High Pass Challenge 2011 – Done and Done

12 Sep

Not the least equipment consideration is how much ketchup to use...

Another year, another silver medal! After the ride I was disappointed, but in retrospect (and some introspect) really I kind of think I did way better than I should have.

First, before the whinging, yesterday’s ride was so much fun. I was smiling for most of the miles. Miles 89 and 101 – 112 not so much perhaps. I started off in good form (in spite of my habitual insomnia) thrilled to be doing so with the crowd and not 15 minutes late like last year, feeling like I was perpetually catching up all day.

High Pass Challenge 2011 starting line

Watch your line!

With the forecast for the mid 90s I knew I wouldn’t need any warmers in the morning; although it was 49 degrees according to the car, I didn’t feel it at all for some reason as the SurlyLady dropped me off a short ways off from the shindig area. Things did warm up fairly quickly thanks in part to the sun emerging onto the long pastoral stretch between Packwood and Randle. I semi-drafted off a group of amateurish types (figured I’d fit in) in sub 20 mph trim for about half of that 15 miles or so until a pro-ish paceline came by and then we all caught on to that. The ragged line turned at Randle, went a short bit on flats and then bam I took off up into the hills, happy to be pulling away from the chattering crowd (both voices and teeth from the cold). I was feeling very, very good. Visions of golden splendor danced at the periphery of my potentiality meter. I quite enjoy the stretch between Randle and the Iron Creek stop; shady trees, lung gasping hills to get the blood going, followed by pleasant rollers, little roadside ponds and of course Iron Creek itself. There were plenty of flats and dips where I was able to crank up to 30mph for spots at a time. I barely stopped at Iron Creek, just enough to take a pee. I figured I didn’t need the food (still had a bagel in the old belly) and I’d hardly had any water yet, and decided rather to push on to the Wakepish water stop and stop there for water (and to wake up and toss off an imperious “Pish!”). After spanking along at a good clip, at said water stop I grabbed a banana, listened as the chap attending the tent said the first riders had only come in about 45 minutes ahead of me, and that the worst bit of the day was in the next 4 miles. Yikes! I might be able to do it, I thought to myself, or rather, mumbled thoughtfully as I was eating a banana. I slapped on some sunscreen, filled the bottles and took off.

And promptly hit a wall.

I did fairly well on the next 4 – 5 miles to Bear Meadow, much faster than last year… but achingly slower than I hoped. I just wasn’t able to get the revs any higher; I could feel the heart rate etc getting too much in the red zone. Alas. Somewhere in an alternate universe the SurlyLad from a year ago, trapped behind invisible glass, was jumping up and down in frustration. What’s that? Why does he have a house arrest anklet on? What’s going on in that alternate universe anyway? Aside from free Netflix, a semi-permanent extension of the socio-political climate of the 70s and a wildly popular breakfast cereal called Soybean Grean?


They call it High Pass Challenge for a reason...

One piece of wisdom I gained on this ride: if you’re going to wear a polka-dotted jersey, you’d better be able to back it up. (Same logic applies if you’re in a polka band.) No, I didn’t wear one, but I did watch a chap blow by me who was, and who was backing it up. That’s him ahead of me in that steep picture. I got to the Cascade Peaks food stop but made a snap decision to press on to Windy Ridge, which is really only about another 5 miles further on. But oh, there’s still a lot of climbing in those intervening hills! This is where my dreams of gold truly came crashing down. First, obviously, I just didn’t train enough this year. Second, the heat was really starting to get to me. I started to suffer a little bit, and one of the first signs of such as many of you will know comes in the mental form. I just didn’t want to tilt for too long at this particular windmill. A SurlyLad in a separate alternate universe, from a future year, proudly bearing a gold medal ’round his neck, at this point started shaking his head in shame at my meekitude. Wait. Why does he have a house-arrest anklet on too?

Mt. St Helens

A wee bit of a landmark to aim for...

As I settled into my amended goal- and mind-set the gold-medal guys (and girls) started whizzing by heading in the other direction, buzzing freewheels and rubber-on-chipseal sounding like TIE fighters from Star Trek** causing a sound wave to approach and then recede along with a flash of colorful lycra and carbon. A very inspiring sight to see… you really have to be there, those winding curves along the way to Windy Ridge where you can see ahead and behind for miles as other bikers as small as ants wheel away or toward you or, closer up, as you’re crawling up a sharp hill in your easiest gear the speedsters come hurtling the other way… it’s really something! Doing the mental math and taking personal inventory, yes, I decided to dial it back (like I had a choice) and go for silver. But the cool thing was, seeing those teams and solo riders heading the other way, looking exultant, leaning into the corners, I could almost palpably feel how close I was… really it’s just a matter of degrees and then I could be right there with them!

**(I know, I know, fan boys… I was just baiting you.)

Mt. St Helens

Opposite of Pole Position...

On to Windy Ridge then. That reminds me, although it was fairly hot at least it wasn’t windy, an issue from years past that I’ve been lucky enough to avoid in my two HPC rides. I stopped for a bit, took some pics, then slogged back out toward the Cascade Peak stop for some lunch.

Mt. St. Helens

Sainted Helens

I grabbed some chow: a cookie, three fig newtons, a spare granola bar for the miles ahead. I filled the bottles, put on some more sunscreen and did some stretching (that’s another big difference, I don’t seem to have to do as much stretching this year as last). Deep breath and then back into it. It’s a bit of a cruel grind coming ‘down’ from the nominal turnaround spot and actually having to climb back up to Bear Meadows. This is where I really started to suffer and slow down. I was chugging water like crazy. Usually I’m a miserly sipper but not on this ride, in that heat. A guy on a Gunnar kept stopping to take pictures and I’d slowly go past. Then he’d spryly spin ahead of me until the next vista when he’d stop to take another picture. Growl. Young fellas ain’t showin’ no respect.

I slowed to a crawl in some spots yet kept grinding on, figuring I’d spin myself back into a happy place. A tandem passed me at this point (a tandem! how cool!) just at Bear Meadows (redux). I followed them down the hill briefly but then phew they were gone. There must be a good and glorious 5 miles or so of crazy curvy downhilling back to the Hwy 25 turn. One downside of such nice weather was the amount of traffic on the roads. Lots of sightseers in seersuckers were out and about, especially motorcycles, which I don’t mind, but also way too many RVs, which aren’t nearly as fun for cyclists. I also almost got hit by a big 4×4 truck. Oddly enough he carefully skirted around a biker further down the road, but not around me. I felt his wide side mirror whiff right past my head. Not cool… I think he just didn’t see me.

Back to the Iron Creek stop, another cookie and banana, and then pow, along the 76/Cispus Road through the shady trees.

Cispus Road

I was feeling much better through here, including the fun 50 feet of gravel.

Gravel Cispus Road

This is really a pretty stretch. I remembered it fondly from last year as well. Then the left turn at Tower Creek, over the bridge:

Cispus Road bridge

Cispus Road bridge

What I wasn’t as fond of, and what I despaired of last year as well, were the rollers and climbing up the 23 road toward Randle. Way too cruel for elevation to be there at that point of the day, around 80 – 90 miles into it… way too cruel! But then there’s some nice downhilling to the ‘wide spot in the road’ water stop. All in all it was an odd experience seeing some of the familiar landmarks. Last year’s HPC was so… EPIC. This year it was painful and pretty and amazing, it just seemed that the landmarks were coming a lot faster. Perspective change.

Speaking of which. I was starting to dread the coming flat stretch between Randle and Packwood. Past Randle a bit I looked at the clock and saw it had just turned 2:00. So… counting on fingers… I was around 15 miles shy of the gold cutoff. That’s not too bad! I stopped at a gas station, got some Pepsi, put on more sunscreen and then resolved to race the rest of the way in. But oh boy was it hard. I’d been riding solo all day and now, just as I secretly hoped I could find some nice tall group of paceliners to shelter behind nope, I was all by my lonesome. It was hot. Dang hot. 93 degrees according SurlyLady (who told me afterward). I began this individual time trial at a good clip, about 20 mph but after a few miles it started creeping down until, a few miles outside of Packwood, I was only doing about 16. Then I started to see some of the outlier buildings in Packwood. Hooray! I upped the auntie and got back to around 20 and hustled the rest of the way in. I was more than a little dazed at the finish line, and barely recognized the SurlyLady as she and the pups walked up to me. (‘Course she did straighten her hair and was wearing her ‘V for Vendetta’ mask.) In an alternate universe, a version of SurlyLad in a parallel position, who’d had toast and an egg for breakfast, and not a bagel, and who had accidentally stepped on a butterfly that had flown in from Chile, and who was currently polishing his gold medal by breathing on it gently and then rubbing it with a ‘Bueller Brand’ diaper, looked up and laughed at me as I almost wobbled a few times while walking over to collect the freebie HPC ditty bag they were handing out. I didn’t spy any choco milk in the vicinity, only BBQ which just didn’t sound as good to me at the time, so I hopped on the old Poprad and headed off to a nearby gas station to get me some Darigold goodness. The ‘Lady met me at the parked wagon and it was only then that the soreness started to hit me. And the wooziness.

In the next few hours as I sort of limped and winced around the cabin I must honestly report I don’t think I’ve been as sore after a ride… well not in a really long time. Today I’m tip top and happy again, already planning for next year. Rather than a scant 1500 road miles, I’m going to try to put in at least 3000 before the HPC (as a point of reference, I’d done nearly 5000 miles by September last year). I’ll continue with the yoga and kickboxing. And weightlifting. So more saddle time, and then a whole lot more purposeful hill training. I virtually did none this year. I’ll do STP, the century version of the 7 Hills of Kirkland, Chelan, Flying Wheels and anything else I can find! One way of looking at it, as the SurlyLady put it when trying to cheer me up: basically this year I reeled off a tough ride with nothing more than general fitness to assist.

And another thing — this might come as heresy to some of y’all — but I think I’ll take the Sarthe. The Poprad was fine, no complaints but, I think I’ll sacrifice comfort over speed for next year’s version, see where that gets me. Plus, those demi-ballon Grand Bois tires aren’t exactly screaming cornerers. Comfy on the ups and the flats but a little hampering on the downhills.

All in all we had a lovely time in Packwood. The ‘Lady had a good time on her hike, as did the pups. I fought through the heat and matched my time from last year which I’m very happy about! It was a safe ride and it was fun to be around a lot of great folks. I’ll not forget the chap on the BMC as we turned onto 99, near the Wakepish stop. He didn’t look like he was having the most joyous time. I looked over and couldn’t help grinning: “Now the real climbing starts!” He groaned. I did see him toward the end so obviously, he was able to recover.

Cascade Bicycle Club puts on an awesome event, in an awesome setting. I can’t wait to try the torture all over again!

Side mirror

Objects may appear larger in retrospect...


4 Responses to “High Pass Challenge 2011 – Done and Done”

  1. Octavian Popa September 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    Thanks for the great write-up again this year. You probably describe how 90% of the people doing this ride feel, but are a bit reluctant to say it out loud. Yep, parts of it really hurt, and parts are simply paradise. Having done the ride now three years running, I’ve concluded that it is r-e-a-l-l-y tough to get gold if you solo. You need people around you that you can count on especially on the last 25 miles. I came close this year but that last part was a killer. I joined up with three other guys by mile 95 but we were all cooked so it was only marginally helpful. Finished in 7 1/2 hours.

    By the way I’m the guy you overheard last year at the FInish Line picnic “Octavian”. Cheers!

  2. Jamislad September 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    The Sarthe? How long have I been gone?

  3. surlylad September 19, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    Thanks for the note Octavian! I think you’re right… getting a gold while solo is going to be tough, and I’m not getting any younger. If you’re there next year I’ll keep an eye out for you!

    JamisLad, you’ve been gone way too long. I’ve joined a race team and bought a Madone, it’s crazy.

  4. Jamislad September 20, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    No more reasonable spoke counts and tire sizes for you.

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