“Go big or go… slightly less big”: An Amateur’s Recap of the Carson City Off-Road Capital 50 (2019)

“It’s not that hard, but it’s very hard! You can maybe totally do it!” – What I hear when people describe Epic Ride’s Carson City Off-Road.

As a mountain biker who sees uphill as a necessary evil for the downhill, Epic Ride’s Carson City Off-Road Capital 50 didn’t immediately jump out as “must do” or even a “want to do.” Despite all the reviews about how well-planned, fun, and ridiculously scenic it is, ~50 miles and ~6000 feet of climbing still seems a little extra to me. But after a little reflection, some intentional MTB goal-setting, and FOMO from Emerson signing up first, I compromised and registered myself for the 35 mile version of the ride.

Signing up for the Carson City Capital 35 is a bit of a fake compromise because it’s actually 40 miles and still 5000 feet of elevation gain. I’ve never ridden more than 30 miles or 3000 feet on my mountain bike before and those marks were reached on separate, mellower rides with no threat of cut-off times. Combining the distance and climbing together into one epic ride with a time limit, I knew I would be pushing some boundaries.

Fast forward five months to the day before the ride and I find myself meekly nodding to a registration official asking me, “Did you say you want to switch from the 35 to the fifty? Not the fifteen?” 

In my head, I repeated my logic for this last minute decision. First, due to snow on the Tahoe Rim Trail, the 50 course was rerouted into 48 miles and “only” 5100 feet of elevation gain. Second, the weather was perfect, negating most of my prepared excuses for not upgrading. Finally, the Carson City Off-Road was always, in my mind, an event that would test my limits. While the 35 seemed near-impossible in January, my relative consistency sticking to TrainerRoad made it no longer a big enough challenge worthy of all the monotonous indoor trainer hours anymore.

Having never ridden the trails, I imagined a thousand different ways I could not finish on the Capital 50 course. Top of the list was not making the cut-off at 20 miles, 3300 feet climb in 3:45. But if that was the worst case scenario, if that’s what “failure” would look like, then really, this was as good as time as any to go big or go slightly less big…. right?

Right! In hindsight, I’m glad I made the distance change because despite missing out on the Tahoe Rim Trail, the ride lived up to its hype in terms of views and vibes. More importantly, I would have been disappointed if, after all the training and build-up of the past few months, I finished the 35 knowing I could have done the 50. 

Committed to the goal of surviving and finishing, I felt in control of my physical and mental state over the entire 50 miles. The closest I came to a breakdown was when I suuuuper flatted (like tire-coming-off-the-rim flat) 2 miles from the finish line. Though I missed my arbitrary sub-7 hour time goal, doing the 50 helped me discover a few important things about myself: (1) the limits I have about how far or how high I can go are fragile against reality, (2) I’m pretty darn self-sufficient with trailside maintenance and (3) I’ve been running tubes for the past 4 months! 😱

Anyway, I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you might have an inkling of desire, a tickle, to sign up for the Carson City Off-Road. Let me help you scratch that itch. Here’s information from an amateur’s perspective to help prepare and maybe convince you to sign up for an epic day. 

Course Description:

For me, there were 2.5 borderline-not-fun sections. In order of how quickly I wanted the section to end, the first is the last ¾ mile of the climb to Flume trail. Luckily, if you’re in the completer not competer group like I was, then you’ll find yourself among friends if you have to hike your bike. The second section would be the initial Ash to Kings singletrack climb; this is because I still find passing and getting passed an awkward endeavor. The final 0.5 is the short, punchy section at around mile 45. After 10 miles of descending, these mini climbs felt so cruel. 

Besides these sections, the rest of the course felt like a manageable grind. Carson City Off-Road’s general profile consists of a long, consistent, mostly non-technical climb on fire roads followed by a long downhill. Due to the re-route, a lot of the downhill was also on fire roads but what it lacked in flowy singletrack it made up for with a loose, sandy surface that kept things interesting. As promised, this course offered gorgeous views after gorgeous views that kept riders smiling and pedaling throughout the challenging spots.

Programming:

Carson City brought their A game to the event! The entire downtown area was shut down for festivities. Gratitude goes towards the well-planned distribution and management of aid stations, safety officials, and volunteers along the different courses by Epic Rides. The ready presence of personnel and updated signage made event info easy to access throughout the entire weekend. From mini-shredders to elite level racers to curious locals, there was something delightful for everyone over the three days.

Regarding the pro races, I know pros are fast, because duh, they’re pros. However, watching them race in person during the Friday night Fat Tire Crit and getting knocked back as they whooshed by took my understanding of them to another level. See if you can catch Emerson and I getting astounded in the video above.
Saturday, after the ride and a well-deserved nap, we listened to an entertaining live taping of MTB Podcast where they interviewed two pro racers about their transition into mountain biking after achieving top accolades in other cycling disciplines. 
The real winners of Carson City Off-Road are all the kids who fall in love with mountain biking over the weekend!

Accommodations:

We stayed at The Plaza Hotel for 2 nights and I definitely recommend it for low-maintenance mountain bikers. For under $100 a night, we got a comfy clean bed, quiet evenings, easy walking access to the festivities, and lots of space for two bikes and two anxious, overpacking amateur racers.

I also want to give The Basil a shout out. Em and I ate there for our pre-race day dinner and it was delicious, satisfying, and didn’t give us any issues the next day. Plus the staff was attentive and awesome and gave me extra rice, which, ya know, means we’re pretty much family now. 

My only gripe of Carson City Off-Road is the lack of recycling at the expo and throughout downtown. It goes against the goal of celebrating the outdoors and those who love it. I would love to see Carson City and Epic Rides take more notable actions supporting sustainability in addition to trail stewardship.

Epic Rides has figured out the secret sauce for making something grueling and arduous simultaneously fun and enjoyable. Speaking only to the one event of theirs that I have done, if you enjoy long, effortful days riding in beautiful places, then the Carson City Off-Road is for you. If you don’t enjoy long, effortful days riding in beautiful places, then the Carson City-Off Road might change your mind.

Big big big thanks to Pedal Racing and VIDA MTB community for motivating and supporting me to step outside my comfort zone.

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