Summit Century bike challenge ‘tougher than the Death Ride’

Charlie Unkefer
Mt. Shasta stands in the background as a cyclist rides in a past Summit Century. This year's ride is scheduled for Aug. 2.

Scheduled for next Sunday is the ever popular Summit Century, a Mt. Shasta  bike event that brings up to 700 hundred cycling enthusiasts to the area to test what is claimed to be one of the state’s toughest yet most scenic road bike courses around. 

Sponsored by the Moutain Wheelers, the event is called the Summit Century because the longest of the four courses climbs to several area high points, including Parks Creek Summit, the Gumboot-Mumbo Pass, Castle lake and the Old Ski Bowl on Mt. Shasta. 

Totalling 135 miles and gaining a total of 16,500 feet of elevation, it is a course that challenges even the most hardcore of cyclists.

Harder than Death Ride 

“I have heard a lot of people say that they think the Super Century is both harder and more beautiful than the Markleeville Death Ride,” said event organizer Tom Chandler, who has been volunteering his efforts with the Mountain Wheelers for the last five years.  The Death Ride has been a long favored California road bike event that, like the Summit, climbs to several high Sierra passes.

Chandler noted that the Summit has seen increased in popularity over its twelve year lifespan, with the last few years seeing between 600 to 700 cyclists participating.

“More than 75 percent of the riders are coming from 2 ¼ hours away or farther,” noted Chandler, emphasizing the positive impact  that  this growing Mt. Shasta area event has on the local economy. 

 Chandler said that for several years the event had plateaued, with an average of 300  participants, but in the last few years its popularity has increased.  Though participation did slump slightly last year, due, most likely, to smoke filled skies and exorbitant gas prices, Chandler noted last Monday morning that, based on early registration results, he expects over 700 riders in this year’s event, making it the best attended to date.

An event for everyone

 For those looking for less of a challenge than that offered by the full Super Century, there are three other courses, designed to suit a full spectrum of ability levels.

One level down the   Super Century is the The  100 mile Summit Century, which offers most of the breathtaking scenery at roughly 2/3 of the climbing, and for those still not up for that kind of ride there is the Metric Century, a 60 mile course that offers 4,000 feet of vertical.  Finally, there is the Half Metric Century, touted by event promoters for its “big thrill and few hills.”  With only one climb totaling 2100 feet of vertical, this option is billed as being perfect for kids, families and novices.

 Chandler said that the event is not a race as much as it is a “challenge,” stressing that most are coming to test their abilities against the course and not their fellow riders.  He emphasized, too, that there is a prevailing sense of comradery and that the event, above all, is a lot of fun.

An all day affair, the four races start and end at the Mt. Shasta City Park, and area  motorists who are travelling South County roads, most notably Old stage, W.A. Barr Road, Summit Drive, Castle Lake Road and  Stewart Springs Road, will, no doubt, see many cyclists.   

New jersey a big hit

New this year, the Mountain Wheelers are selling a selling a special race jersey, promoted as “wearable art”.  According to Mountain Wheeler volunteer Laurel Harkness, the jersey was designed by local graphic artist Tracey Tuttle, and it has already received a lot of interest.  “It’s looks like it will be a really good vehicle for raising funds,” noted Harkness, who said that there will be one hundred available at the event and that the Mountain Wheelers will be taking orders for more. There is, she noted, an email list for those interested in receiving the jersey.

Volunteer spirit

Harkness emphasized that the funds generated by the sales of the shirts, as well as by the event as a whole, go to supporting youth sports throughout the Mt. Shasta area. 

The Mountain Wheelers are a volunteer organization, with as many as 80 volunteers managing the 15 stations throughout the course, as well as the start/finish line.  “There is a core group of about eight volunteers, who work on the event year around,” said Harkness.

Harkness emphasized the efforts of the event sponsors, including Berryvale Natural Foods, General Produce, Athletic, Mt. Shasta Spring Water, the Mt. Shasta Chamber of Commerce Community Partners Program and the Fifth Season.  

“A lot of participants comment on how great the food is,” said Harkness, who noted that in addition to a finish line dinner, food is available at various stations throughout the event.  “One of our primary goals is keeping the riders well,” she explained, noting that because of the physically demanding  nature of the ride, particularly the Super Summit, proper nutrition is critical.

Pedali Hill Climb too

In addition to Sunday’s Summit Century, the Mt. Shasta Pedali, a local cycling club, is hosting its Mt. Shasta Hill Climb 2009 on Saturday, the day before the Summit Century.  Starting at Lake and Chestnut in Mt. Shasta at 9 a.m., the ride climbs 14 miles up the Everitt Memorial Highway to its finish at Old Ski Bowl. 

For more information about the Summit Century visit  For the Mt. Shasta Hill Climb, visit

New this year to the Summit Century bike challenge is a special jersey, designed by area artist Tracy Tuttle. Promoted as “wearable art,” the jersey is drawing a lot of interest.