High Pass Challenge 2011 Ride Report

Day’s Verse:
He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.
Isaiah 40:27-28

Discalimer: Long ride report to go with a long ride. The short version is that I started at 7 am, finished at 1:22 pm, and finished first among women with an average of 18.6 mph. I paced myself pretty well, rode strong on the climbs, did tolerably well on the descending, and sucked wheel most excellently the last 20 flat miles.

Here’s the long version.

WHEW. There’s my big, huge sigh of relief at finishing High Pass Challenge! My goal was to finish before 1:33 pm, which is when last year’s first female finished. I definitely wanted to finish before 2:00 pm, the cutoff for receiving a gold “medal” (it was actually an orange ribbon, but whatever).

Before the ride, people who know these things assured me that I would have no trouble finishing within the 7-hour time limit, but I was unconvinced. My fastest century time was just a smidge over 5 hours rolling time, which excludes all those long, luxurious rest stops we took; plus, but that was on the fairly flat Flying Wheels Summer Century. This ride was only 15 miles — less than an hour — longer than Flying Wheels, but it had easily double or more elevation gain. Still, I’ve spent the time between Flying Wheels and High Pass Challenge riding up huge hills and a few mountains.

I carpooled down to the ride start in Packwood with a bicycling buddy named Craig. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ride in a Porche. He certainly gave me a fun ride both there and back; just don’t ask how long it took. I’m pretty sure that radar detector let him shave a good bit off our travel time. Anyway, we had a fun, sunny ride down there.

While we were stopped for gas at a station in a very remote area, I tried to refill my water bottle there, but they didn’t have potable water (!). I filled our bottles up with ice at their drink machine and went to put our own water in. Craig planned on camping and had brought a few gallons of water. As I walked back out to the car, one of the gas station employees came running out. He told me they charged for their ice, and it was $0.26 a cup. Astonished, never having paid for ice before, I gave him $0.60 for the ice in both our bottles, but he gave me a quarter back (don’t ask, I told myself). Later we figured out that they probably had to buy clean ice from somewhere, since they didn’t have drinkable water to turn into ice themselves, and that’s why they charged for ice. Still, having just paid like $75 to fill up Craig’s Porsche, seems like they could’ve spotted us $0.26 worth of ice.

We got to Packwood without any trouble and went out to the campground where Craig planned to spend the night. It was about 8 miles outside of Packwood. Earlier, some people had arranged to meet at the site to do a pre-ride spaghetti dinner. We unpacked his stuff and walked around the campground, which had a bunch of amazing amenities that haven’t changed since about 1970. They also had a number of permanent sites, where people had settled down in their RVs. Those people had infrastructure at their campsites that made it clear they weren’t leaving, possibly ever. It was actually rather creepy. We agreed that it would be the perfect setting for a horror/slasher film.

At 6:00 Craig made spaghetti. Nobody else had showed up, and we didn’t have cell phone reception, so we decided to proceed. Almost immediately another Earthdream guy, Jay, and his dad both showed up in an RV. We ate spaghetti — lots of it — but still had tons left over. That worked out, because another guy we vaguely knew showed up a bit later, so we gave him some spaghetti and salad and bread too. Then, after a consultation, Craig and Jay decided to camp at the start line (you paid $15 for the privilege of pitching your tent in an open field) rather than this campground. So we packed the car back up and went into town, still not having any of our other buddies.

To cut to the chase, we hung around Packwood for while waiting to find our riding buddies. I was sharing a room with a couple of them, and being a control freak, started feeling a bit anxious about the whole sleeping situation as it got later and later in the evening with no sign of our buddies. Partway through the evening, we stopped by the motel and they gave me a key, which made me feel better — at least I knew I’d be able to sleep somewhere! Our friends did, of course, show up… just as we were leaving a bar where the guys had been having a pre-ride beer. I was tired by then, though, so Craig dropped me off at the motel, where I got my stuff ready for the next morning and read a little bit before my roommates (Paul and Terry Franks, who very kindly let me room with them) showed up. We turned the light out right around 10:00.

The alarm went off at 5 am. As rides go, that’s not so early — for RAMROD, Dad and I got up at like 3:15 am. I awoke startled and spent the morning feeling bad. I dragged myself around putting clothes on, etc., operating on autopilot. I could barely gag down my oatmeal and yogurt; I felt like throwing up every bite, and it was an effort to keep anything down. Awful. Still, gotta fuel for a ride like this, so I ate it all and drank my OJ and hoped that was good enough.

Four of us — Paul Franks, Francis, Paul Rudolph, and I — rode from the motel to the start line, about 1 mile in to town. Then we stood around and waited for the start. Our other buddies from Team Earthdream showed up: Lewis, a coworker of Francis’s, who did the hard Whidbey Island ride with us; Craig and Jay, who camped at the start line; Frankie, who had stayed at a different motel with his wife; and Matt, who drove to Packwood from Seattle that morning. None of the other Earthdream women rode with us, and I honestly didn’t see that many women at all. Last year High Pass Challenge had 13% women, which makes for about 65 women if they had 500 riders. I’m betting that estimate is high for total number of riders, too.

The ride started at 7 am, and it was timed. We got RFID chips to stick on our helmets that recorded our total official time. We rolled out at a much more sedate pace than I expected. Some of the guys had been talking about rolling out at 30+ mph for the first flat section, and I was afraid I’d be dropped in no time. At 30 mph I would’ve been dropped for sure, but instead, we went out at like 25 mph, a pace I can sustain for quite a while while drafting.

We did the first twenty miles in 45 minutes, and it was a crazy pack. Team Earthdream started together doing a good paceline, but then other guys pulled up next to us and wanted into our paceline. Generally I’m fine with that, but it ended up completely chaotic. More guys kept pulling up, but just stayed there next to us until it was three and four riders abreast. We took up the entire right lane and it was all jockeying for position, trying to stay with people you knew, looking for a gap or a way around guys slowing you down a bit.

Finally we hit the first hill and everything calmed down a bit. Hills are great for sorting people out. I worked hard to pace myself, riding at a steady 8 to 10 mph on the climbs, even if I could’ve gone faster. There was another flat-to-down-hillish section after that first climb, and I just sort of hung with faster guys. Then we hit my favorite part: The long climb to Windy Ridge. It was great. I felt like I was doing Mt. Ashland all over again: Hot, steady climbing, gorgeous views, winding roads. We climbed about 3,000 feet in 15 miles and I averaged 13.5 mph on that section. I love that kind of climbing: steady, not a super steep grade, but goes for miles.

The real climbing spread everybody out nicely. I rode alone or with one or two other guys most of the way. Frankie and I tended to be within sight of each other. Paul Franks was way up front, along with Lewis (who later got some nasty leg cramps and had to stop and then take it easy the rest of the ride). Just a little way behind us were Paul Rudolph, Francis, Matt, and Craig. The bigger guys tended to go much slower on those climbs, and that’s when my power to weight ratio really becomes an advantage. We got up to Windy Ridge and then I found I’d made a strategic mistake: I didn’t stop for water at the previous stop, there was no water at Windy Ridge, and I was completely out. Two total strangers gave me some of their water, which tided me over until we got back to that rest stop I’d skipped earlier.

As we were ascending to Windy Ridge, we started seeing the leaders descending. Paul Franks was up there, and we cheered for him. Great to see our buddy way up kicking butt. As those guys went by, I realized that there were no women ahead of me. And that’s when my goal changed from finishing before 1:30 to being the first woman to finish.

At Windy Ridge, most of Team Earthdream regrouped and rode together for a while. We broke up again when I had to pull over for water; Francis and those guys had stopped on the way up, and kept on going when I pulled in. Poo. I didn’t see them again for another…oh…30 miles or more. Frankie and Craig and I stayed together for a while, but when we hit another climb Craig couldn’t keep up (he, too, was suffering from leg cramps).

Then we hit the descent. Frankie descended faster than me, which was fine. I gave him and everybody else around me lots of space, wanting to be able to choose my line and most definitely not wanting to brake on the curves. I’ve been working on descending and cornering, and my practice on Mt. Ashland stood me in good stead here. I was able to come through most of the turns with minimal slowing, keeping good control of my bike — crucial when it’s a sheer cliff at the edge of the road. It felt great to go whipping through those curves as if I had wings. Exhilarating is the word.

Most of the way down the descent, Craig caught up with me. I’d just passed Frankie pulled over; he got a flat, which totally sucked. I wish he could have finished with us. Anyway, for Craig, his is when being a big guy with great bike handling skills stood him in good stead. He probably didn’t have to pedal for 20 miles and he still caught and passed me as we descended. We rode together to the last water stop, where I confirmed that I was still in the lead for women. I’d just finished refilling my bottles when another woman pulled in. Craig and I immediately scrapped our Wait for Frankie plan and took off, not wanting to let that other lady get ahead of me.

Craig continued to struggle with leg cramps, and we didn’t ride too hard most of the next stretch. I pulled us at 20-ish mph, and when I started getting tired, I sheltered behind Craig at whatever pace he could sustain. Even so, we kept passing guys and picking them up. Every time we saw riders ahead of us, I hoped it was our Earthdream teammates. But no luck, not for miles. It felt like we kept riding… and riding… and riding, never getting closer to the finish. We had to climb another hill, and as usual, I dropped Craig on the climb and he caught me on the descent.

Then, finally, we saw the Earthdream guys ahead of us a ways. We worked hard to catch them, and suddenly a bee flew into my helmet. I whipped that sucker off faster than you can imagine, trying to get it out of my hair. That slowed us down, alas. We kept riding, keeping them in sight, but seemingly endlessly far away. Eventually we hollered really loud for them to wait — and they heard us. When we caught them, it felt like Christmas had come early.

The rest of the ride was agonizing. We got in a paceline and averaged 23 mph for the longest 18 miles of my entire life. I took my turn pulling, but I kept my pull short. I counted to 30 and then rotated out. More and my legs would’ve just given out.

When we saw the campground eight miles out, I wanted to cry, it was so demoralizing to realize still had another eight miles left. We kept passing guys, who pulled in behind us, so that at one point, we had something like 12 or 15 guys with us.

But as the miles dragged on, people kept falling off the back. Cramps took Craig and Matt out. My ankle was killing me and my legs… let’s not go there. My water bottle got cemented into the cage from all the sports drink stickum, and I could only get it out with great travail, so instead of struggling with it, I got really thirsty. The asphalt felt like an oven, slowly baking us to a crisp. Eventually I was reduced to just hanging on to the wheel in front of me and thinking, “Please let it end, please let it end, please let it end” over and over. Francis and another guy named Igor, who was with Lakemont Cycling Club, pulled me in.

And at 1:22 pm, it ended for me. I had a total time of 6 hours, 22 minutes and a total moving time of 6 hours, 3 minutes. I averaged 18.6 mph overall. Oh, sweet relief, to be done! I finished first for women, thanks to all the guys who pulled for that last 20 miles (disclaimer: If any of the other Earthdream women had been riding with us, I certainly would not have finished ahead of them; they’re stronger than me. But at least it would’ve been a teammate up there). The next woman pulled in 10 minutes behind me. What an awesome feeling! And I finished gold, with almost 40 minutes to spare.

Paul Franks finished 6th overall (!), at 12:40 pm. Paul Rudolph, Matt, and Craig all rolled in right behind me. None of our guys were that far behind, even Frankie, who suffered from that unfortunate mechanical. Jay had some physical trouble and didn’t finish the ride. Lewis did not have a good ride and came in just after 2 pm.

Overall I had a very good ride. I rode strong, paced myself pretty well, climbed perfectly, descended with control and reasonable speed, and worked plenty hard on the flats. One thing I did not do so well was eating and drinking; every time I tried to eat, I felt nauseous again. I did consume a number of Clif bars and lots of bottles of sports drink, but not one per hour, which is the goal. I want to get better at the nutrition aspect, and I want to continue to build power for those long flat sections. If I’d eaten better, I might have ridden better, but I’m very happy with my overall performance.

(L to R) Paul Franks, me, Paul Rudolph, and Francis at the end.

We then spent the next hour sitting around, eating, drinking, and rehashing the ride. It felt so good to not be moving. I had a hard time eating, and my chocolate milk smelled a bit weird, so I didn’t end up drinking it, which made me sad. But I had my sandwich and water, and yet another Clif bar.

The best part of the day was when the hotel let us use the showers even though checkout was at 11:00 and it was like 2:30 by the time we got around to the showering. We got to actually get clean after the ride. What a joyful feeling, washing away all the filth of a hundred sweaty, hot miles. I left the housecleaning staff a $5 tip.

Craig and I drove home and made illegally excellent time. We stopped again for gas, this time at a Safeway in Puyallup where we could also use the bathroom and get water. Ian met me at Craig’s house, and we were home by 6:30 pm. I unpacked the car and ate more food. I was so tired, we went to bed early and I think I fell asleep before 9:00 pm.

And that was High Pass Challenge. I may have to retire after this, since I doubt I could improve much on that performance. This has, however, continued to give me fodder for whether I should join a team next season or not. I’m leaning towards yes, and Team Group Health… Stay tuned.

6 thoughts on “High Pass Challenge 2011 Ride Report”

  1. Thanks for the blow-by-blow. You must feel very proud of your finish. I don’t really have any physical challenges that compare to this, although I was pretty relieved to finish the one marathon I did (and that wasn’t even much running).

  2. Yep. I totally fell apart on that last run from Randle to Packwood. I was staring at my odometer counting the miles by the 1/100ths. Congrats on the 1:22 finish!

  3. Job well done. As my riding partner and I were on our way down you cheered us on as you were going up. I remember the moment because I had mentioned to him that I think that girl will be the first female to finish. Always nice to be right.

  4. I was definitely quite happy with my finish. Best I’ve done on a ride so far! ‘Course, now I can never ride it again, because there’s no way I’d be able to repeat the performance. 😀

    Tennis Olson, you must’ve been way up front — well done on your ride, too!

    The helmet streamers are a good indicator of how fast I’m going. Usually they are flat against my back, which says something, too… 😛

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