Race Report: Cascade Cream Puff 100

Race Report: Cascade Cream Puff 100

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Words: Terry McKall

A couple weeks ago I traveled down to Oakridge, Oregon for the 20th Anniversary of the Cascade Cream Puff 100: a 100 mile mountain bike race centered around Westfir-Oakridge’s Alpine Trail system. The Alpine Trail network winds its way through the Willamette National Forest, including some spectacular old growth forest. This gives the trails a nice, spacious feel while still providing shade from temperatures ranging into the upper 30’s, Celsius, on race day.

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Arriving in Oakridge, the Arbor Inn had a little Twin Peaks vibe going on

Arriving in Oakridge Friday night, there was a mandatory pre-race meeting. Having missed a key turn 2 weeks earlier in Squamish, and facing a 50 mile loop that would take us far from town on unfamiliar trails, I was particularly interested in course directions. Afterward, racers and volunteers all headed to Oakridge Brewers Union, the best (only) pub in Oakridge. Possibly not ideal pre-race nutrition, but the Brewer’s Union has awesome food, and I wasn’t going to miss out on Oregon beer while in state.

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A dawn start meant a pre-race darkness. Didn’t think that one through. Westfir Portal: the official start line

With Cream Puff finishing times ranging well over 12 hours, the race was set to start at dawn: a cruel 5:45am. Not really thinking this through, I was unprepared for staggering out of my room into complete darkness. Luckily, Scott from Oregon saw me and offered a ride. We headed to the start area, found coffee and sat waiting in the dark for the start. At first light the race started, a neutral-ish start led into singletrack, then 1912 FSR for the days first big climb. My race plan was to pace the first 50 mile lap as much as possible, then see what happened the second lap. Right away people took off up the first hill. Over an hour later we were still climbing and I was starting to pass people already struggling.

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First light meant go time. 100 miler’s lined up ready for the start

The upside of really holding back on the hills was that when the race finally pointed downhill, I was itching to go fast. And Oakridge’s trails are perfect for going fast: smooth swooping turns and long sight lines through old growth forest with only occasional tight switchbacks, and a steep drop to one side limiting your speed. This is absolutely the Cream Puff’s highlight: Oakridge trails are really, really fun to ride. Even better? Bacon hand-ups at the top of a 20 minute downhill! Only occasionally broken up by short climbs until after the 4th aid station, the downhills felt like they went on forever. Another long, difficult climb started the back 3rd of the course before a crazy-fast descent to the finish.

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Sunrise through the smoke of a nearby fire. Conditions were so dry the race was on verge of cancellation

Part way through the last descent I caught Eric from Spokane, the race leader. We stayed together to the lap point, and both stopped to get food and refill bottles. And this is where endurance racing gets a bit weird, compared even to shorter marathon races like Test of Metal. At this point I’d been riding alone the majority of the first 5 hour lap, and we were both so happy to have a break from riding alone that we waited for each other to head back out on massive first climb. It was definitely a huge advantage riding with someone on the climb: working together we put over an hour into 3rd place. And it made for a totally different dynamic a couple hours later when he broke a few spokes on his back wheel. Instead of a quick passing comment, we talked for a bit, rode together on the fire road and he wished me luck as a headed off into the next singletrack section. We were still racing, but at that point you’ve both put so much into the race you want to see the other person do well too.

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The early start meant there was a solid hour of racing before the sunrise proper.

After leaving Eric behind, I was on my own for the next 3-ish hours. The insanely fast descents were still really fun, even if fatigue left me moving slower on the second lap. Hitting the last climb I was really happy I’d paced myself as much as I did, as it was still all I could do not to get off and walk.  Finally hitting the Westfir-Tie trail, it was a huge relief knowing nothing but downhill remained between myself, the finish, and the Cream Puff win.

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After another wildly fast descent the course rolled back upward through some spectacular views

With a while before awards, I headed out for a swim in the river and a celebratory giant can of American beer. The awards started off with a blue feather boa for the winners, nice wood medals for podium finishers, an actual (and delicious) cream puff doughnut, and a gigantic locally-made trophy for the win. The organizers definitely made the 100 miles worth it!

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📷 Nathan Pfiefer

Whether or not you want to race the Cream Puff 100, Oakridge is definitly worth the trip. The trails are crazy fun, pass through some spectacular views, and are really well maintained. There’s also companies that offer shuttle service to cut out the hours of climbing. If you’re looking for a 100 mile race, you can’t do much better than the Cream Puff. It was really well organized, and there were a ton of really cheerful volunteers at the aid stations to revive even the most out-of-it racers.

By the numbers:

Finish time: 9hr 58min

Elevation gain: 4977m

Water bottles consumed: 17, plus a glass of coke.

Gels/chews:  7-9 gel packs, 3 packs of Stinger energy chews

Other stuff: a couple rice bars; a bunch of orange slices; some peanut m&m’s and a chunk of brownie energy bar.

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Dirt tan after 10 hours of dusty, dry conditions

 

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