When I first signed up for the bicycle climb of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, I wasn't sure I could complete 5,000 feet in elevation gain in five hours. Painful memories of my two attempts on Pikes Peak haunt me still. I'm just too slow for timed events.
This one might be different, though, I tried to convince myself. This one featured breathable oxygen, a luxury compared to our air-starved high altitude peaks. Perhaps that one simple ingredient might allow me to achieve something incredible. Perhaps Ride the Hurricane would provide the motivation I need to see me through a year of training for what I hope is a successful ascent of Pikes Peak in September of 2015.
Only 400 feet high on Lavender high points, but look how many times we went up and down and up and down!!!
After completing the surprisingly hilly Tour de Lavender the day before, my self-confidence took yet another hit. I bonked toward the end of the Tour, perhaps because I was more interested in taking photos than staying hydrated. I had assumed the Tour would be a super simple ride, which it mostly was, but I didn't hydrate or fuel properly. I hadn't expected any difficulty whatsoever. I'd mistakenly assumed the 71 miles from Sequim to the Elwha River and back would be flat and a piece of cake, but I hadn't done that many miles in a single sitting since the MS-150 in June. Life's deadlines and obligations had prevented me from maintaining the cheery and optimistic level of fitness I'd reached by the Day 2 finish line last June.
I was so exhausted after the end of the Tour de Lavender, I wasn't sure I'd be able to ride at all the following day, much less complete the biggest single-day climb I've done in years.
my Tour de Lavender mileage profile
When the alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. on August 3, adrenaline surged. I wanted to complete this climb, and I wanted to do it in the allotted time.
After dropping The Lizard off at the designated starting point in Port Angeles, I opted for the shorter ride option, from the Olympic National Park entry gate. Those of us who started from higher up affectionately referred to our start line as the "wimpy starting point," yet 4,000 feet in elevation gain in five hours or less is still a mighty demanding expectation.
During the drive up to the gate, I passed approximately 100 cyclists already on their way up the mountain. The gate would not open until 7, regardless of what time the hoard of cyclists arrived. The Lizard would have no problem whatsoever scaling this beast and didn't have to worry about being stopped before reaching his goal. I admired all these early bird cyclists who apparently were as worried about the allotted time as me.
As I unloaded my bike and prepared for what I expected could be a very chilly descent at the end of the climb, I did something I never thought I would do. I decided not to take my camera. I wanted to give myself the best chance for success I could, and as The Lizard always reminds me, extra weight slows you down. Mountain climbers saw the handle off their toothbrush to lighten their load. My little Nikon weighs a bit more than a toothbrush, but it is not heavy, in my opinion. Carrying it along, however, would offer far too many temptations to stop and shoot instead of climb, climb, climb for 13 miles. Too many opportunities to fail:
"Oh, these flowers are much prettier than climbing another nine miles."
"Oh, this mama deer and her little fawn are much more interesting than two more gallons of sweat."
"Oh, these drummers are much more fun than the final mile of muscle, determination and willpower."
I would have my iPhone, which I use to record miles rolled, elevation achieved and calories burned, and I could use that for photos if I absolutely had to shoot.
I regretted not having a real camera several times along the way as I pedaled through a clear, sunny rain forest, the first time I've ever been on Hurricane Ridge and been able to enjoy a fogless view. Yet, I knew in my heart, the real camera would have slowed me down, one way or another, if I'd carried it.
Instead, I carried my rain jacket, which when rolled up snugly, takes up an entire pocket on the back of my jersey and presses against the incision scar on my back, an often overpowering sensation that sometimes defeats the best of ambition when I'm attempting to challenge myself. The rain jacket could be more important than any camera, should the weather change. I also carried my standard portable calories that have served me well during Ride the Rockies and other challenging rides that don't always offer food to which my digestive tract is accustomed. I had no clue what kinds of food and beverage would be available at the four stops along Hurricane Ridge, and I wanted to make sure my body had what it needed to complete the chore.
I took along a Hammer chocolate coconut bar, Honey Stinger organic energy chews and a raspberry RJ licorice log. My bottles were filled with pure, clean water.
Rest stops offered orange slices, bananas, bagels, PBJ, slices of banana bread, water and orange Gatorade. I enjoyed rest stop fruit at each stop, and I never got into my own food stash. I refilled one water bottle at each stop. (I drank one whole bottle of water between each rest stop! I hydrated properly!)
At the closed gate, about 20 more cyclists were waiting for the 7 a.m. opening. By the time the park ranger let us go about two minutes early, about 20 more cyclists had completed the first leg of the much steeper climb than I would be facing ahead.
As we rolled into Olympic National Park, one passing cyclist assured us the grade never reaches above 2%. My confidence soared! I could do that! I might make it to the top!
An hour later, The Lizard caught me, as jovial as always. He remarked how steep that first section was and told me how glad he was I skipped that part.
He asked if I'd passed anyone. He always knows how to make me laugh.
No, I would not pass a single soul this entire ride, and I would be passed hundreds of times. But slow and steady, I would reach the top. I promised him I would not give up.
Then he was off, into the cloudless sky, climbing seemingly effortlessly and passing all the cyclists still in view who had already passed me. This ride was not a race, but to some riders, such as The Lizard, the personal goal was to climb as fast as possible. Some would be trying to break their own records. Some wanted to be first. Some, such as The Lizard, wanted to see just how fast they could climb this baby.
I managed to make it all the way to the third tunnel without iPhone music to inspire my cadence. I hadn't planned to use the music at all, instead conserving the iPhone's energy for Cyclemeter and photos, especially since I expected not to have much GPS signal inside a national park. As I entered the third tunnel, yet another passing cyclist protested with bravado tunnel echo, "We have no horns to honk!" So I couldn't resist. My new iPhone case, the Goal Zero Rock Out portable stereo, allows me to turn on my music, fast forward, rewind and pause without opening the case to access the phone!!!
The iPhone is set to shuffle my climbing list. David Garret's take on "Mission Impossible" immediately filled the tunnel, and passing riders commented, "What a perfect song!"
I didn't HAVE to get into the case to fiddle with iPhone controls, but I did decide a tunnel photo was worth a tiny rest stop.
The rest of this climb was powered by different motivational tunes than have harnessed my fortitude in the past. Another version of "Mission Impossible," this one by The Piano Guys and Lindsey Stirling, garnered more compliments from passing cyclists later in the climb. Gary Wright's "Love is Alive" provided the opportunity to rewrite lyrics as I pedaled.
"...My legs are alive,
My soul's like two wheels still turning,
My legs are alive, my legs are alive,
Yeah, yeah, yeah..."
And then, the pièce de résistance, "Air That I Breathe" by the Hollies...
"...Sometimes all I need
Is the air that I breathe
Just to climb you..."
Air, sweet air! I reached the third rest stop and found a sign that boosted my morale and another sign that cracked me up more than ever.
Oh, I could make this climb! I was almost there! I could do it!
Laughter filled my soul as I mounted the bicycle one more time and began pedaling ever upward. I noticed some of the riders I'd passed earlier during the drive to the gate had not passed me yet. Other cyclists might have my same slow pace! For some reason, this empowered me. I would not be last! I would not be cut off!
Even though I had air, I was climbing well and I was feeling good, the strenuous exercise did begin to get to me. I had to stop before the next rest stop. Then I had to stop again. And then I had to stop yet again. Three times between the third and final rest stop! The nice thing was it didn't take my lungs long to recover at that altitude. I was still lower than my house in Colorado. My lungs filled quickly, and I was pedaling quickly again after each unplanned rest stop.
my Ride the Hurricane elevation and speed profile
Soon I could hear drums; the valley echoed with the beat of world music-type percussion, and I turned off my iPhone music. I stopped one more time to snap a photo of the drummers, and they told me I was a mile from the top!
One! More! Mile! I! Would! Make! It!!!
Two hours and forty minutes into my climb, I spied The Lizard, camera in hand, ready to welcome me to the summit!
The visitor center had run out of chocolate milk but still had plenty of hummus. The crackers didn't appeal to me, so I grabbed a couple of baby carrots to dip, then devoured the rest of my little container using my finger as a spoon. I made my way to the gift shop below to buy my own chocolate milk, but before I could reach the register, The Lizard found me again and handed me a cup of the free chocolate milk from upstairs. They'd replenished the well!
I sipped on the chocolate milk, then stepped back outside for summit photos with my favorite cyclist. Then it was time to bundle up in that handy rain jacket for a smooth 13-mile downhill cruise.
During that blazing downhill, I realized some of those grades were slightly more than 2%. The Lizard said some of them were 4% and 5%. The very happy thing is that I didn't notice the increase in grade as I was going up, probably due to the plethora of oxygen available. Nevertheless, I climbed those grades as well as the slight grades. That's a real improvement for me!
Then, after we returned back to Colorado, we learned The Hurricane is the longest sustained climb in Washington and revered as the biggest climb in the state. !!! Topping even Mount Rainier. !!! I'VE DONE THE BIGGEST CLIMB IN WASHINGTON!!!!!!!!!!
I hope the feeling I felt upon reaching the summit of Hurricane Ridge (and seeing the surrounding peaks for the first time!) will match my feeling next year on Pikes Peak. I made it! I set a goal, and I accomplished it!
I earned this vest! It came with the ride, but I earned it!