Since 2008, when I bought the first bike, there has always been a big summer ride. The first was the Seattle to Portland, but there have been many others. I sign up for them because I enjoy them, I see new places, and, most importantly, it makes me get out and ride to train for them. Once I pay for something, I am damn well going to do it. And the only way I can be sure to finish is to get the miles under my belt.
Yesterday was this year’s ride! The Tour de Blast. Riding from Toutle High School to the Johnston Ridge Mt St Helens observatory and back. Yep, once again, a ride involving SERIOUS hills…
This is the route map from the web site. It is 42 miles to the high point, then you turn around and come back…
This works out to be 84 miles round trip and over 6000 feet of climbing… OK no one ever said I was a smart man!
The initial plan was to leave work at noon Friday and drive to Castle Rock, but as we know, best laid plans….
Work conspired to keep me there until 2! The perfect storm to get me stuck in Friday rush hour traffic south of Seattle…
As expected, from Federal Way to Olympia I could have ridden the bike faster than I was driving. But, I was in no hurry. I had the CD player belting out Jimmy Buffett, ZZ Top, and a favorite 80s rock mix, I was in a good mood. I pulled into the hotel at 5.
On rides like this, I really like driving the route first. On long climbs it lets me know where the top is and can keep me motivated. So as soon as I unloaded the car, I was on the run!
The drive started out interesting, as I had to avoid 2 deer and one VERY low flying red tail hawk! Made for more excitement than stop and go traffic!
The weather has not been stellar this week, and the clouds were low during the drive. More than once I was in some of the thickest fog I have ever seen. Needless to say, there wasn’t much to look at aside from the road lines (I needed them to stay ON the road! )
When I got to the top, the Mountain was nowhere to be seen!
It should have been somewhere behind me!
I drove back down toward the hotel, having learned that Mile marker 37 was the key to this ride! (more later)
I treated myself to a bison burger, GREAT fries and a local IPA
I REALLY wanted to steal the pint glass! But I refrained.
Then the server told me he had a killer mountain berry cobbler!! Yes I was full at the end!
The next morning dawned, cloudy and dry, and I was in line early to get my bib. They wouldn’t let us start until 6:30, but at the stroke I was rolling!
Five miles in, I knew I wanted to catch some video. So just before hand I hit the GoPro button and… NUTHIN!!! Some dumbass, (ok me) forgot the put in the SD card…. There were 2 options, keep going and just take pictures normally, or turn around. Yeah, I kept going! (I was mad for a mile, but it was too pretty to stay mad!)
For those who don’t know, this area is known as Bigfoot country!
I was wondering how many people took the camping option knowing Sasquatch might show up… I kept an eye peeled, but never saw him!
Without the GoPro I made sure to stop a few times along the way so I could share what I saw.
The first 20 miles were steady but easy increases in elevation. Lots of talking between riders and checking things out. But 20 miles took us to Mile Marker 30. Which is this bridge!
Remember when I mentioned Mile Marker 37? Well this bridge started the long 7 mile climb to the top of the hill! I geared down and pointed my nose up, OK I am going to brag here, I had more than one person who got in behind me to try to keep my pace. Each one dropped off. I am NOT fast, but I am steady.
I did have to dodge one rider who stopped dead in front of me to take a picture of a very big banana slug….
After the better part of an hour, I made the top and the first thing I saw was
YES! My fellow Cougs were there grilling hotdogs!! I LOVE a good hotdog on a ride!!! It hit the spot! I also took the opportunity for these pictures.
Immediately after leaving this food stop we started a 9 mile descent!!! YES!!! Except, in the back of my mind was that voice saying “Remember we will be climbing back UP this same 9 miles!” UGH, but that is later!
I was bombing down the hill, and I may or may not have been singing (as I do on fun descents) when I came across a rare event. Yes a view so good it stops me in the middle of an epic downhill. The mountain was out!
After the night before, I knew there was a chance there’d be no view on top, so I didn’t want to waste this opportunity!
Afterwards I continued to the fun ride to the bottom, loved it!
But then, of course, was the climb up to the highest point of the ride, the Johnston ridge! Six miles of an even steeper ride! Now, I know me. After this climb, I would be loving the descent. I also knew that by then I would be tired and there was NO way I would stop for anything on the way down. So on the way up, I stopped for pictures!
On this climb, there was no one on my tire. Sometimes I passed people, others I was passed. It was a heads down, legs burning, keep yourself moving climb. Not a lot of extra breath available for talking. This hill gained my attention!! I was very happy and very tired when I got to the top!
This was the same spot I was at the night before with the foggy pictures. I was happy I had stopped earlier for the better shot. However, there was still some cool stuff to see!
I LOVE riding into the mountains! Nowhere else can you see so many different things. St Helens just adds an extra aspect.
The downhill was 5+ miles of not touching the pedals or the brakes! As I descended I saw all of the riders still cranking UP the hill. I was wondering if I had looked as miserable as some of them did!
Then the 9 mile climb….
I won’t try to tell you it was easy, but I honestly expected it to be worse. I was ticking off the mile markers and counting down to Mile Marker 37! Two things awaited me there, more hot dogs and the last of the big climbs! From that point on, it was a downward trend back to the starting line. With the first descent being a 7 mile plunge! Honestly I am not sure which I was looking forward to more!
As I climbed, I started noticing every mile or so another person with a flat! The chip seal road was taking its toll! Luckily I made it!
At the top, I had 2 hot dogs and found out you could see the mountain from there as well!
The picture of route on top makes it look like it is ALL downhill from mile 37. It isn’t. But, with a bit of a tailwind and a LOT of downhill, it was a fast 27 miles. Near the end, I was getting tired and winds shifted. So with head down I cranked out the last 5 miles. The head was so far down I rode past the turn to the finish line!
All in all a great ride! The views, food and people made it fun. If it were closer to home I’d for sure do this again, but it tool longer driving home Saturday than driving down!
Best line of the ride, a guy behind me as we climbed to the turn around point said, “The experience of a ride like this is the best participation award.” You know, he aint wrong!