Sunday, September 23, 2007

The High Pass Challenge almost killed me!

(If you have no idea what the High Pass Challenge is, see the cascade site about it)

My goal for the HPC was to get a 'gold' medal, what Cascade called an 'elite' finish, by finishing before 3 PM. Since the start was at 7 AM (although I heard some people started earlier - cheaters!), this would give you eight hours to complete it and get the gold. I wasn't sure how realistic that goal was, given that my biggest climb so far was Cougar Mountain, which is a whopping 1,300 ft high and three miles long. But after my one-day STP finish (a double-century), I figured it was worth a shot.

The Ride

Here I am (next to the HPC sign, rolling away from the camera) rolling towards the start of the HPC at the Lodge.

I left the Cowlitz River Lodge's parking lot at 7:15 AM, and hopped on a great paceline of 5 or so riders, pacing at a perfect 23+ mph on the flats. The first 10 or so miles were almost flat, and the views of pastures and mountains beyond was nice! Too bad I was sitting in a paceline - not the best time to take in the scenery, gotta watch the wheel ahead of you.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest was sooo beautiful, it looked a lot like what I'd seen out at the Hoh rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula. Once we started the big climb up to the top, it was hard to imagine going 8-15 mph for the next two to three hours, but that's what 35 miles of uphill means I guess.

The two-lane road that led up to Windy Ridge was pretty much empty, and bikes ruled the road. Some parts of it were unpaved, with loose gravel taking the place of solid road. But those sections were short, and I didn't get a flat or skid out, so if that's what it takes to get to Windy Ridge, the so be it.

Once I turned onto Forest Service Road 99, the views got even better! The blast zone from St. Helens was clearly visible, with thousands of downed trees scattered about. Some parts of that road were sketchy, with no real shoulder and big drop... and some parts of it were crumbling away too.

Windy Ridge

Once at Windy Ridge, I was sooo happy to be 'done' with the major climbing. The rollers coming up meant there'd be rollers going down, but at least you were heading back to the finish line, and not away from it anymore.

My long-fingered gloves were a little wet from sweat, and my under-shirt/jersey/vest combo wasn't cutting the wind like I thought they would. The wind up there was easily 20 mph, and at about 4,000 ft of elevation the clouds were essentially at eye-level that day. Which sucked, because that meant we couldn't see St. Helens - guess I'll have to check that next year.

I was hoping to find some newspaper or paper towels, as I'd heard that helps keep you warm on descents, but all the public bathroom offered was toilet paper. I put some under my jersey (seriously, it helped), and I even saw a guy wrapping tissue around his fingers! It was that cold - I heard someone say it was 37 degrees up there, but it felt like 32.

The Descent

After freezing for a few minutes at Windy Ridge, it was time to head back to the finish line. It was about 11 AM, which gave me a cool four hours to get back. It felt nice to descend for 30 minutes or so, even with the rollers that were here and there. But I'd forgotten about the gravel pits, and so did the rest of the group I was riding with - we almost crashed when we came around a turn and there we are going 30 mph over gravel. All was good though, and I made it to the food stop at the bottom of the climb, safe and sound. But cold. And hungry!

There were 35 miles left, and I was ready to get it over with, gold medal or not. The last section of the ride, Cispus Road and Cline Road, was one of the most beautiful sections, with lots of lush forests - but also small rolling hills that really drilled in the fact that this was a Challenge, not just a toodle in the park!

There was a water-stop 10 miles from the finish, and even though I was low on water I just kept pedaling, I just wanted it to be over! I didn't see many riders at this point, but chatted with a few that passed by. It was about 2 PM, and I only had 10 miles to go!

The Finish

At 2:40 PM I rolled into the finish line, almost in tears of joy, so happy with the fact that I'd met my goal of finishing before 3 PM. So with about 7 and a half hours of riding, I was exhausted, much more so than the STP.

I got my 'elite' gold medal, and my free HPC finishers t-shirt. (I do have a picutre of me holding the medal, dead tired - I'll be sure to post it here soon).

Here I am, damn proud of my gold fucking medal!

Thanks Cascade! I'll be back out at the HPC next year, ready with wind-proof gear and extra gloves too. And with another year's riding under my belt, hopefully I can finish next year's ride in a new category: before 2 PM for an 'ultra-elite' finish.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Waiting for the new Ciocc

I put in an order at my LBS, Velo Bike Shop, for an Italian bike!!

I'm getting a steel Ciocc (italian) COM 12.5 bike, with Ksyrium SL wheels, and a Campy Centaur group set! Oh, and a Brooks saddle! Since I don't own a car I figure I can go ahead and splurge on a sweet ride. Sure, I could buy an aluminum frame for the same price or cheaper, but I like my current my (steel Bianchi), so I figure why switch now?

I was actually at the bike shop the day my frame arrived, and Lloyd even let me unpack it! But while I was inspecting it I noticed a gash on the top of the down tube that looked like somebody had dragged an exacto-knife across it!! Fuck's sake, i'd been waiting over a week for this frame, and now this!

The distributor is on the East Coast and is gonna ship another frame, hopefully this one won't be scratched! (They said I could have $50 off the frame, but I figure it's worth the wait to just get a new frame, like I planned.)

It's questionable as to whether I'll be able to ride the Ciocc on the HPC ride, but there's nothing really wrong with my current ride, besides that it's heavier than the new bike, and has lower gearing. =]

Now that I'll have a 53x11 on the top end, my goal of 100 km/h (~60 mph) should be reachable soon! Then maybe I can reach my other cycling goal: getting a speeding ticket!! one day.... one day. I can just picture a trooper on Tolt pulling me over. Look out Carnation!

Training for the High Pass Challenge

Yesterday I ventured out to do something like a century more or less, but I only completed 80% of the planned ride. I'm getting ready for my High Pass Challenge ride, and since I haven't been riding a ton lately (due to job-hunting), I knew I had to get some pain in before the big day. It was basically a tour of the Seattle-area's toughest hills.

The air is getting colder around here, and even midday you can feel it. And a late-afternoon shower in Redmond meant I was freezing! Arm-warmers & and a vest weren't even enough to keep me warm... almost time for the long-sleeve jerseys! I caught the bus home from the Bear Creek Park & Ride, soaked and tired. About 110 km (~70 miles) wasn't bad, and I did plenty of climbing that should help on the High Pass Challenge this Sunday. Here's the elevation profile of the ride (minus the last 30 miles or so):

The large spike is, you guessed it, Cougar Mountain. The hills are, in order,

  1. Capitol Hill (start)
  2. a tiny spike that's on Lake Wa Blvd,
  3. The climb up Highway 900 going East from Renton
  4. Tiger Mountain (~800 ft max)
  5. Cougar Mountain (~1300 ft max)
  6. Going up 43rd Ave in Issaquah
  7. Tolt Hill Road, heading West (10% for a mile!)
  8. Ames Lake Road
  9. Union Hill Road (not steep but long rolling hills)
Since I bailed out in Redmond I didn't do the last two spikes on the route, heading back into Seattle. Oh well, I think it had to be upwards of 5k feet of elevation gain, so I think I'm in good shape for the HPC. I don't plan on finishing first or anything, but to get in before 3 PM (for a 'elite finish') would be great!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Cougar Mountain Climb, with Photos

The Cougar Mountain/Zoo climb is one of the Seattle-area's premier climbs. Sure, it feels great to crest Queen Anne, but how about three of those in a row? Now that's a climb! At about 1300 ft at the top, the view is pretty sweet.

And if you go, don't think that the painted finish-line at the top means the climb is over; take a left on Cougar Mountain Way for another 300 feet or so of steep climbing!

The view looking East towards the Cascades and Cougar Mountain (which is probably one of the peaks in the skyline, not sure which one)

About 15 km later in Eastgate on Newport Way, heading towards our destination:

A view of our speed (in kilometers/hour) going down Newport Way (only about 30 mph).

Here's the beginning of the three mile Zoo climb, on 54th St just off of Newport Way:

Maybe a half-mile into it, getting into a great part of the climb - on a wet day, the shoulder is slick here, so be careful:

Here I am struggling around the crazy hairpin turn (that I almost crashed on once going down). Thanks to Dennis for the great shot!

A short video of part of the climb:

Heading up towards the top of the climb on 60th St., here's where the rollers start:

Dennis cresting the almost-top - note the cliff behind him, that's what we just climbed! It's gotta be a good 20% in that last little section..

You might think you've reached the top when you see this, but you haven't; take a left on Cougar Mtn Way for more pain. With no undulations, you'll miss the 'rolling hills' you just came up to get to this point, but keep going, you're almost at the top.

The view is so much better after you get a bit higher; here you can see Lake Sammamish, Issaquah, Redmond, and snow-capped Mt. Baker in the distance:

My machine, complete with bell, soon to be replaced by a Ciocc:

Climbing up Madison St back in Seattle. Note the slow, slow speed of 6 friggin km/h!! Yeah, that's like 3.4 mph if you're keeping track. But hey, it's steep on that part of Madison!

It's always a tiring ride when I do Cougar Mountain, but not as much as doing the two-lakes loop & Cougar Mtn, that's a real killer. Good training for the HPC!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

New Feature: View Multiple routes at once!

What if you could draw all the bike-maps in the world onto one map? Hell, even Business Week wants to do it.

Well now you can, using and Google Earth.

Here is the Seattle-area with bike multiple bike routes in Google Earth: (the yellow lines represent bike routes saved by users of

The Washington D.C. area with bike-routes overlaid:

The U.S with some bike routes overlaid onto it:

If you don't have Google Earth its worth the free download, and even runs on Linux!

If you do have Google Earth, go ahead and see this for yourself! It's much more interesting when you can zoom in on the routes to see detail. You'll need a broad-band connection to download this, but it's worth the wait.

Tips for viewing in Google Earth:

  • Turn off Terrain, it seems to interfere with the route lines and erases them when you zoom in (checkbox in lower-left)
  • Turn off Borders - this may make it easier to see the route lines (also a checkbox in lower-left)
This is all pretty experimental at this point, but eventually I'd like to include routes from and other mapping sites. Imagine a map of the globe colored with bike routes - it's possible!