Amanda Nauman Tackles The Caldera 500

Amanda Nauman may be insane and we love her for it. Starting at 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 1, she will be attempting a multi-day, self-supported, off-road adventure that spans close to 500 miles. The ride is solo, unsupported, on crazy-hard terrain, and at altitude. This is like Everesting but doing it off-road and in Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell. Hell with beautiful vistas and amazing terrain.

The Caldera is “a multi-day, grassroots, self-supported, bikepacking adventure that showcases the rich beauty and geological rarities of the Eastern Sierra.”  The Caldera 500 is an exercise is masochism. It’s 480 miles in total distance. Close to 50 miles of this is brutal, sandy, steep, hike-a-bike climbing. The other 430 miles is just tough, watt-eating dirt trail.

The course record is held by Adrian Van Der Riet who completed the route during 2016 in 4 days, 18 hours and 40 minutes.  Out of 17 riders to attempt the Caldera 500, only 4 have finished.  None of them are women. Amanda’s goal is to be the first.

The challenge’s guiding principle is self-support and equal opportunity. To that end, there is a short list of rules that are simple to comprehend in theory, but much much harder to follow in practice. They are:

  • Complete the route under only your own power.
  • Do it without pre-arranged support from others.
  • No caching.
  • Don’t break the law.
  • Leave no trace.

Amanda and her team, which includes Shimano, Niner Bikes and Kali Protectives, produced a stunning video that explains the challenge, planning and motivation. Watch that now, then we’ll meet back here to get a little more into the weeds with Amanda.

CXHAIRS: The video does a great job explaining your motivation and the timing. How long into the pandemic did you realize that this was going to be the year and what did the preparation entail from that point moving forward? With the 350 mile DKXL on the calendar, I’m assuming you were already getting the miles, but this is an entirely different beast.

AMANDA: This plan was penciled in pre-pandemic but it was put on hold without the necessary funding to turn it into a marketable piece. I reintroduced the idea to sponsors at the beginning of summer and it sparked interest because of the lack of events. It’s one of the few positive things that’s come out of this year for me personally and I’m grateful for the opportunity to tackle a new challenge.  

Most of the preparation has revolved around everything off the bike. I know how to pedal for a long time. I know how to train. I know how to fuel and hydrate. I don’t know how my body will react to sleep deprivation. I don’t know how often I’ll need to filter water. I don’t know if I will take naps or need longer periods of sleep. I don’t know what I’ll be able to eat a few days into this. I don’t know how my body will handle the temperature swings and high altitude.

We structured training accordingly for the summer but making time to scout sections of the course, go for hikes, and rip around on my mountain bike were equally as important as the intervals. Just like I’d be making time to go for runs and do cyclocross practice, I simply shifted that to a different discipline this summer.

I want to be completely candid about how unsure I am of all of this because I think it’s more relatable to the average person. These endeavours look so daunting but I want to show that you can dive into the deep end and take the time to learn about it.

CXHAIRS: When I first saw you were doing this brutal challenge, I assumed David Sheek, your partner-in-crime for so many crazy rides, was also riding with you, but this is all solo, which I still can’t get my head around. 

AMANDA: While I understand that’s a natural assumption because we do everything together, this is a completely solo effort. One thing I like about these adventures is the short list of rules. “Complete the route under only your own power” is one of these rules and I’ve always wanted to do this by myself to legitimize the effort. If David joined me I would feel like it lessened my effort, even if in a minimal way. I can also see myself relying on him to get me out of trying situations if he was there, so I want him cheering me on this time and letting me explore this space on my own. That being said, he’ll probably be just as tired as me by the time this is over. Whenever I’ve gone camping on my bike, he’s the one that ends up with less sleep than me because he keeps checking his phone throughout the night to make sure I’m alright.

CXHAIRS: I came up with this next question before reading the rules, but even after seeing it in print, I’m still asking because I need to hear it from you. Do you have drop bags along the route, have anywhere to stop for supplies, or is this bring everything you need and go ride your bike?

AMANDA: This is bring-most-everything and ride your bike. The route essentially does a 250 mile loop south of Mammoth and then another 250-ish loop north of Mammoth. There are a handful of towns along the route that become major checkpoints for resupplies because you’re not allowed to have pre-arranged support.

CXHAIRS: What has the prep looked like as far as riding and camping. Did you do some shorter trips to prepare?

AMANDA: I have packed my bike to camp exactly two times and both have been in the past month. It took awhile for me to acquire all the necessary gear (it’s not cheap!) and I wanted to make sure I was simulating similar temperatures and conditions. I stayed at a primitive campground near Newport Coast and walked away from both instances with a list of takeaways. Reading and studying the craft is one thing, but packing up and riding somewhere to sleep on the ground in a bivy will teach you everything you need to know in just a couple takes.

CXHAIRS: Did you talk to anyone (other than the person who told you about the route) about what to expect? What was the best advice you received going into this?

AMANDA: Adrian van der Reit is the current record-holder and he told me, “Just remember to eat, especially when you get tired. Often.”

Jay Petervary was a big influence on this. He was the first person I had confessed my desire to do this route to and he was the first person to assure me I could do it. When it was still just an idea in my head, I wanted to hear what he thought about me attempting it. He believed in me and that helped me believe I could do it. He’s so enthusiastic about this discipline and it’s infectious. He lives by the phrase “Ride Forward” and it’s the simplest, but most impactful, piece of advice.

Nick Legan has also given me great advice and the general stoke he has for bikepacking has been a big influence on me wanting to dip my toe into this realm. Finally, Alan Jacoby is the route creator and he told me to expect to hike way more than I will want to. I’ve put 2.8-wide 27.5 tires on my bike to try and lessen the hiking but he will most likely be right and I will be cursing his name for a few days. Walter White benefitted the most from this advice because he’s gone on some long hikes to help me prepare for this. 

CXHAIRS: I’m going to pretend I care about gear for a quick second and ask: You’re riding a steel bike? Why is this the best machine for this trip?

AMANDA: Good question. I originally thought this was going to be a fast adventure with my carbon hardtail frame, the AIR 9. We did a scouting ride earlier in the summer on that bike and called Niner immediately after asking for the SIR 9. All my original expectations about this ride got thrown out the window as I learned more about the terrain. I needed additional tire clearance to fit a 27.5+ tire and more mounting bolts, and the SIR 9 delivered. It’s an incredibly versatile bike and David’s raved about the geometry and handling of it for years. I would constantly scoff at his love for a steel frame, but here I am now, loving the playfulness of a shorter chainstay and slacker head angle.

CXHAIRS: In the video you talk about the importance of being the first woman to accomplish this challenge and share a really sweet conversation you had with your dad. It was my favorite part of the promo.

AMANDA: Aw thanks. Yeah it’s something I’ve realized about both my parents that I’ve come to appreciate as I’ve gotten older. My mom was one of a handful of women at her college pursuing an Engineering degree in the 70’s and then went on to fly helicopters. She was constantly breaking barriers and never let the fact that she was a woman hold her back in anything she wanted to do. Naturally, my dad shared this mindset and I’m lucky that they both encouraged me to pursue my passions. The thing I’ve learned by connecting with so many people from different walks of life through bikes is that mindset isn’t necessarily shared by everyone. 

There were 37 women who finished the DK 200 in 2015 the first year I won it. There were 141 who finished in 2019 and I want to see that number continue to grow. These daunting, challenging, scary adventures are just as achievable by women as they are men and I want to normalize that. I’ve been inspired by women who showed me how powerful we can be and I want to continue that legacy for future generations. The more people I can share this message with, the better. If this story gets even one father to encourage their daughter to follow her unconventional dreams and never let her think she can’t do something because she’s a girl, then I deem it a success.

CXHAIRS: I’m so stoked to follow you on this adventure. It’s motivating me to get out there and try new challenges, too.

AMANDA: I appreciate you taking the time to post a little more about it and it was nice to type out some thoughts. Let me know if you need any follow-ups!

You can follow Amanda’s progress on the Caldera 500 attempt here:

Along with the personal challenge for Amanda, this ride is also a fundraiser. She is helping raise money for the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation (MMCF). MMCF hosts the annual Mammoth Gran Fondo, which is going virtual this year, and the funds raised from the event go to support athletic and educational programming for the youth in the Eastern Sierra. The money raised this year will go towards buying more bikes in 2021 for these kids and refreshing their fleet.

The money donated to MMCF is going to buy new bikes for their fleet that they loan out through youth programs in the Eastern Sierra region. For example, high school kids who can’t afford a bike but want to race in the NICA league can loan a bike through MMCF. Those bikes need to get upgraded and refreshed, and money raised through the link below will go towards getting this done. More kids on bikes is important to me and will translate to getting more girls stoked on bikes as well. 

“As co-promoter of the Mammoth Tuff, I will continue to advocate for accessibility to riding bikes for these developing age groups so we can see the Eastern Sierra grow as a bike-friendly destination for visitors and locals.”

Mammoth Tuff’s virtual event is hosting a raffle for a complete Niner RLT9RDO bike with Shimano components with a portion of the proceeds going to Mammoth Lakes Recreation to help fund the local maintenance, operations and development of trails in Mono County.

MMCF Fundraising link: 

MLR Raffle link: 

Want to hear more from Amanda? Check out the Groadio podcast on the Wide Angle Podium Network. GROADIO: The Premier Gravel Racing Podcast.


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