Summer Solstice Century - "just as challenging as the Death Ride"


Shannon Morrow

Sports Editor

The Summer Solstice Century is an epic bicycle ride held in Quincy each summer that features a grueling 137-mile loop and 13,400 vertical feet of climbing.

While most recreational cyclists wouldn't want to attempt such a ride, for the armies of intrepid cyclists who love a big challenge, the Summer Solstice offers a delightfully painful test of endurance and willpower.

A very similar ride is the Death Ride, held just south of Lake Tahoe two weeks after the Summer Solstice Century.

Every year, the Death Ride attracts almost 3,000 cyclists to Markleeville and makes more than $200,000. Registrations are awarded on a lottery basis, as more than 6,000 people attempt to participate.

The Summer Solstice, by comparison, has traditionally attracted around 200 cyclists, but it's looking like that number is about to go up.

Beginning this year, the Summer Solstice Century has been repackaged to better represent the nature of the ride, and is now being marketed to the thousands of cyclists who are turned away from the Death Ride each year.

Many cyclists say the Summer Solstice is just as challenging as the Death Ride, or even more so, because of the extreme heat encountered while climbing out of the valley after crossing Lake Oroville.

Last year, only 40 percent of the cyclists who attempted the full route of the Summer Solstice were successful, and several said they weren't aware how difficult the ride was.

"After completing the ride last year, myself and some other riders felt like this ride needed to reinvent itself," said Kristie Fox, who owns Sierra Health and Fitness Revolution in Quincy. "The ride needed a more interesting, aggressive, modern image in order to remarket and try and get new riders."

Fox explained the intent in remarketing the Summer Solstice was to reach a different type of rider.

"The old image did not accurately convey the reality of the ride experience, therefore the ride was not reaching the correct market," said Fox.

With a head full of ideas, Fox approached Sarah Metzler of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce to discuss ways to help the ride reach its full potential.

The first part of the makeover was a new logo to better portray the ride. The chamber held a logo art contest, and two artists were chosen to create new images.

Juliet Beer of Julz Graphics created a skeleton image under the direction of the Quincy Chamber that is being used for shirts and stickers, and Mike Saari did a colored-pencil drawing that will be distributed as a poster in goody bags.

Along with the new artwork, Fox felt that renaming each of the distances would better represent the ride, so she held a naming contest.

"The Crucible" was chosen as the name for the 137-mile loop, in reference to the heat encountered. "Death is the easy way out" was designated as the slogan.

The century's other four routes were also given names and slogans to reflect the new overall theme of the ride.

Next, Fox decided to make the ride more interesting and fun by holding a contest for the best rest stop. Volunteers are encouraged to have a theme for their locations and dress up in costumes.

One group is already planning a Scottish rest stop, complete with kilts, bagpipes and dancing.

Another big addition to this year's ride is an after party with a live band and beer, a massage therapist and other local vendors.

"By making the ride a more fun overall event, we hope to attract riders who are looking for a destination ride, something they can turn into a vacation," said Fox.

Another major way Fox is working to improve the whole experience of the ride is by helping participants simply finish.

To give cyclists their best chances, Fox has revamped the nutritional options at the rest stops to include quick-energy foods and drinks, and popsicles and ice at the hottest parts of the ride.

The crux of the ride where most of the drop-outs occur is the climb from Lake Oroville to Brush Creek, which includes the entire stretch of Bald Rock Road.

To get participants past the most difficult part, Fox has added two unmanned aid stations and enlisted the help of volunteers on bicycles.

These mounted support personnel will ride up and down the course to distribute food and hydration, provide mechanical assistance and give encouragement.

The Summer Solstice will also have more SAG support this year, with one vehicle at each rest stop. More than 100 volunteers will be on hand the day of the ride.

With the new marketing and increased support, the number of riders at the Summer Solstice is expected to grow considerably over the next few years, especially once word gets out among the cycling community.

"We find that grassroots is huge," said Metzler, who has spent the past year developing the Summer Solstice along with Fox. "We want to grow the ride by at least 50 percent every year."

This is the seventh annual Summer Solstice Century. Soper-Wheeler sponsored the first four years and Forest Foundation was the organizer for the fifth year.

The Quincy chamber took over the ride last year, with the help of Soper-Wheeler. This year marks the first time partnering with Fox to help invigorate the event.

"Kristie's contributions have been stellar," said Metzler. "I don't know what I'd do without her."

The pair acknowledged that significant growth could take a few years, but they feel the ground work has been laid to take the ride in a new direction.

With all the positive changes, the Summer Solstice Century could eventually attract as many cyclists as the Death Ride, which is in its 30th year.

Many cyclists love the loop characteristic of the Summer Solstice, whereas the Death Ride route consists of out-and-backs.

"The loop aspect is huge," said Fox. "It's what differentiates our ride."

Future plans include a concierge service to tie in local hospitality and businesses, including lodging in the Graeagle area.

This year's Summer Solstice Century will take place Saturday, June 26, 2010. For more information, visit


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