The results are in. The third annual Heart of Gold Gravel Race held on October 7 raised more than $90,000 for awareness and support of teen mental wellness programs.
Pedal power became people power when 250 cyclists from across the West competed in an epic bike race spanning the backroads and steep river canyons of Nevada County; the race covered multi-terrain, including gravel, dirt, and, at times, paved roads.
Four mental wellness programs for youth will get a boost in revenue from the fundraiser, including Bright Futures for Youth, Child Advocates of Nevada County, Tahoe Forest Health System Foundation, and Youth Bicyclists of Nevada County (YBONC).
The money raised will help improve mental wellness and reduce the impact of anxiety, depression, and trauma that can lead to unhealthy choices and suicide among young people.
“Youth often face mental wellness challenges such as isolation, depression and much uncertainty that have been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. The proceeds from the race greatly help meet the needs of teens and young adults in the community and increase the awareness of the importance of mental wellness,” said Jennifer Singer, Executive Director of Bright Futures for Youth, the organization that is the fiscal sponsor of the event.
Riders tested their mental toughness by taking on a grueling 70-mile trip in the South Yuba River's beautiful canyon and ridgelines when fall colors were at their peak. Serious cyclists started and finished at the Eric Rood Administration Center near downtown Nevada City. Two courses traversed a mix of dirt and paved roads in the areas north of the river to Columbia Hill, San Juan Ridge, and Malakoff Diggins State Park.
“It's some of the prettiest country for cycling and backcountry experiences anywhere,” said Founder and District 5 County Supervisor Hardy Bullock.
The race is not for amateurs, with a shorter 45-mile course requiring a 6,000-foot climb and a 70-mile route that pushes riders to climb 11,000 feet.
“The ride itself is a really, really tough ride. It’s billed as a bucket list. It’s always fun to see people push themselves to the limits,” said Bullock.
After the race, community participants of all ages and abilities came together at the Rood Center in Nevada City to celebrate at a post-ride festival with vendors, food, and live music.
“Our focus is really to grow that community integration piece,” said Bullock.
Organizers are exploring course modifications in future years to attract more moderate-level riders and increase participation. Promoting Nevada County as a visitor destination is also being considered for future marketing efforts. Rising in popularity, the goal is to attract 500 riders by year five.
This year’s event drew riders from all over the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and as far away as Colorado. Many of them returned from previous years, including grand tour rider and a pinnacle of the racing community, Levi Leipheimer.
It all started 15 years ago when Bullock and his friends challenged themselves to raise money for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Nevada County in a ride dubbed “300 Miles for Mentoring.” Friends would ride 300 miles from Truckee to San Francisco nonstop day and night, upwards of 30 hours. The ride was so successful it morphed into a community-wide challenge and inspired Heart of Gold Gravel.
“Anytime you can put that amount of money back into the nonprofit community for one-time giving like this, it’s a success in my mind,” said Bullock.
Next year’s event is scheduled to take place on October 5, 2024. Registration will open in late February.
Those looking to volunteer, donate, and learn more can visit heartofgoldgravel.com.