ride 542 Mt. Baker Hill Climb ride report

Wed, 2009-09-16 23:05

On Sunday (September 13), I rode the Mt. Baker Hill Climb (Ride 542) with my friend Les and about 800 other people. It was a good time.

On Saturday, Les, his wife, his daughter, and me and Jenni drove up to Glacier (Washington) in the afternoon. Les and his wife have a friend who owns a "cabin" (i.e., house) in Glacier, a short ride's distance from the start line. On the way to the cabin, we stopped for dinner at Il Caffe in Deming. I was shocked at the goodness of this little restaurant. Out in the middle of nowhere, on route 542, it had a nicely sophisticated menu and was a happy relief for me, as I was expecting the best we'd do for food was a Denny's type of place. I recommend Il Caffe to anyone heading to this area.

The cabin was great, with plenty of room for us. I didn't sleep very well, though: I was nervous about the climb. I probably got 5-7 hours of sleep; not bad, but I prefer 8 to 10.

In the morning, I got up at 6 and took a pill I have to take 30 minutes before breakfast, and then snoozed for half an hour, finally rising for good at 6:30. I breakfasted on my usual two packets of oatmeal, scoop of whey powder, walnuts and a banana. Then it was time to get dressed and go. Les and I were both wearing our Husky Cycling team kits (lots of purple). It was pretty chilly riding to the start, probably in the low 50s. I was wearing shorts and a jersey, to which I added arm warmers and a thin vest. I took the vest off just before the start, but kept the arm warmers on all the way to the top, though I pushed them down to my wrists when it got a bit warm a few kms from the top.

The ride to the start was pleasant. We left at 7:15. Les's start time was 8:00, but needed to be at the start area by 7:45. It took 15 or 20 minutes to get to the start area in what seemed to be "downtown" Glacier: a few buildings on either side of route 542.

There were many, many cyclists at the start when we arrived, and Les soon took his place for the pre-ride announcements (which primarily were about letting us know that the road was not really closed, due to the inability to control the many little forest roads). Les's group (the "recreational" group) then moved a quarter mile up the road (in the opposite direction of the ride) to the official start line, and then they were off.

Fifteen minutes later, my group ("recreational fast") repeated the drill: pre-ride announcement, move to start line, go. The ride started pretty fast, with a short downhill out of the start area, but soon there was an easy climb for a few km that slowed everyone down nicely. This was followed by a fairly screaming downhill, at which I must have hit my maximum speed for the day (58 km/h). I found that I was riding faster on the downhills than many, but it was hard to stay on anyone's wheel, so I was working a little harder than I probably should have been.

Soon enough, we got to what's known as Powerhouse Hill (or just "the Powerhouse"), an early bit of climbing which was surprisingly steep and long: the course profile says 3.2 km at 6.6%. This knocked me down a few pegs, and I lowered my effort a bit to make sure I didn't blow up and just peter out.

I frankly don't remember much from the top of the Powerhouse to the DOT station about 22km in, where the real climb starts. I guess I must have been moving pretty well if I can't remember it. I do know that I covered the first 20 km in 50 minutes, which I was quite happy with. The whole ride is 40 km, and I figured if I could do the first 20km in 1 hour, and then the second in 1.5 hours, I'd finish in 2.5 hours which was my rough target time. (The "fast recreational" category was for those who expected times between 1:45 and 2:45, so I really wanted to do under 2:45, and figured I'd shoot for 2:30 to be on the safe side of that.)

Round about the DOT station, I started getting into a rhythm; every five minutes I'd get out of the saddle and do a quick stretch and drink a swig of water. Every 20 minutes I took a shot from my homemade gel in my gel flask: the "gel" is actually about 45% brown rice syrup, 45% honey, 10% molasses, with some water and a tiny bit of vanilla flavoring. I've been using this on longer rides recently, and it seems to work well. This is all I ate on the ride and it did the job.

I mostly just plugged away from the DOT on. I was surprised that my speed was so low, though: I was right around 11.7 to 12 km/h for a long chunk of the climb. Since the grade is listed on the profile as 5.7%, I figured I'd be about to maintain more like 14 or 15 km/h. I'm not sure what the problem was: too hard at the base? fear of blowing up? altitude? In any case, I maintained that speed really constantly for a long way, until about 3 km from the finish, when I knew I was going to make it, and make it with a better time than I'd expected. The last 1.5 km or so was terrific: I felt really good, and did a lot out of the saddle, passing a bunch of people (though they were mostly rec or "summit" riders who looked like they were having a hard time of it, but still...). The views near the finish are amazing, and there were people cheering riders on for the last few hundred meters, which was great.

My official time was 2:19:18. All things considered, I think I could shoot for 2:10 next time. I think
I may have ridden too cautiously, considering how good I felt near the finish.

It was nice to not be passed by any of the "competitive" riders, who started finishing not long after I did (they started an hour after I did). If I had ridden in the competitive wave, and ridden the same time, I would have finished dead last, but only just.

Les finished a while after I did. His time was 3:20:40, but he had his saddle pain problem which required him to take a break on the climb. I talked to Kent (who also rides with the Husky team) at
the summit: he finished in an amazing 1:41:40. Ben, also from the team, road a 1:32:56 (his father road, too: 1:45:19!). So many fast people!

I'm a little surprised that I'm so slow. I worked really hard this year, not specifically for this climb, but in general riding, and I think I'm stronger than I have ever been, or at least stronger than I've been in at least ten years. I think I must be limited by my weird aortic valve, and, perhaps more significantly, by my cardiac medications, which keep my heart rate down. I think this must be limiting my aerobic capacity. But, I guess I just have to work with what I've got, and I certainly had a good time, and felt very happy with my result.

I road my Independent Fabrication Club Racer. I have a triple crank, with a very small 24 tooth
inner chainring, and I was on that exclusively from the DOT station on. I managed to spin the whole
way, cadence around 90 rpm, often higher, except for a few attempts at acceleration near the top. (Thinking ahead to future climbs, I could lighten my bike a bit: I could definitely get lighter wheels, and I carry a lot in my saddle bag, and I could work on losing five pounds or so of body weight: it might be interesting to see the effect of such improvements.)

Instead of riding back down, Jenni, Les' wife and daughter drove up and picked us up. Les had difficulty on long descents due to some issues with his wrists and braking. I'd like to descend some time: it surely looks like a fun one.

I'm hesitant to say I want to do it next year. Except for trying to beat my time, I'm not sure there is much attraction there for me. I mostly feel like it's a ride I've checked off, and although the view from the summit is fantastic, a lot of the climb is on a road with dense forest on both sides, so there is little view, and there aren't many switchbacks to make things interesting. I'll have to see how I feel next summer.