Josh Berry Trains for Revenge at High Altitude in Mammoth Lakes
Jul 13, 2021
Cyclist Josh Berry spent his time training at the Mammoth Lakes Crib with two goals in mind—the first, to find a hill climb in the Eastern Sierra that’s larger than anything else in the Continental U.S.
Berry, 29, came off his high altitude training stint in Mammoth Lakes and headed directly to Lincoln, Nebraska, to challenge the cyclist who narrowly edged him out of a win in last summer’s Gravel Worlds, a 150-mile gravel road race that took Berry 7 hours and 14 minutes to finish in 2018.
“I got Texaned,” says Berry, referencing the Dallas-based rider who bested Berry by mere seconds in last year’s race by overtaking him at a “feed” station, which are supposed to be neutral zones. Berry’s eyes narrow as he plots his comeback from the comfort of the plush couch at The Crib. He’s missing another race, probably more suited to his recent training, to return to Nebraska in pursuit of the win.
“There’s a new event at altitude, and it’s multiple days,” says Berry, who crosses his tanned arms behind his head in contemplation. “And I’m not doing it, just so I can go back to do Gravel Worlds.”
How Josh Berry Got Involved in the Cycling World
Berry has always been tenacious, judging by his origin story. As a high schooler in Sun Valley, Idaho, and he’d spend hours after school tooling around on his BMX bike, because “I didn’t really have anybody around” at home. His neighbor had a mobile cycle repair business, “and I was always peeking in his workshop. One day, I came back from football practice and there was a mountain bike in my garage.”
That neighbor ran a kids mountain bike program on the local trail network, which Berry couldn’t afford, so he’d set trails and haul equipment to earn his keep.
“That gave me access to Olympians, coaches,” says Berry. “As soon as I met [legendary mountain biker] Greg Randolph, everything clicked.”
He quit football, joined cross country, and “focused on being really fit—seeing what all the best kids were doing, and doing twice that.”
He’s been pretty much pro ever since.
Life and Gravel Racing
His most recent hiatus, which began when he enrolled in art school in Tucson, Arizona, where he now lives, lasted about six months. And even during that time, he was working on building gravel bikes (he both rides and builds bikes for Giant). He’s now working to be at the top of his game in gravel racing, which is blowing up in the cycling scene.
The sport combines both road and mountain biking, prompting the creation of a new type of bicycle built specifically for riding long miles on remote roads (think logging and power line access roads, remote rural paths and, of course, classic gravel).
“The best way to describe it is that the events are a challenge,” says Berry. “They’re more like an Iron Man, or a Spartan Race—to finish the event is the cool part.” New races are popping up all the time, but OG races include the 200-mile Dirty Kanza (Berry finished 7th in May 2019), Rebecca’s Private Idaho (Berry placed second in 2018) and the festival-esque Belgian Waffle Ride. Gravel races look like a marriage of endurance athleticism and punk rock (the Gravel Worlds logo is a skull and crossbones, the crossbones made of bicycle chains), with some beer and chicken wings thrown in at the finish line. Riders are often on their own for long distances, due to the remoteness of the races, so they need to be burly, resourceful, and probably a little insane.
Berry is here for all of it. He sports a Cheshire grin as he describes skidding around on snowbanks up at Minaret Vista (“You have no control. You land on the other side, hopefully!”) and riding down the road to Devil’s Postpile and back up, twice, in the same day.
High-Altitude Training at the Mammoth Lakes Crib
By the end of his stay at The Crib, Berry had also accomplished his second goal—he started a ride on the Owens River near Laws Railroad Museum (4,117 feet) and cycled to the top of White Mountain Peak (14,252 feet). With dips and gains in the road, Berry calculated he gained 14,1670 feet in total elevation. For reference, the highest climb in the United States is Hawaii’s Mauna Kea (13,779 of gain), and in the continental U.S., Pike’s Peak in Colorado is generally regarded as the biggest climb (Bicycling’s Evelyn Spence describes the grueling 7,710-foot vertical ride on the magazine’s website). Even without the dips, Berry crushed 10,135 feet objectively in about 8 hours. Fairly insane.