Reno to Mendocino: The Coolest Ride. Ever.

I’ll start this off with the facts.

Starting point: Reno, NV

Ending point: Mendocino, CA

5 days. 4 nights of camping.

400 miles. 38,000 (!!) feet of climbing.

The coolest ride ever. By the way, there is a 2020 interest form at the bottom, so if you already have FOMO you know what to do!

The ride: An overview

Before I go too much into last year’s epic adventure, here is a high level overview of what to expect.

Reno to Mendocino (R2M) is a multi-day, mixed terrain, point-to-point event. Over the course of 5 days, you’ll log 400 miles and climb 38,000 feet.

Days are filled by soaking up miles in beautiful, remote areas. At night, you settle in around the campfire with your new adventure friends, enjoying a wonderful dinner as you share stories about the incredible day you just had.

I did this ride for the first time last year, a week before Dirty Kanza 200. I made friends with some great people, got moderate hypothermia (more on that later), and had the time of my life. Yes, I would (and will) do this ride again, and frankly, so should you.

My Strava exploded from so many miles. Just shy of 50 hours in two weeks, the vast majority of which were gravel 😬

Terrain and technicality

Over the course of the 5 days, you’ll be met with pavement, gravel, and dirt alike. There is no single track and none of the off road stuff is anything I’d consider to be technical.

There is a lot of climbing, but that is just character building. One climb, Mendocino Pass, stands out in particular and is about 7K feet of dirt climbing. At the time, I remember that felt totally nuts. “7K feet? In one climb? That’s like 2 Mt Diablos!” What’s crazy is that since that ride, I’ve done even more dumb things, like riding 10K feet up to the summit of White Mountain or up 11K+ feet up Mauna Loa. So 7K feet isn’t too bad.

There could be mud. On the first day, it was on/off raining. And with rain comes mud. Plenty of mud. I LOVED it. I was hootin’ and hollerin’ as I pedaled at most 40rpm while treading through thick lakes of mud. My new friend, Nick, wasn’t as stoked as I was and I don’t think he appreciated it when I happily yelled “you got this!” as I rode past him in the muddiest section. Sorry Nick.

Scroll through the photos for some serious mud shots.

There is a chance there could be snow. At the top of Mendo Pass, we were met with a lottttt of snow. I had to abandon ship by that point due to moderate hypothermia, but our 4WD truck got stuck in the snow. For those riding, it was a slog, but nevertheless do-able. The previous year the event was run, however, folks did not have that issue and it was so warm and sunny that people were stopping to reapply sunscreen at the top. Be prepared for both possibilities because you just don’t know what you’re going to get.

Weather

There could be sun and blue skies. There could be rain. There could be snow. There could be all three. The safest bet is to expect the weather to be unexpected. Pack layers, and bring that extra thermal—just in case.

On day 1, we had rain on and off, with a hail storm that started just as we were rolling into camp (phew, good timing on that one!).

On day 2 and 3, it was beautiful, mostly sunny weather.

On day 4, it started off overcast. This was the day we climbed Mendocino Pass. As we ventured further up the mountain, it began to rain. Eventually, we climbed high enough that rain became snow. I was thoroughly unprepared for that and it was entirely my fault. Just when it was beginning to rain, Murphy, the event organizer, rolled by with the SAG car and told us to bundle up. I did—with the riding gear I had, which was not that much in retrospect. Isaac, my much smarter riding buddy that day, put on his Patagonia puffy. I remember thinking at the time how silly that seemed, as surely we would warm up on the climb?

Those turned out to be famous last thoughts 30 to 45 minutes later when the rain became snow and the temperature dropped substantially. By that point, I was wearing every piece of clothing I had available and it was far from enough. At one point, I stopped to put thicker gloves on, and I told Isaac to keep going to stay warm.

When I started back up again, things got rough. My hands became so numb I couldn’t feel anything when I shifted gears. I remember getting colder, and colder, and just wishing I was at the aid station (which I knew was at 6K of the 7K feet). I knew that continuing to climb was the only way I’d get there and used all my mental strength to physically keep going.

Although freezing, the climb was beautiful.

When I finally rounded the corner and rode up to the aid station, I hopped off the bike, stumbled over to the guys making hot dogs and tried to say “I think something is wrong.” That’s when I realized I couldn’t speak and that I was starting to hyperventilate so much that I could hardly breathe. Whatever I squeaked out got the message across and the guys put me in the SAG truck with the heat cranked to 90F. I couldn’t feel the warmth, even bundled up with a fresh-off-the-grill hot dog in one hand, a hot chocolate in the other, and a couple shots of bourbon.

The heat was cranked to 90F.

I was in the truck at least an hour, staring off past the windshield, mildly hallucinating. That’s when I was joined by another guy on the trip, Dan, who was also pretty cold. About 15 minutes after Dan got into the truck, I started to do what felt like convulsions. It was actually shivering. That’s when I realized that I had gotten so cold that I had stopped shivering for the last two hours. The shivering continued for a few hours, and I ended up staying in the truck until we arrived at camp that night.

Moral of the story: hypothermia was entirely my fault. Be prepared for the cold.

Day 5 was sunny and lovely as we rolled into Mendocino, a stark contrast to the day before.

Food

One of the coolest things about this ride is that Chef Dave joins for the whole time. Chef is a farmer and brings a lot of his own produce. He makes you breakfast and dinner everyday and it’s goooood stuff. Pancakes, French toast, steak and eggs. Salmon, more steak, and more deliciousness. Just delicious.

Murphy also makes some snacks along route, but lunch isn’t officially provided. Bring ride snacks and feel encouraged to stop at little eats along the way. My crew bonded over a mutual love for onion rings and made it our mission to eat as many as possible. We fondly dubbed the latter end of the ride, Tour de Onion Rings.

What to ride and gear recommendations

  • A gravel or MTB is *highly* encouraged/low key required.
  • bring dirt appropriate pedals. We had one guy on road cleats, which were so destroyed by the end of the first day that he couldn’t clip in anymore by the time we got to camp for the night. Thankfully a buddy of his was able to drive out and deliver new cleats, but really, just leave the road stuff at home for this one.
  • Ideally a frame or handlebar bag for snacks, appropriate layering, and flat repair gear.
  • Tubeless rides. Not required, but highly recommended. Rather than blowing through tubes, put some tires with fresh sealant on your bike to lower your risk of being riddled by flats.
  • Make sure your bike is working as it should *before* you go. Yes, there is an on-site Mechanic and yes, Jessie is great, but he’s not a walking bike shop. My dumb ass didn’t make sure the bike was good and by the end of the first day, my bottom bracket was a one-man orchestra and so effed up that my pedals had a scary amount of lateral movement. The nice guys at the Downieville bike shop didn’t have the bottom bracket I needed, so taped mine enough to make it work.

Packing list

I’ll start by saying that SAG carries your stuff with you. Pack light, because there are a lot of other people and limited truck storage space, but this is not a true bikepacking experience.

As far as other gear goes, I actually put together a packing list before the ride and refined it during so that I could be nice and prepared for my second time around. Here’s what to bring:

  • 5 tubes
  • External battery charger
  • Toiletries
  • Phone charger
  • Bike computer with navigation (I recommend Lezyne mega XL, which has 48 hours of run time)
  • Bike computer charger
  • Water backpack (Orange Mud endurance is my hydration weapon of choice)
  • Water bottles x 2
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Headlamp
  • Towel
  • Hat (beanie)
  • Base layers x 2
  • Bibs x 3
  • Socks
  • Arm warmers
  • Knee warmers
  • Sunscreen
  • Jersey
  • Wind vest
  • Rain jacket
  • Glasses
  • Gloves for winter
  • Gloves for summer
  • Helmet
  • Fleece
  • Long underwear
  • 1 normal outfit (mine was leggings, with a base layer, and a nanopuff vest and jacket)
  • Cycling shoes
  • Normal shoes (as packable as possible)
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Front/back bike light
  • Ride snacks
  • 2 x long sleeve/sweater
  • 1 x short sleeve
  • Camp mug
  • Laundry bag
  • Ass saver
  • Spork
  • Tent footprint + rain fly
  • Solar charger
  • Optional but a good idea: a bike bag. Handlebar bags are my preference.
  • Travel-sized laundry detergent. One campsite had laundry. I was able to buy some detergent but would be nice to bring it along.
  • Coins for laundry.

Ride Reno to Mendocino 2020!

While this ride typically only happens once every three years, it’s on again for a back-to-back year for the first time ever.

View this post on Instagram

Wobbly house in the middle of nowhere.

A post shared by Victoria Rainbolt (@rainbolty) on

If you want to join this year, dates are May 21-May 25. Fill out this form and tell all your adventure loving friends! See you there ✌🏼

PRE-SIGN UP FORM

(this will keep you in the loop when reg opens officially)

2019 routes:

Here are the routes from 2019, subject to change based on weather.

Published by Victoria Rainbolt

Victoria is team director and racer for Voler Factory Gravel with an insatiable appetite for snacks and bike adventures.

One thought on “Reno to Mendocino: The Coolest Ride. Ever.

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