Story by Amanda Nauman; Images by Nick Nelson and Dakota Snider.
My name is Amanda Nauman and my goal is to be the first female finisher of the Caldera 500 route.
The genesis of this harebrained idea originated where most great ideas come from, at a brewery enjoying food and beverages after a long gravel ride. We had just completed a big gravel loop around Bishop with local friends and they mentioned the Caldera ride. I had never heard of it, but they talked about it like it was an infamous route not for the faint of heart. One of the riders, Adrian Van Der Riet, I’d come to learn, holds the record for this multi-day, grassroots, self-supported, bikepacking adventure they were trying to sell me on. It sounded absurd, but I was intrigued.
Alan Jacoby created the route after years of scouting the toughest roads in the area, and the inaugural sendoff was in 2015. I met Alan after a fat bike race that he hosted at Mammoth Mountain in 2017, but it wasn’t until summer of 2018 that I learned of his bikepacking route that showcases the rich beauty and geological rarities of the Eastern Sierra. Out of 17 riders to attempt Alan’s Caldera 500 route, only four have finished. “The course is a bit masochistic,” he explained. “It's 480 miles and 65k of oftentimes brutal, sandy, steep, hike-a-bike climbing.”
The gravel roads surrounding Mammoth Lakes and Bishop vary from hard-packed and fast to soft and sandy with every turn. Naturally, I thought the Caldera routes were rideable on a gravel bike because we had just finished a big gravel ride. They quickly corrected me and explained the route was essentially a string of mountains ridden up and down over for all 500 miles. It covers five different mountain ranges (Sierra Nevada, White Mountains, Inyo Mountains, Sweetwater Mountains, and Glass Mountains), and three distinct biomes (Sierra Nevada, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert). When Adrian told me his record was just under five days, I thought he was crazy. He’s one of the strongest riders I know and was only able to complete about a hundred miles a day. On top of that, he said he’d likely never race the route again, but with a caveat that he’d consider it if anyone ever beat his record.
Most normal people would probably have taken these stories and been impressed with the feats of the four finishers who have ever finished the route. But I’m not normal, and my friends at the table that day probably knew they were planting a seed in the back of my brain to attempt this insane route someday. I enjoy a good challenge, especially one that makes me question whether or not I can even complete it.
With the uncertainties of 2020 altering plans left and right for athletes and race promoters across North America, I decided this fall would be the perfect time to finally have a go at the Caldera 500. A clear calendar has been both a blessing and a curse this summer. It’s allowed me to spend the most amount of time I ever have in Mammoth Lakes, but it’s also been a challenge to find motivation. It was great to finally put this adventure on the calendar and have something to look forward to. As a gravel racer with a canceled season, a cyclocross racer with an uncertain season, and a race promoter with a canceled Mammoth Tuff gravel event, this year has honestly been difficult. I’ve learned how important it is for me to have a personal challenge and something to look forward to amidst the chaos of 2020.
I will be departing in the early morning hours of September 1, 2020. My goal is to complete the route, but of course I’ll be doing it as fast as I possibly can and an FKT would be the icing on the cake. In addition, I am helping raise money for the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation (MMCF). MMCF hosts the annual Mammoth Gran Fondo, which is going virtual this year, and the funds raised from the event go to support athletic and educational programming for the youth in the Eastern Sierra. The money raised this year will go towards buying more bikes in 2021 for these kids and refreshing their fleet. Please join me in supporting this initiative because we all want to see more kids on bikes.
As co-promoter of the Mammoth Tuff, I will continue to advocate for accessibility to riding bikes for these developing age groups so we can see the Eastern Sierra grow as a bike-friendly destination for visitors and locals. Mammoth Tuff’s virtual event is hosting a raffle for a complete Niner RLT9RDO bike with Shimano components with a portion of the proceeds going to Mammoth Lakes Recreation to help fund the local maintenance, operations and development of trails in Mono County.
While I take on this multi-day adventure, please consider supporting me by contributing to great causes to cultivate this corner of California I love.
Tracking link: http://trackleaders.com/calderaitt20
Fundraising link: https://give.mammothfoundation.org/AmandaPanda
Raffle link: https://mammothtuff.com/raffle-20