I have never done anything close to these kinds of elevations before but being that I commute daily with a pretty solid hill towards the end, I figured it was worth a shot. I've also done a few long rides the past month, all well over 100 miles. I also googled the ride - A LOT. I even watched the full length youtube videos someone has posted. Not the entire eight hours or so, but enough so I thought myself prepared.
I also found this hilarious guide to climbing grades by Fat Cyclist.
However, no one really said anything about how one knows if one is prepared enough to pull this off. There were a lot of bragging blogs about having finished (another one added...), and how fast one was able to finish, but nothing very helpful for my purposes. I will get to that at the end of this.
I took off from home at 3:50 am. Having packed everything the nigh before, I could just get in my car and start driving. The weather forecast had predicted temperatures in the low 70s and 20% chance of rain - yeah, right...
I arrived at Packwood a little before 6 am and stopped at Cruisers Pizza for a very mediocre and expensive breakfast but I needed the fuel. I made my way over to the start line parking lot around 6:30. The parking lot was already pretty full. I got the bike out of my car and loaded it up with everything I had packed. Too much, as it turned out. I had packed a handlebar bag full of power bars and cliff gels. I only needed two bars and two packs of gels. The gels are awesome! I had filled two water bottles with Propel.
The start went off and I waited until the bulk of the riders had gone since I knew I wouldn't push it right off the gate. I was talking to a guy who said he did the ride last year and if "and old guy like he could do it, so could I". I still wasn't sold on the climbing. As much as I love hill climbing, much more so than downhill, I wasn't sure I could do 30+ miles of continuous climbing.
I think I was amongst the last 10 riders out the gate. I rode alone for the first mile or so, but caught up with a group of three other riders. Ok, so I sped up a bit to catch on as I figured I'd give the pace line thing a try. Good thing I did. The four of us picked up another female and rode all the way to Randle together. I pulled once, but wasn't fast enough. Haha. Well, I enjoyed being at the back of the pack.
When we came to Randle, the group dissolved. I tried biking as slow as I could, but needed to go a little faster, so I left my group and started climbing to the first food stop. I had to pee really bad at that point and hurried to the port-a-potties, then took off. I had a full bag of food and plenty of water.
The weather wasn't great with misty rain all the way to Randle. It was very foggy, which only got worse with the climb.
The much anticipated climb was surprisingly "easy". The worst part of the ride turned out to be the rain and the cold and not the elevation. As we continued to climb, it got foggier, rainier, and much much colder. I was swearing a lot internally as I got more and more wet. But at least I wasn't cold due to the climbs. In fact, I was bored. Extremely so. When I go on long bike rides, I listen to music to keep the boredom at bay. I'm not the "stop and smell the roses" or enjoy-the-landscape kind of person. For me, it's about the act of biking and being able to get from A to B, so I need the music. On arranged rides, electronics aren't allowed, and being a law abiding citizen, obeying I did. Ergo, no music.
As we came up through the trees, having climbed 25 miles or so, it got colder and foggier. There were rolling hills all the way to the mid point at Windy Ridge. The downhills were brutal. Cold and wet and no sight line. Couldn't see shit. Not fun. Well, at some point it actually got ridiculous - almost to the point of ridiculous in a weirdly fun way.
|What I didn't see|
Due to the temperature up on the ridge, the road to Windy Ridge seemed much longer than the 10 miles it really was, but I made it. Missed the silver medal by 10 minutes, but it was ok since I had been shooting for simply making it at all. 11:40 am I crossed under the banner at Windy Ridge.
I didn't stay for long. Had half a banana, used the port-a-potty, put on my extra jersey, my rain jacket, blue disposable vinyl gloves over my soaking wet gloves. I felt like the Michelin man, but at least I was somewhat warm and windproof/waterproof. I really wished I had worn pants with legs.
You'd think I would be happy over the downhills, but I found myself longing for the climbs. I kept the speed super low as the wet conditions and the rough patches of road made the descent treacherous. I used up all my break pads that were brand new. Several times, my legs started shaking and my left leg was threatening to cramp up/develop frost bite, and I kept telling it "don't you dare give up on me". My leg listened.
A little after Iron Creek Picnic area, I was joined by another female rider. We ended up riding together the remaining miles to the finish line. All though I'm a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to biking, I enjoyed her company and it made the last bit go by much faster than had I been alone. At 4 pm we crossed the finish line - I had made it!
If you are wondering whether you can do the HPC (for us in the know.... hahahaha), this is my experience:
If you can say yes to the following, you are ready:
- Climb up to Issaquah Highlands three times in a row and still have plenty of fuel left in the tank?
- Ride 150 miles and feel like you could have gone longer x 4 in a month?
Those were my pre ride tests, and with that in the experience column I did the HPC and felt great after. Granted, I didn't bike super fast, I did it in a speed I felt comfortable in without seeing black dots or feel like the darkness was closing around me.
Next stop: Passport to Pain! Or Tour de Blast. Not sure yet. Same day. WTF?
Edit: Quote from the Cascade website.
"The weather conditions this year made the 2015 edition of the HPC the most challenging HPC we have ever had. Just getting to the top was a huge accomplishment!"
I heard 300 people had signed up initially, but only 200 or so showed up. Out of those 200, 180 made it to the top. Some rode in cars back down.