The Siskiyou Outback 100K
A race report(?) from the Brian Eno file
“Pairs well with le Pain.”
Your sommeliers, Rob Cain and Hal Koerner, have prepared a deep, varied and rich experience derived from a distinctly Siskiyou terroir and a brut-al final climb that may leave you pissed and plastered. It might just tannin’ your hide.
Unassuming yet boasting the imprimatur of a WSER qualifier and UTMB points, this year’s vintage is an almost completely new appellation. While the provenance is undisputed, this is a youthful, untapped, and untried blend. While others evoke casual sophistication and elegant structure, this is raw and unfiltered.
Cool, crisp air combines with warm camaraderie. Waftings of cowboy coffee contrast pleasantly with the pre-dawn chill.
Swirling crowds evoke a mixture of eager anticipation, grape expectations and undercurrents of existential angst:
- What will be revealed when the sediment finally settles?
- Have I made a pour decision?
- Is this a bung buster?
Que Syrah, Syrah.
As the hour draws nigh, the crowds decant to the line, and The Nose himself (Rob Cain), pulls the cork and the people pour forth.
And so it begins
The attack is unassuming: fresh pine scents combine with wide, smooth and unchallenging beginnings. This is as mellow as a well-aged Barolo, a beguilingly simple and easy quaff.
The first indication of complexity is a soupçon of minerality as the PCT climbs out of Grouse Gap. But, just like that, buttery smooth downhill single track emerges.
Savor the rolling descent to Siskiyou Gap (mile ~8.5), which elicits a sense of approachable softness. Soon, however, a transition to 15% by volume dirt road makes you stand up and take notice. Although you return shortly to the PCT and its satiny comforts, you’ll gain 1000 ft by Jackson Gap (mile ~15). Here, you’re not even a quarter of the way through but possibly already a bit lightheaded.
Leaving Jackson Gap, you’re on the road again until Wrangle Gap, where you rejoin the PCT. Roasted pine notes prevail. Is that Big Red Mountain to the right? Why, yes it is! Not everyone likes a big red, but hopefully you do.
Soon, the PCT reveals that it is part velvet but also part hammer. And you, my friend, are starting to look like a grape. The climb from Siskiyou Gap (~21.5) to Willamette Meridian (~25)–so drinkable in the other direction–may now seem like unpalatable plonk. Enjoy a few libations at Willamette, because the next sec might leave you dry.
High altitude clarity lets you to drink in views of Mt Shasta, the Siskiyous and even the Marbles and Cascades as you embark on the chewy mid-palate panoply of Split Rock and Wagner Glade. Quirky and mineralist, this will challenge you, particularly post-McDonald Peak (~7,200 ft), where the true pigéage à pied begins: you will descend 4000+ feet over the next 10 or so miles. Foot-stomping good fun. “I will crush this!” you say to yourself.
As vanilla and butterscotch notes now present themselves, Ponderosas signal the proximity of the Potlicker AS. Your bouquet may precede you, but the kind aid-station stewards will help you refresh and cleanse your palate. Relish the fullness of the experience: you’re about half-way through.
Rejuvenated, you reflect: this may yet be a classic vintage. Young and impudent, it also displays finesse and subtlety. The range is big and broad and yet it still seems manageable: it’s full-bodied yet svelte. It would just be cliché to say it has legs. You propose a toast to the alchemist, John Price.
Potlicker leads to Horn Gap Rd, a wide-open and flowing section that lends itself to speedy overindulgence. A little palate refreshing at the Ricketty AS will then set you up for the next tasting. Connected and earthy, the sights and smells now evoke a fully open sensuality that keeps drawing you down. You’re now approaching the nadir, the bottom of the barrel as it were, but shortly also the beginning of Wonder. The temperatures have undoubtedly warmed in these lower climes, and roasted pine scents mingle with oak.
Wonder is Work
What goes down, must now come up (meaning, we hope, elevation gain and not gastric geysers). Just as a bountiful harvest doesn’t just happen on its own, Wonder requires careful cultivation and persistence. The steep south-facing hillsides, baked by the sun, are not necessarily easy to work. And, yet you can’t rush or coerce Wonder. For some, Wonder might come autolytically, but for most it requires preparation, stamina and tenacity. Sun-ripened and toasty, you and Wonder reach a pique at a large granitic outcropping.
If Wonder is sunny and toasty, then Fell on Knee (FOK) displays a misty demeanor. Initially dry and tannic, FOK is by turns increasingly earthy, green and vegetal. Mossy overtones suggest wet winters, yet in July you may be hard-pressed to find much moisture.
Hitt me with your Rhythm Stick.
Dry, oaky, and dusty might characterize the next phase of our journey. Just keep chugging.
Ricketty and 2060-400
Nuttiness is likely the kindest adjective that will come to mind. Bitter and astringent are others. But is that you? Sometimes it is difficult to say if it is the partaken or the partaker. Sour-stomached and vinegary, you may resort to vitriol: “This vintage is redolent of bung hole!”
Sweet but not cloying, the No Candies section evokes butterscotch and vanilla, once again the strong presence of Ponderosas—along with the mineral quality of large granite boulders and the Skyline Mine. Although you are climbing, it is a supple and smooth section. On the whole, this is quite pleasant. However, a glimpse of the snowy summit of Mt Ashland—your penultimate destination—may elicit notes of panic and doom. The élevage, it is too much!
Arriving at the 2060 road, you have but a few miles until the Potlicker AS (~50miles). From here, enjoy the flats for next few miles until you reach the Time Warp Aid Station. Remind yourself how fortunate you are to have the choice to quaff this hearty draught. Ponder that volition, desire and preparation have brought you to this moment. Your cup runneth over, truly, so stop whining and get a move on.
From, here it’s just a jump to the left and a step to the right and an upthrust of about 3000 feet to the top of Mt Ashland, let’s do the Time Warp again! Yes, it’s time to experience the true Siskiyou terroir!
Hard, hot, hollow, and heavy are all adjectives that come to a mind but these are just petty put-downs of a palate plebian…Let’s be clear: this is no terroir ordinaire, this is the exemplary, archetypal Cascadian intrusive igneous Mt Ashland pluton, a veritable terroir extraordinaire!
(I love it when you talk dirt to me. )
It doesn’t take a gas chromatograph to know the profile. It’s up, up and up. Use your arms because this is a full-bodied, meaty climb. Breathe-in, breathe-out and don’t forget to drink. But don’t aspirate. Take your time: relish the vertical.
Can it take 2 hours to “enjoy” a Time Warp Tipple? It’s only 5 miles, but you may be staggering by this time. 3-4 hours seems a possibility…
This is a climb of biblical proportions and an apt quote from the Book of Revelations suddenly occurs to you: “the great wine press of the wrath of God“. And that somehow leads you to think of the Battle Hymn of the Republic (oh, how the mind wanders…):
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
The truth of the matter is you are barely marching on. Glory, glory, halle-frickin-lujah.
In your sun-ripened brain, your thoughts turn to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, and how this has now become a pilgrimage of injustice. But, like the Joads, you keep truckin’ on.
You’re overripe and think you’ll die on the vine, but you just plonk one foot in front of the other.
Oh, please stop.
Onward, fruit-forward. Ignore your bruised Château LaFite. It’s too much! Put a cork in that kind of thinking. To paraphrase Orson Welles: “No whine before it’s time.” Soon enough you can crawl into your van (rouge) and drown your sorrows.
Top notes of bloody copper! Just now, you’ve reached the summit and you feel elated, intoxicated, drunk with the feeling of accomplishment. From here you have a grand perspective and clarity prevails: this is a vividly varietal, complex, well-balanced, whimsical yet robust offering that defies its youth: a classic in the making. The finish is near, just a few drams of descending dusty minerality infused with sage and late Spring wildflowers.
Fragrances of something unexpected waft from below.
Could it be?
As you survey the dead soldiers and the squashed spirits, you realize that at this point it doesn’t matter: you would drink rotgut swill. Salute! Alla faccia di chi ci vuole male!
Vintages still in the cellar…
About the Author:
Torsten Heycke finished 19th in the inaugural 2019 Siskiyou Outback 100k. He likes his wine much drier than his humor.