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Sep 13 2010

The High Pass Challenge Ride Report

The High Pass Challenge (HPC) is a ride up to Windy Ridge in the Mount St. Helens blast zone. This particular ride is timed. Riders are supposed to finish in ten hours or less. This report is from my perspective.

Kary and I started out at 7AM after driving over two hours to get to Packwood. It was a little cold in the morning so I had a shirt, jersey, and jacket on as well as cycling pants and long fingered gloves. The riders started all at the same time. We were kind of at the back of the pack, but easily passed a few riders. We started into the first climb and we passed the group that we’d been drafting off. Kary starts to take off and I just figure I’ll stay at my own pace – about 8 or so. The climb was similar to the stairstep on the Flying Wheels Century (FWC). But I was beginning to understand that this ride was not just about climbing, but it was about rollers – huge rollers. I noted that for each roller, we’d have to pay the price going back. We both forgot to take Endurolytes so we took them at the Iron Creek water stop.

We started off again, not waiting around; we were hoping to finish within 7 hours. This part of the ride was a long climb. Prior to this, I had been fighting the mountain thinking it was one steady climb, but it’s not. I tried to tackle the steep parts by going hard and leveling off as the grade was easier, but that’s not the way to climb for me. I started to ease off on the steep parts and put the effort into the easier grade. This way I could get up to a pace of 11-13 or more. So the rule is, “don’t fight the climb”.  As I was coming out of a down hill section going into a climb, my chain came off. As I got back on, I could feel a twinge. I pulled in at the Wakepish stop at mile 36.7 or so and Kary was already there. I saw one guy sitting down with his shoes off – he looked pretty toasted.

We started off again and I told Kary to go ahead at his own pace. I was kind of trailing this one guy who passed me and I was concentrating on my breathing so I was sure he could hear me. We finally made it to a downhill section and he commented, ”Ah – we finally get a break.” Another guy passed me and asked, “Where’d you get the jacket?” I thought it was one of my former co-workers at REI, so in typical REI fashion I replied, “I got it at this great store called REI.” Then he replied as he was passing me, “You must be roasting in that jacket.” At that point, the lightbulb finally went on – yes, I was roasting; I was sweating like crazy. I was definitely over dressed. One of these days I’ll learn to dress appropriately.

The next few miles I started to see this ride was not just about rollers, but blind curves. It was just around one of these curves that you ride into a very scenic area – the blast zone. I said out loud, ”Look at the awesome power of God!” Trees were down, the landscape was pretty barren.  I finally made it to the Cascade Peaks stop, but not before experiencing some cramping. My speed dropped down to about 5 or less in some parts but I was able to stay on the bike. The thing to do for the climbs is to concentrate on your breathing and when the twinges come, try to relax that part of your body. I also found that unclipping and using a different part of my foot to pedal helped. I could also stretch areas that I normally couldn’t stretch. See? I am giving you all my tips so next year you can do this ride or at least be a better climber. I’m sure you’ll be passing me and maybe you can pass Kary!

Kary had waited at the Cascade Peaks stop – he said he was there no more than five minutes, but I’m sure it was longer. I fueled up and took more Endurolytes. We then headed off. The thing about being in the blast zone is you can see the road way ahead. I could see how the road wound around and far off in the distance I could see little colored specs on the road – the cyclists that were ahead of us. It was a little disheartening, but at least you knew what you were in for. Prior to the stop I had also seen one of the first riders heading back. I knew there were riders behind us and there were a quite a few in front.

Mountain view at Cascade Peaks stop

Steve at Cascade Peaks going up.

The next 7 miles had a little climbing and some fast down hill sections. For someone who is good at descending, this would have been fun. For me, it was fun but there was one hairpin that was just a little tight – well, ok I guess I was going a little fast. But Kary and I finally rode into Windy Ridge. It was a great view. We took some pictures and wanted to head back. It was around 11AM.


Kary at Windy Ridge with bikes and Mountain background

At Windy Ridge

We made it back to the Cascade Peaks stop, got more water and headed off again. Going back was pretty much more of the same – rollers. This time though it was a little easier knowing you were heading back. There were some long downhill sections and everytime I saw a road sign warning of 20mph and the curvy road marking I checked my speed. I found if I was going 20-24, I was ok. If I was hitting 30 or so I should slow down – just like a car. The road going down was a little rougher in spots so you had to pay attention but it wasn’t as bad as going down Crystal Mountain.

I caught up with Kary at the Iron Creek stop. He looked like he’d been there a while, but he said he’d only been there about five minutes or so. Again I’m sure it was longer. We fueled up. By then it was about 1PM. We managed to hook up with another guy – Alex or Alan; he was some young skinny guy. He almost looked like a high school student, but Kary found out he was a software engineer. I’m definitely showing my age – these days a lot of people look like high school students.

We did some pacelining and rolled into the last water stop on Crispus Road. The guy there was playing entertaining Mexican polka or something like that. He told us that some riders had gone through there at 12noon and this stop is at mile 85 with about 30miles to go. We got some water and headed off. This was the slowest portion of the ride for me. Kary and Alex had to pull me though I did pull in some sections, it was not very fast – around 13-17. Though the tough climbing was over, there were still mini rollers  and some gravel road sections along with chip seal. Normally we could do this pretty quick. Sections reminded me of the Crystal Mountain ride as you’re finishing going back into Enumclaw. Pretty much country road all the way until you hit highway 12. But I was sore and this section was just a grind. I’d look at the computer and see 87 then I’d look up and then look back down and see 87.4 and do the same and see 87.7 Hmm – maybe I should have covered up the computer.

We finally made it to the finish at around 3:10PM for a total time of about 8:10. My bike computer showed 7:24:48 over a distance of 113.11 with about 15.2 avg. This was pretty fast for me since my average speed is usually 13 or so. My body really let me know it was fast and it still is letting me know. I hope you enjoyed this post.

I can't even stand straight.