An Uphill Struggle
Clint Claassen climbs 1,000,000 feet on backyard trails amidst their loss to developments.
There’s “Everesting” – the act of riding a bicycle up the same hill until reaching the height of Mount Everest at 29,035 feet — and there’s Clint Claassen, who has climbed more than 35 Everests since the beginning of 2021, surpassing 1,000,000 vertical feet of climbing, equivalent to 190 miles of pure uphill.
After learning of Claassen’s feat, I decided to join him on November 18 on his backyard trails in El Dorado Hills, the day he attained the six zeroes of climbing. Considering I haven’t even climbed a tenth of that elevation in 2021, I knew just one ride with Claassen was going to sting the legs and lungs something fierce, and it delivered as promised.
“My ride profile looks like a sawtooth blade,” said Claassen as we rolled out of his driveway onto New York Creek trail, referencing the sharp ups and downs in each ride, the only way he could attain one million feet of climbing without riding thousands of extra miles.
His ride profile also felt like a sawtooth blade running clean across my legs as I fought bouts of cry breathing while attempting to keep Claassen in sight. My plan was to ask him questions about his million foot quest as we were climbing, but it’s hard to ask questions when you’re hyperventilating.
It’s already challenging enough climbing one million feet on as much dirt as possible, but doing it in 2021 made the feat even more formidable. In a “normal” year, Claassen would have to balance three hours of riding a day with his wife Jen and seven-year-old son, along with the events management business and non-profit he and his wife operate full-time, Clipped In Races and Clipped In For Life; organizations loved by the local community hit hard by the pandemic.
But 2021 added some unique headscratchers, like the pandemic-induced global supply shortage that made replacement bike parts impossible to find at times. Climbing one million feet also comes with the resulting one million feet of descending, consuming a small mountain of chains, chainrings, cog sets, brake pads, tires, grips and pedal bearings; all of which were difficult to find on short notice.
“Some mornings I would get on the bike, hit the brakes and hear the screeching sounds of metal on metal,” said Claassen. “I turned around and had to grab a different bike to ride until I could find brake pads for the first bike. I couldn’t have completed this challenge without having multiple bikes.”
Claassen has a stable of Santa Cruz bikes he rode in the million-foot quest, including a Megatower, Tallboy, Blur and Stigmata, all of which got use in reaching the goal. He also put in elevation by riding with his wife on the family tandem and towing his son on a trailer bike. “I was his turbo,” Claassen’s son said with a huge smile after hugging his dad in congratulations.
Aside from the parts supply shortage, 2021 was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in California, with toxic smoke filling the air for a solid two months of the summer. Claassen was on his bike by 5:30AM every day and returned home by 8:30, arriving in time to find his son walking to school. Claassen rode as long as the AQI (air quality index) was 200 or less, but some days he simply couldn’t ride because the smoke was too thick.
And if those unforeseen variables weren’t challenging enough, there were other issues that could have completely derailed his million-foot quest, like a dislocated shoulder that slowed him down, a sprained thumb that still hasn’t healed correctly because Claassen had to keep riding and having a GPS that wasn’t accurately tracking elevation.
“If it was wet or rainy out, my Garmin wouldn’t log elevation for that day,” said Claassen. “But because I was doing all my climbing on the trails in El Dorado Hills, I knew exactly how much elevation each climb was, so I kept track manually.”
Claassen emphasized that attaining this goal wouldn’t have been possible without backyard trails, both for the knowledge of exactly how much vertical he was climbing and the routine of knocking out 4,000 to 5,000 vertical feet every day at 500 vertical feet per lap, but also because of the proximity of trails to his home near New York Creek Nature Area.
“I owe all of those million feet of climbing and descending to the community trail builders here in El Dorado Hills,” said Claassen. “I wouldn’t have taken on this challenge without the fun, steep singletrack that enabled me to get the vertical I needed in the short time I had each day.”
Steep and fun are definitely good descriptors of the social trails in El Dorado Hills near the Ridgeview Village neighborhood. Featuring berms, jumps, rock drops and steep, chunky technical bits that get your attention, there was never a dull moment following Claassen downhill, who rolled through them with the fluidity of water, which makes sense considering he rode them thousands of times just this year. After only five laps of the same trails, I had a new appreciation for Claassen’s dedication to the quest.
“I rode almost all of this elevation alone,” said Claassen after reaching the top of the final climb where a small group of his friends gathered with champagne and a giant “Finish” banner, throwing a celebration for him. After completing the 17-mile ride with 3,500 feet of climbing, I understood why. Few people would subject themselves to that kind of repetitive suffering.
During the course of his daily rides Claassen saw a lot, including deer and turkey migrations, the ripening of fig trees that fueled him, high school kids joyriding and crashing their parents’ cars, a big rig that lost an excavator bucket into a row of parked cars and accidentally scaring away a family of turkey moments before a mountain lion was about to pounce on them. But what Claassen saw most was the weekly disappearance of open space and neighborhood trails due to development.
El Dorado Hills is in the midst of change, and especially since the pandemic, the influx of Bay Area money and new residents has hyper-charged the desire to develop new mega-mansion neighborhoods. Since the start of 2021, Claassen said the community has already lost at least three high quality singletracks to bulldozers and graders, clearing land for the next multi-million dollar home.
“I’m not against development,” said Claassen as we stared at a pair of Caterpillars shaving off the top of a mountain behind a wall of cyclone fencing. “But I just wish these developers and the El Dorado County commissioners would have more vision around prioritizing recreation and building actual singletrack, not just a ten-foot wide gravel path.”
For Claassen, a co-founder of Mother Lode Trail Stewardship and Executive Board vice president, a big part of attaining this million-foot goal was driving awareness around the existing trails in El Dorado Hills, and getting county leadership to recognize that trails are essential to a healthy community, and that they need to be preserved, not bulldozed.
“Since the pandemic started, trail use by local residents has skyrocketed,” said Claassen. “Add that increase in usage with the decrease in trails due to development, it’s not a good combination. We need more trails in El Dorado Hills, not fewer.”
Claassen went on to say that for El Dorado County, the South Lake Tahoe area is the crown jewel of recreation for the county, but places like El Dorado Hills seem like an afterthought.
“I love going to Lake Tahoe as much as anyone else, but I also need a place in my neighborhood where I can get outside each day and ride with my family,” said Claassen. “We would like to see officials put more priority on recreation where most county residents live.”
It remains to be seen if getting county officials to recognize, preserve and build trails in El Dorado Hills will be a bigger challenge than climbing one million feet in a year. What’s not in doubt is the vision and resolve of the Claassen family, along with the respect and devotion the local recreation community has for the Claassens in their mission of getting more kids on bicycles, while providing them more backyard places.