of potential sleep stops.
How did I tackle the rides ?
This was my fifth Shenandoah. I know the ride well. Although it’s different each year – weather, my conditioning etc. – I know how to survive this ride. The days are long, due to the climbing, but manageable. Don’t push it; get a little sleep; make frequent water / liquid stops; don’t worry about falling behind, ride your own ride. I put two night’s packing in the Bridgewater drop bag and one night in Mt. Airy. There’s no other logical way.
The Gold Rush was new to me. The 6pm start is unusual. Although I’ve done that before on the Lake Ontario Loop 1000 km. Susanville is roughly 400 km from the start. It’s another 400 km to the turnaround and back to Susanville, then 400 km to the end. I wanted to tackle the ride as three consecutive 400 km rides. I didn’t know if that would work out logistically or whether I’d be able to start each 400 km at the same time each day …
I put two night’s gear in the Susanville bag but also put supplies (clothing, food, spares) in the Taylorsville and Adin drop bags. Taylorsville comes before Susanville; Adin after, when you’re outbound. I wanted to leave my options open.
How did it go ?
I rode with Hamid Akbarian, a friend from Florida, in the Shen. He’d DNF’d twice before due to different circumstances but I wanted to see him through the ride. We got to the first night’s stop just before 10pm and left there about 2:30 am. Two other riders left with us and although we separated for part of the day, we got into Mt. Airy together around 10pm. Hamid and I left Mt. Airy around 2am, if memory serves me correctly, and were back to Bridgewater at 9:45 pm. We headed out again at 1am and finished up at 12:30 pm for a time of 80:30. Overall we probably got 3+3+2= 8 hours sleep.
On the Gold Rush, I rode with a dozen or so other riders across that first 95 mile flat section and then the climbing / rolling began. That first section was at quite a reasonable cruising pace, no one working very hard. Typical of my style on these things, I don’t push myself the first day and often finish way behind any fast riders. I got into Susanville sometime after 3pm, finishing that first 400 km. I changed clothing, no shower unfortunately, grabbed an hour sleep and headed out again at 6pm — remember that goal of 3×400 km ? There were many riders behind me and many ahead who went onto Adin that afternoon. I was worried about feeling snoozy had I added another 120 km.
That first day the rain had started in earnest after the flat section and was on-and-off fairly heavy during that first night and it was cold as a result. By daylight, however, the rain was over. It stayed cloudy for most of the day, as I recall. That was good.
I did not intend to ride straight through. Getting to Adin just before midnight, I had something to eat and then had another hour sleep. I got to the Davis Creek turnaround and as I left, passed Catherine Shenk and another rider who were heading into that Control. I’d ridden with Catherine before in Italy, Texas and North Carolina.
There was a strong headwind at that point that persisted through most of the day. As I was leaving the next Control, Catherine pulled in and we chatted about riding the last day together to take advantage of numbers during that flat section in the wind. I headed out and as the wind persisted, I decided to wait for them at the next Control. When Catherine and Jason arrived (we had exchanged names at that point), Catherine had a pedal problem. Jason got on the phone to a bike shop in Susanville to see if they had a replacement set of pedals and arranged for those to be picked up and waiting for us at Susanville.
We got to Susanville after 7pm, the second 400 km now complete. It had been a long day for me, now running 25 hours including the one hour sleep at Adin. Catherine and Jason had ridden to Adin the previous day, so they didn’t have as many miles under their legs that day but of course we had the same mileage overall.
My eyes, however, needed a rest. They were feeling dried out and I wasn’t ready to continue. Catherine and Jason decided to continue to Taylorsville and I said that I’d catch some sleep and meet them there. I got an hour sleep and headed out, arriving at Taylorsville about 5:30 am. Catherine and Jason were still asleep; I had breakfast. They had a 6am wakeup call and as they ate breakfast, I caught another 1/2 hour sleep.
From there it was just a matter of finishing the third 400 km which, of course, we already had underway having ridden from Susanville to Taylorsville. There’s a fair amount of climbing, some very scenic sections and, of course, that last 90 miles of flat. We lucked out that the wind had died, but it was very hot, high 90’s. We weren’t fast, rolling mostly along at about 16mph, but we got-er-done, finishing up at 8:59 pm for a time of 74:59.
This was the first time that I’ve done a ride without a real plan in mind. I was satisfied with how it worked out. I now know that I can do my 2-3 hours of sleep per night in segments, assuming that there is a place to put one’s head down. My total sleep time on the GRR was 3.5 hours, yet I didn’t feel sleepy.
Relative difficulty ?
The Shenandoah is more difficult than the GRR, all else being equal, due to the amount of climbing. The weather, of course, is the big variable in any of these things. Both rides are pretty; both are worth doing again; both should be on any rando’s bucket list !