I rode the High Pass Challenge this past Sunday. The bike ride started in Packwood and climbed up to the crater of Mount St. Helens. All total the ride was 114 miles with 7,500’ of climbing. Definitely a challenge for me and out of my comfort zone.
The ride was timed, starting at 7:00am and finishing at 5:00pm. Anyone finishing before 5:00 received a finishers T-shirt. As a bonus if you finished by 3:00, you received a gold medal. Before 4:00 meant a silver medal, and by 5:00 netted you a bronze medal. If you didn’t finish by 5:00 – Bupkus! Not even a shirt. In fact even the BBQ packed up by 5:30.
As Packwood is about three hours from home, I camped out near the start line. It was a bit chilly, but no rain. I was up by 5:30, broke camp, and drove the 8 miles to the start line. I actually passed some bikers on the way. They must have started around 6:00 (cheaters). I kind of expected a mass start of 500 bikers at 7:00, but people just kind of filtered out in small groups. I started about 7:05, and fortunately the first 17 miles or so were basically flat or downhill. Nice warm up for the muscles. A number of pacelines passed me, even though I was averaging about 18 to 20 mph.
The first sharp climb was around mile 17, and it was a doozy. Just a teaser for what was to come. After the first food stop at mile 26, the road went basically uphill for the next 27 miles, with just a couple downhill breaks. I am generally a pretty good climber, but I was getting passed by most everyone. I kept plugging away, keeping any water or food stops as brief as possible.
At about mile 42 we left the tree level and saw the devastation that still remains 27 years after the eruption. Lots of felled trees along the hillside. The scenery was pretty spectacular, but I didn’t stop for many photo ops since I was on a time crunch. I did stop at the viewpoint of Spirit Lake. What you see in the photo is a huge area of felled trees still floating on the lake.
The summit of the ride was at (aptly named) Windy Ridge. It was blowing, and it was very cold. Someone said it was 39 degrees, and I’m sure the wind took it under freezing. I was shaking. There was lots of food and water at the lunch station, and even a leftover STP wind jacket that they gave me to keep warm. I had made it to the top by 11:35, and left right at noon. Since the bulk of the way home was downhill, I was pretty confident I would finish in time. I started thinking of an actual time goal. I quickly figured that I would need to average 20 mph to get gold, so that was right out.
The summit was at mile 53 but there was still some climbing to get off the top of the mountain. At mile 64 though it was downhill for the next 16 miles. Oh it was glorious! The road twisted and turned through the forest, and I was cooking along at around 30mph. On the way down it became clear how much climbing we had done.
A quick water stop at mile 80 and I had 34 miles to go. I needed to average about 15 mph to net silver. Possible. I had forgotten the hills that were left. Pretty minor comparatively, but I was pretty smoked by then. By mile 90 I was thinking bronze was looking pretty good. The wonderful downhill at mile 92 got me back on track though. With an hour to go, I needed to average 15.5 mph to get silver. The conversations started between my brain and my body. Unfortunately the body was saying “no”, and the brain was saying “probably not”. I equate it to the last few miles of the marathon. You are just physically done, but my mind kept doing the calculations of what I needed to do to make the time goal. At least on a bike you can coast for a few seconds to get your breath back.
With four miles to go I only needed to average 12mph, so it looked like I was going to make it. When I turned into the parking lot and crossed the finish line, I was surprised to see my friend Cherie there waiting for me. She and Brian had driven all this way to see me finish. It was an awesome surprise. They are bikers too, and they can relate to the challenge of this ride. It was fun reliving the ride over dinner with them.
The ride is a real challenge to be sure. If it had rained at all, it would have been tough to finish on time as the descent would have been very tricky. I should have been in better shape, and definitely should have eaten more early on. I was very light headed by the time I reached the summit. The altitude probably didn’t help either. This was the first time Cascade put on this ride, and it was very well supported. The only thing I would change would be to have some food and a bathroom at the start line. Otherwise, very well done.
Distance: 114 miles
Climbing: 7,500 feet
Avg. Moving Speed 14.3 mph
Avg. Overall Speed 12.9 mph
Heart Rate 160/178