The Shasta Lemurian Classic mountain bike race occurs at the end of every April and is a harbinger of summer. Taking its name from a mythical, advanced race of small people-like beings said to dwell in a city hidden underneath nearby Mt. Shasta, they are supposed survivors from the sinking of their own continent of Lemuria. Living in a complex of tunnels beneath the 14,000’+ dormant volcano, they sometimes surface donning white robes. At around mile 22 of the 26.5-mile race, 4,000 of 4,780 feet in the bag, I’m pretty sure I saw one flitting around my front wheel.
Founded in 1987, the Shasta Lemurian Classic has a true “grassroots” feel. Put on by the Redding Mountain Bike Club, it is surely one of California’s longest-running mountain bike races. Though attendance was way down from my previous four races, the spirit (and the grueling climbs) remained.
A mass start with 170 riders on a clear and cool morning, wheat was quickly separated from chaff after a mellow fire road climb abruptly ended with a ventricle-vexing ascent up a loose gravel doubletrack. Next was a most unpleasant steep, loose, rutted fire road descent called Gas Can, famous for flinging riders and their mounts asunder. The short road burn section across the Whiskeytown Lake dam provided me the opportunity to pull some young dude, which made me alternately proud and irritated. “Hey! I’m draft-worthy!” and “Hey! Take a pull ya slacker!”
Whiskeytown Lake has one of those really cool, really weird spillways that is a giant beige, concrete funnel piercing the surface of the otherwise dark, cold waters. Looking like a portal to another galaxy, the warning signs surrounding it prove its elemental draw on the human psyche—“Warning! Stay Back and Stay Alive!” “Do Not Approach!” and, simply, “Danger.” I escaped its magnetic pull and got back to the business of pulling the shameless young stud behind me as we blasted (ish) toward the singletrack. Here is where he thought it would be best to shove past me, suddenly no longer wanting to be stuck behind a girl. Well, fast freaky fire road ain’t my thing, but flowy singletrack is. I harassed him with my twinkly bell til a little white flag popped out of the top of his helmet and he yielded. I thanked him, and like a chump, proceeded twenty yards later to become detached from my right pedal and flail madly across the path. He re-passed me, my furious ding-ding-ing all for naught.
Some of the singletrack trails here are repurposed mining sluices. Trails named Shasta Mine, Clear Creek Channel, and Brandy Creek Trail have a sweet flow that make you feel like you are a precious metal, sluicing around the course. The wildflowers erupting beside and around as breathtaking views opened ahead forced me to remind myself I was racing.
And then came the infamous Satan’s Crack climb, and I didn’t need reminding anymore. A .8 mile suffer-palooza, only the strongest of the strong clean it. Mortals walk. And slowly, at that. Once purged from this purgatory, it’s all downhill (except for two more small slaps in the face near the end that are best forgotten at this point). However, these downhills are ass-hat fast and steep, with some double-x’s thrown in for good measure, so it’s no resting float into the finish.
Crossing under the banner back at Brandy Creek Marina, a hearty burrito was provided in exchange for my race number. Beer was on tap in good supply, and much swag was distributed, be it by raffle or by podium spot. Second place got me a nice medal that doubles as a bottle opener (genius).
I’ve heard it said that cross-country is dead—gobbled up by enduro and short track and the like. If the year-over-year decline in racers at the Shasta Lemurian Classic is any example, then maybe that’s so. But I hope not. This, for me, is racing at its finest—a beautiful but challenging course, always good weather (jinx!), and jumping off the pier into the freezing-cold lake at the end are just some of the rewards of participating in this event. Others include knowing that this is a great place to plan a weekend of camping, swimming, and riding. Even fishing if you’re a weirdo.
Also of note is the particularly high level of maintenance and cleanliness of the facilities within the Whiskeytown Lake National Recreation Area. It is usually with dripping sarcasm that I utter “Your Tax Dollars at Work” in reference to some bureaucratic boondoggle or affront to common sense (radar guns, anyone?), so it’s nice to be able to give a perky “Your Tax Dollars at Work!” shout out to our National Park Service who’ve done a great job stewarding our lands here in this part of Lemuria.