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.


Anonymous said...

Excellent!! Congratulations. I've got mixed feelings that I didn't ride it too, first year and all. I just couldn't make myself commit. Glad you did it and got the gold!

Anonymous said...

HPC_2007 7:12 AM to 1:27 PM - 6:15 total (6:07 on the cycle comp).. 1 quick stop at windy ridge; 38 degrees wind 20-25 mph.. 1 brief nature break.. Return to Packwood was at MHR for the whole time.. Could barely stand at the finish..

Eric "Thrasher" Troili
2007 Furnace Creek 508

Anonymous said...

Way to go Matt. You got within the Elite time WITH time to spare! Woot!

Anonymous said...

Great write up of the ride. I think I rode in your pace line for a brief time-Yellow live strong jersey. You bet it was cold on Windy ridge.