The Summit Challenge Lives Up to Its Name


By David Ward – “It’s just relentless.” So said Ryan as we approached Kamas. We still had 25 miles, and one big climb, left of the 2016 Summit Challenge. But we already felt like we had been worked over.

With 16, 52 and 102 mile options for this event, I had specifically talked my riding partners, Ryan and my brother, Nick, into riding the102 mile option of the Summit Challenge as our final prep ride for the LOTOJA, just two weeks later. With almost as much climbing, in half the distance, it would benefit us as we finished off our training for the LOTOJA, and it would benefit the people served by the National Ability Center (“NAC”), the non-profit promoting the event as a fund raiser.

Nick Ward on the top of the climb by the Jordanelle Reservoir. Photo by David Ward.

As stated on its website, NAC is “a global leader in adaptive recreation” and “provides more than a dozen adaptive recreational programs specifically designed for participants with varied limitations.” Such individuals were appropriately given free registration to this event, and it was great to be sharing this Challenge with them

Beginning at NAC’s center in Park City, this ride piles on climb after climb until, after 102 miles, one has climbed over 6800 feet. It seems like you just reach one summit and then, after a short descent or flat, the road kicks up again, with little recovery time in between. Sometimes, even when you think it is flat, you find you are still gradually climbing.

The truth is, though there is just as much descent as ascent in this ride (since one starts and finishes at the same place), you are spending probably 80% of your total riding time laboring uphill. That is a lot of hours pushing your bike and body up these slopes.

A few miles after the start, there is a fast descent down to the edge of the Jordanelle Reservoir, and then a long climb back up. This is a deceptive climb because several times during the ascent, you think you see the summit only to have the road wind to bring more uphill into view. Once you do finally top out, there is a fast descent into the Kamas valley through which you then roll for several miles before you hit the queen climb of this ride, the slog up the private roads of the exclusive Wolf Creek Ranch.

And I mean slog. There is a short, steep pitch right after you pass the gate into the Ranch, followed by a couple of miles of rollers. Then hell appears. You make a turn and the road looks like a freaking wall, with all the riders, except for those taking the “no shame shuttle” up this stretch, serpentining back and forth across the road.

Being too proud for my own good, I tackled the first stretch of this climb straight up. Then, after stopping to strip off some outer layers, I headed up again. It only took a few short yards for my pride to evaporate, and I, too, was doing the snake dance up this road. This stretch is probably less than a mile long, but with my weaving back and forth I probably did several miles before reaching the switchback where the slope eased off sufficiently to allow me to point the point wheel straight ahead once again to ride the last couple of miles to the top.

The Summit Challenge and the National Ability Center provide opportunities to disabled people to participate in outdoor activities. Michael Ray, who is recovering from a stroke, is on his way to finishing the 52 mile ride in the 2016 Summit Challenge. NAC Staff member Alex Mendelson is his left and Reid Wycoff is on his right. Photo by Dave Iltis

It was in this last stretch that I finally caught a man I had kept in my sites and used as my pace man up this steep monster. As I finally reeled him in, I saw that he had an artificial left leg. He is truly representative of the people served by NAC and of the manner and success with which they face their challenges. I was too breathless to get his name, but his image and determination will rest in my memory.

After reaching the top of this climb, and anticipating a nice, long downhill, I only found a couple of miles of gradual descent before the road kicked up again, though much more manageably so, for several miles till we hit a short descent to the feed stop.

From there, we had our reward for all that climbing: Several miles of fast, winding descent (with a couple of short uphill kickers thrown in for good measure) and then a flat run in to Midway and on to Soldier Hollow where we were required to do a short, steep climb up to the lunch stop. You know, there is just something wrong about having to climb to your lunch, but somehow this seems fitting for this ride.

After wolfing down some roast beef sandwich, a banana and a few other goodies and refilling our water bottles, we rolled for several miles through Midway before hitting the next major challenge, a four mile climb up the slopes on the south side of the Jordanelle Reservoir. Then, after our quick descent down the other side, it was the seemingly flat but in reality gradual uphill climb along the Provo River that really began to wear us out.

Finally, we made a left hand turn and, after short climb out of the river bottoms, had a flat and fast run to the rest stop, “Larry’s House”, located at mile 75. Our group voted this the best stop of the ride. With friendly faces, veggie wraps, chunks of fried and salted potato, and full strength, cold Coca-Cola, it was like a gift from heaven.

Refreshed and refueled, we forged on to the final rest stop at mile 88 where I once again reloaded with a can of cold Coke, and then we rode on to the final challenge of the day, the climb up Brown’s Canyon. Thanks to the last two strategically placed and stocked fuel stops, we were ready for this, kicked the legs into gear and made the climb to the top.

From thence, we rode the final few miles back to the NAC with it last few hundred yards of ascent to the finish, where we were greeted with cowbells and cheers for a ride well-ridden. My riding partners later thanked me for pushing them to ride this event. There was certainly a sense of satisfaction and achievement upon our completion of this Challenge.

I was very impressed with the people who volunteered to assist with this event. Friendly, encouraging people greeted us at each rest stop. Our calves were stamped with a “SUMMIT” stamp at the rest stop following the queen climb, volunteers would take and either park or hold our bikes for us as we foraged and ate and, except for the first rest stop and the finish, each was well-stocked with the types of food and refreshment cyclists typically are seeking. I was somewhat disappointed that the first stop had run out of many of their offerings, and more disappointed to find that after finishing the ride, the food had already been put away and the finish area was in the process of being taken down. We were some of the last to finish, it is true. But they had a time cut, and we made that. We should have been accorded the same benefit and consideration as those finishing earlier.

But that criticism aside, I was impressed with how well the event was run, the course marked, the food and refreshment provided, and the amazing volunteers who made this event such a great success. This ride showcases why organized rides can be so much fun.

The Summit Challenge, which Cycling Utah named its event of the year in 2013, is aptly titled. With its many climbs and summits and over 6800 feet of climbing, it lives up to its name. And it is also an apt metaphor for the people for whom NAC exists.


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