Rabu, 12 Maret 2008

High Pass Challenge 2007 Ride Report Mt. St. Helens Washington

If the names don't make sense, don't worry.

I strongly recommend MAPQUEST, or even better, Microsoft Streets and Trips (which you purchase) for directions. I did not, however, use either of these elegant solutions, but instead gave Google Maps a try. As a result of my poor choice, when I came upon the large hairy troll blocking the bridge after a route than can easily be described as less than ideal, I was not surprised. After answering the requisite three questions I was allowed to complete my journey to the hamlet of Packwood. We all knew the ride would be challenging, but the fact that getting there and finding a meal proved as difficult as it did, made the ride seem even more daunting.

When Le Cannonball was asked by his food server if he preferred the meatloaf to the lasagna, he candidly replied that both were pretty bad. This did not appear to surprise the wait staff and the Packwood eatery. The town was full of nervous skinny guys driving cars with expensive bikes on roof racks.

I met up with Falcon and soon we got a phone call from the Uberman and his cheerful wife, Frances. We joked and shared stories about the town and tried to speculate what the next day would bring.

Well before dawn, the creatures in the hotel started stirring so sleep had become fitful by the time the alarm told Crusher and El Falcon it was time to get up (separate beds). It is worth noting that the two program managers had reserved a room fifty feet from the start while the engineers had waited (for final configuration ?) and had to get rooms that were some driving distance away…….

Just like wedding photos that are taken before the actual wedding ceremony, so too we posed for pictures in our fresh, (as yet) unbroken state. Once the final equipment choices were made and various prayers offered, we finally headed west and started our little epic.

It was so fitting that Uberman was wearing a loose fitting jacket that billowed out like a cape. Just as fitting was Cannonball taking to the front and leading us out in our opening miles. Everyone took a turn and soon we were flying at over twenty miles per hour and then it was time for the games to begin.

As we reached the town of Randle some other riders had latched on to our humble paceline. We crossed the flat valley floor and reached the forest. With only a brisk nineteen miles under our tires we saw our first climb as the road twisted and disappeared in the shade of the pine trees. Uberman either didn’t see the climb, or didn’t feel it, as everyone else slowed down; but he just kept flying. Cannonball realized the blue jacket he had been wearing was too warm and quickly pulled over to remove a layer. Crusher and Falcon decided some conservatism was in order and let those who were more fit, or more foolish, fly past. After reaching the top we were once again four and thus we rode to the first food stop.

Since this was a timed event we had a choice of lining up for the port a potties, or as William Shakespeare once said, “all the world is a bathroom” and watering the local foliage. After grabbing some food and filling our water bottles and mixing our respective magic potion drink mixes, we departed and the real climbing began. Nearly seven miles in dense forest and fourteen hundred feet of elevation later we reached another water stop.

At this rest stop Crusher reached into the suitcase of courage and passed out the strength to make it to the top. The road out of the rest stop actually steepened and Cannonball latched on to a female rider on a Softride bike. We all took note of Ian’s ability to stay motivated and hang on the tail of this steady rider. Before too long Uberman’s patience wore thin and he gradually pulled away. Again, Crusher and Falcon exercised good judgment and climbed steadily through the pack. We saw and passed some of those who had blown past us in their over eagerness on the first hill at 19 miles and now they were struggling up this sustained four thousand foot climb.

The forest was thick and so there were few views until we neared the top of the climb. The bikes we observed under other riders were a constant treat. We saw all manner of carbon wonderbikes, a plethora of titanium steeds, classic steel bikes, a handful of cyclocross bikes, a mountain bike or two, and to our amazement a mountain bike with full bulging panniers. The rider of this Clydesdale was wearing a smile that we could not even comprehend. We could only theorize that he was planning on camping at the top.

As the fruits of our climbing labor were realized, the forest opened up and we could enjoy some wonderful views of the valleys below us. Then with unexpected suddenness, we rounded a corner and we were in the blast zone. The contrast was stunning. From dense forest with extensive underbrush to scorched sand and dead grey snags. It was like riding on the moon. Thus we began the featured part of the ride as we followed the top of windy ridge for the next several miles. First we rode on the east side of the ridge, then on the west side and back and forth again and again. We quickly donned any clothing we had shed during the climb as the temperature dipped. At the top it was a brisk 37 degrees and Uberman was helping a poor soul with some bike repair when Flacon and Crusher rolled in. We had fifty three miles completed and sixty one to go. Luckily there was only a mild breeze and our greatest wish, that we remain dry, had been granted, so we did not complain (much).

Again, although the format of the ride necessitated we not waste time at this stop, the cold only hastened our desire to get moving and so we quickly started our return trip. Less than a minute out from the stop was saw a smiling Cannonball who was easy to spot with his blue jacket and red legs.

Although there was some climbing during the return trip along windy ridge the climbs were short and mixed in with fun downhill runs. As we returned to the forest we savored going down the four thousand foot descent we had labored up earlier in the day. The ducks and dives of the road down brought smiles to every rider. When we reached the final food stop eighty miles. As other riders rolled in they too had smiles that told of the fun descent they had just completed.

After warming up a bit as we topped our bottles and ate fruit and cookies, we departed for home. The ride went along a narrow road with no traffic and it rolled up and down, but not with the intensity of the earlier climbs of the day.

When we once again found ourselves on popular roads a final climb at ninety four miles Crusher popped off the back and Flacon sucked Uberman’s wheel for dear life. Cannonball was also coming in solo.

The final miles were almost like a victory lap, except for the roughness of the road. When we turned onto highway 12 after one hundred and seven miles we were greeted with a tailwind and sunshine.

Uberman and Falcon arrived in time for Gold medals and Crusher came just a few minutes behind, also for gold. Cannonball brought home a silver medal and looked strong as he crossed the line.

All were pleased with their rides. See you all in 2008.

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