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Chasing the Devil

The Mount Diablo Challenge celebrates a quarter century


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Mount Diablo looms large for local recreational and professional cyclists as a gut-busting test of both fitness and fortitude. The Mount Diablo Challenge has kept them coming back to the biggest and baddest of the East Bay’s golden hills for a quarter century.

On Sunday, October 1, a thousand cyclists will head up the mountain in the 25th anniversary of the Mount Diablo Challenge, a 10.8-mile race to the 3,249-foot summit that’s as much community celebration as it is physical battle. What with the majesty of the climb and the Jamba Juice smoothies at the top, the race attracts a loyal following who train for it year after year. The fastest riders will make the ascent in about 45 minutes; some one hundred registered participants will do it in less than an hour, thus earning bragging rights and the famous "one-hour" T-shirt.

The Mount Diablo Challenge began in 1981 with a group of 25 road cyclists eager to test themselves against the mountain. The race quickly grew in size and stature, attracting participants from as young as six to as old as 82 who rode every sort of nonmotorized wheeled vehicle imaginable, including mountain bikes, tandems, recumbent bikes, and unicycles.

Barry Tyler, who has helped organize the race since its inception, officiates onstage at the summit, awarding prizes and keeping the crowd happy until it’s safe for the rangers’ pace cars to escort riders back down. He has seen all kinds of race-day antics in the last 25 years, including riders towing their dogs up the mountain in trailers. >>>

"One year a guy’s chain broke just as we shot the [starting] gun," recalls Tyler. "He was so mad he threw his bike down and ran the whole way up. We called him up onstage and gave him a $100 gift certificate to Tony Roma’s; we figured he needed a good meal after that. The crowd loved it."

The race has raised money for several organizations over the years, but last year it was taken over by Save Mount Diablo and raised more than $37,000: Riders now support the organization that preserves the mountain they love to climb.

"It’s a very special mountain," says Jim Karanas, chief fitness officer for Club One and a cycling coach who trains riders for the race. Karanas has been climbing Diablo for six years and estimates that he rides on the mountain 60 days each year. "Because it’s not a through road, there’s very little traffic. [Mount Diablo has] a glorious peak, a beautiful panorama, and unique wildlife. Diablo is the purest climb in the Bay Area," he says.

For those who are really out to challenge themselves, Karanas says the race offers the ultimate test. "[The mountain] knows exactly what shape you’re in; it reveals to you your fear of fatigue and suffering. Climbing is the truest test of you against yourself."

For all of the participants, the race is a festival for their favorite mountain, complete with music and refreshments at the summit—and perhaps an opportunity for some unexpected soul-searching on the way up.

"If you don’t want to know what you have inside you, don’t climb the mountain," says Karanas. "Stay at the bottom."

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