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Behind Bars: Humbug Hurry-Up - Yreka, California

Posted by: Evan Plews |August 1, 2013 2:21 AM
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Behind Bars with Evan Plews - History Re-Written at the Humbug Hurry-Up

Earlier this year I received word that the Humbug Hurry-Up would be offering riders a return to its old historic course. At the time, I still had grandiose illusions of traveling the country racing hundred milers and national championships so I simply pushed it to the back of my consciousness and forged ahead. After the debacle in New Mexico at 24 Hour Nationals, I did some serious soul searching. While I still harbored a desire to attend some of the races I had chosen early on, reality of our impending move to Washington state was setting in. Then I remembered Yreka and the Humbug!

Only five hours south, Yreka, California sits right in the heart of the fictitious state of Jefferson. Real or not, Jefferson is just about the raddest idea for a state I can imagine and Humbug Hurry-Up is the epitome of all that! I first heard stories about the Humbug about 20 years ago while I was just getting hooked on the sport of mountain bike racing. The stories were pretty epic and generally involved endless climbing in searing temperatures leading to hallucinations and near death experiences. I figured Humbug would have to wait until I was ready for it.

13 years ago I finally gave it a shot. We were newly weds road-tripping the West Coast in search of all the most classic events to check off my racing bucket list. I took an intern from work along for the trip and in our haste to make it to the start line, I forgot my saddlebag. That was several years before a fella named Stan invented the concept of sealing tires without tubes. In those days flat tires were more or less a part of EVERY ride and race. That day was no exception, and while I was on one of my best days in the history of the universe and had ridden away from the field on the seemingly endless initial climb, my equally torrid pace down the long fireroad on the backside of the course was rewarded by a fateful pinch flat.

After riding (slowy) and walking for about 15-20 minutes, my buddy the intern showed up and gave me his gear. I got the tire fixed and chased him down only to have the tube fail again in sight of the finish line. My buddy won that day in what apparently was his first victory in a notable career--some of you may know him, his name is Doug Ollerenshaw. Anyway, while Doug rode into a promising road racing career I always remembered the Humbug that "got away"--especially after the epic climb was eliminated from subsequent events.

Three years ago, I returned to Yreka for the "new" Humbug in the midst of my pit of chronic fatigue and managed to win the race on a much more fun but completely different course in and around Greenhorn Park. At the time, I implored the promoters to bring back the old course--selfishly, I suppose. I wanted another chance at that hot, endless climb to the top of the world with Mt Shasta looming across the valley... I came back to defend in 2011 and I won again, this time on my single speed, but I still longed for another chance at the classic course.

Last season, I made the mistake of traveling north instead of south and spent six hours flogging around in the mud instead of enjoying another pristine visit to Jefferson the state that straddles Oregon and California. I won that race, too, but it wasn't the type of event that goes down in history for how awesome it was but rather how horrid instead.

Fast forward another year, and we were headed south for a real CLASSIC--one lap of the old Humbug Hurry-Up epic course and one lap of the NEW, beautifully, buffed and groomed trails that JMBA (Jefferson Mountain Bike Association) has spent so many years perfecting. I hadn't looked forward to a race quite this much in a long time! I must admit I was almost giddy as dreamt of another shot at an event that had threatened to become history like the other Jefferson classics: the Lemurian and Revenge of the Siskiyous.

As usual we left the start line early to beat the heat but it was already on. As the climb kicked in so did the ambiance as Oregon strong-man Jonathan Myers broke away from the leading group. Myers won every race (or at least it seemed like It) back when I was just dreaming about racing and his presence at the front setting a tortuous tempo helped turn back the clock to a time when mountain bike racing was at its zenith. I was in a different place, though, wondering how I could be suffering so much in my much-anticipated date with destiny as I slid back riding in fifth place.

After about a half hour, my old diesel engine found its turbo and began to slowly rev-up. Suddenly as the climb relented I stood on the pedals and began to pick off the riders ahead. We arrived at the first checkpoint and the road switched back, I found another gear as I moved into second position. Jon was just out of sight but each time the grade eased I chewed into the gap. Finally I found his wheel, and eased into the lead. He tenaciously lifted his pace to match mine and while both of us are now old-timers on the scene, it felt for a moment like mentor and protégé to me! Then as we made the ridgeline and rolled toward the radio tower that marks the top of the climb, I slipped away.

Alone at the top after an hour of climbing I began that unlucky decent again. Ironically, I was riding Kenda Kozmik Lite tires when that square edged rock forever altered my race 13 years ago and I must say a smile did twist my lips as I confidently pushed my Kozmik Lite II SCT tires into the teeth of the downhill! My mind wandered to all the miles that had flown by since as I negotiated the tight turns. Now I was riding a 29" wheeled carbon bicycle with tubeless tires and 2x10 drivetrain while before I had ridden a steel frame with only eight gears on the cassette and v-brakes--but was it really that much different. 

This time there were no flat tires--I suppose I can simply thank Kenda and Orange Seal and technology marching on for that. I began the second climb back toward town and this one was even more of a reality check than the first! Maybe I just forgot about doing it 13 years ago with all the flat tire drama, but it's a big one and in ninety degree temperatures there was no place to hide. I made the summit without losing much time and flew down the hill and back into the familiar park at the edge of town. My burden had been lifted and my body was unshackled from the chains of history as I flew through the lovely trails, standing when the terrain steepened in a cyclical dance with destiny. Once I crested Humbug Pass I could taste the victory that had eluded me many years before and I cruised along enjoying every minute of the ride!

I suppose all of us have places we dream of going and sometimes we dream of going back. This was a dream come true for me as I finally got to add my mark to a classic race that will live in infamy to those who have conquered it. Not that anyone but me will ever care, but that's really all that matters at the end of the trail anyway. Back when this ride began over twenty years ago it was forged out of dreams and stories of epic rides. Now at least one loop has been closed forever and I am grateful for that! We should all be grateful for companies like Roseburg Forest Products and Nor-Cal Products who have been supporting our great sport since the dawn of time.  If you are ever passing through the state of Jefferson jump off the I-5 and climb on your bike. The trails are just minutes away and you can write your own epic ride. In the meantime check out www.humbughurryup.comfor more info on this Classic event.

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