With its mix of mountainous terrain and high desert flatlands, Bend is a mountain biker's paradise. The trails here offer a variety of challenges and sights, and their abundance makes it easy for riders to spend at least a week exploring all of them. Or, they can compete in The High Cascades 100 and see them all in one day.
The High Cascades 100 is a 100-mile mountain bike race that loops from the Bend Athletic Club to Mt. Bachelor. On July 16, hundreds of racers will ride anywhere from 8 to 14 hours in an endurance test that will elevate them a combined 9,700 feet and twist them through Lava Lake, Skyliners and Edison Snow Park, to name a few locales.
"I try to make it really hard the first 50 miles, so there's a lot more climbing in the front, and then the end of it is just quintessential Bend," said Mike Ripley, the event's organizer.
Ripley and his family run Mudslinger Events, an outdoor recreation group that organizes and promotes race events around Central Oregon, including the Mudslinger XC and the Sisters Stampede. Ripley started the High Cascades 100 in 2009, and he's seen it grow from 80 riders in its first year, to almost 300 riders last year.
"So many people come from so many different places," he said. "It's mind-boggling the people that come from different states - different countries even - for this event."
The race is also part of the National Ultra Endurance Series, a league that scores riders based on their performance in 15 select high-mile races. Ripley said the front of the field is extremely competitive.
"The top 10 to 15 finishers are usually the first-place riders at their local events," he said. "It's really unique to get this many people that are good riders. And that helps with so many things, from accidents to trail damage to anything. These are really skilled riders."
Among those skilled riders is local star Serena Gordon who last year took first in the women's open category and 12th overall with a time of 8 hours and 32 minutes.
"I had a magical day on the bike," she said of her performance. "You train really hard, and those races where everything falls into place and you're in the zone the whole race are few and far between. Last year was definitely one of those days."
This will be Gordon's fifth year competing in the High Cascades 100, and she hopes to do even better this year.
"I wanted to go under 8:30 last year, so I want to do that this year," she said. "I'd like to be top ten overall and have a good clean race."
Prepping for the race is its own endurance test: Gordon rides for at least eight hours every weekend, and focuses intensely on her nutrition and hydration.
"There's no taking it easy for me," she said. "Anyone can do it"
While Gordon and other competitors are there to win, most participants are there simply to cross the finish line and experience the Bend trails. Gordon compared it to running a marathon.
"For a lot of people, it's more about experiencing the event than it is about racing it," Gordon said. "So much of the accomplishment is crossing that finish line. It doesn't matter if they're in fourth or fortieth."
Last month Gordon held a presentation about the basics of endurance racing for amateur riders interested in completing races like the High Cascades 100. "Anyone can do it," she said. "If you wanted to ride it and you put together a plan for 2017, you could totally do it."
The race is also a good advertisement for Bend mountain biking. Ripley sees a lot of families and friends of all skill levels ride together, which isn't always possible in other places, he said.
"Most of the trails around town are close to the intermediate level. That's what makes Bend really killer; you can bring your whole family for a bike ride." Ripley joked, "I swear this event has sold 25 houses since I started it. People come back, and I'm like, 'Hey, you made the trip out,' and they're like, 'No, we bought a house.'"
At the end of the day, Ripley wants the event to be fun for everyone, and he hopes to see the race and the sport continue to grow.
"There's really nothing else like it," he said. "It's a fun time. Especially the last person who finishes late at night; that's always a good time."
The High Cascades 100 starts at 5:30am at the Bend Athletic Club on Saturday, July 16. For more information about the event, visit highcascades100.com.