Outdoors

Puyallup’s Leon Matz finishes America’s 100 toughest bike climbs

A Puyallup man recently completed a bicycling adventure equivalent to riding from Ocean Shores to Portland, Maine, while climbing the height of Mount Rainier nearly 32 times.

Leon Matz, 64, completed the 100 toughest bicycles climbs in the United States in May by bagging six steep Northeastern ascents. His adventure started in 2008 with Mount Spokane and spanned 3,324 miles and 458,455 vertical feet.

“The 100 climbs was the most special athletic thing I have ever done,” Matz said via email. “The physical challenge of 458,455 feet … is pretty extreme. The challenge of getting to the start of all the climbs, coordinating food, transportation, dealing with heat (exceeding 90 degrees) in Death Valley and the cold (28 degrees) on Mount Washington added to the difficulty.

Matz took on the adventure after reading the 2007 book “The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike)” by John Summerson. In the back of the book, he found the author’s list of the 100 toughest road bike climbs in the U.S.

He recently contacted the author to tell him he’d finished the list. Summerson told Matz he’s the second person he knows of to complete the list. Summerson is the first.

Summerson’s list ranks the three toughest climbs as New Hampshire’s Mount Washington followed by Hawaii’s Mauna Loa and Haleakala.

Matz thought Mauna Loa was the toughest ride, followed by Mount Washington then Hawaii’s Mauna Kea (fourth on Summerson’s list).

“Mount Washington is extremely difficult with the steepness, the unpaved section, and the wind and cold I experienced added to the difficulty,” Matz said. “But 1 hour, 45 minutes of suffering to me doesn’t compare to the 6:40 it took me to climb Mauna Loa.”

He says he’d like to try Mount Washington again with warmer conditions.

Matz, an Orting High School counselor who typically bikes more than 12,000 miles per year, traveled extensively to finish the project. Only two of the rides were in Washington: Hurricane Ridge ranked 41st and Mount Spokane was 87th.

He used three different bikes.

The final climb was Whiteface Mountain in New York on May 22. The roundtrip from Wilmington required climbing 3,570 feet over 16 miles. There was a castle at the top, Matz said, but it was closed when he arrived at 6 a.m. He headed down at speeds exceeding 45 mph. At the bottom, he asked a construction worker to take his picture to commemorate the experience.

Matz did many of the 100 rides alone, but friends from his bike club, the Puyallup Cyclopaths, joined him for some rides. He said those rides “were the most special.” He also said, “I am a lucky man to have a special wife who supported this crazy challenge.”

His cycling journeys are far from over. As Matz chipped away at the original 100 toughest climbs list, Summerson published a second edition of his book that added Colorado’s Pikes Peak to the list. It had previously been closed to cyclists.

Matz plans to ride Pikes Peak this summer. Then on to the next goals: Ride across the United States and bike in all 58 national parks.

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