Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ride Report: Mountain Top Cycling Club Experience Ride

When you ride a Century, there's a lot of story to tell. Hence, this may end up being a bit of a long post. However, I think it's a pretty good story. Unlike a triathlon race report, there's only one event here: a very long bike ride. Given it's length, I'm organizing it into multiple parts with plenty of pictures and maps along the way.

Part 1: Pre-ride
You'll note that I'm not calling this a race. I was out here merely to get it done with no real consideration for time, placement or any other achievement. Given not only the length, but also the difficulty, I think that was a good goal.

My day started at 4:30 in the morning since the town of Florissant is about 90 miles from my home. I was on the road at 4:45 and made good time, even after a stop at McDonald's. I was soon parked outside the local Grange hall and after saying hello to my brother who was riding with me, I was  ready to pick up my packet.

Not unlike a triathlon, this consisted of a number for my bike and bib for my jersey which went on the back. I had arrived with enough time to get everything ready including donning some cool weather clothing--it was still in the low 50* range when we started. Having never ridden this far and considering how hard the climbing was going to be, I was a little intimidated. It meant a less than confident look in this selfie:

All races have to do their preliminary announcements and this one was no different, but they kept it brief and in time we were on our way. 

Part 2: The "Warm-Up" and the Climb to the High Point

The first section of the race consisted of a steady but not overly steep climb toward the first aid station. We hit a couple of short sections where the grade hit 3% or so, but it was no big deal. The second half of this opening stretch had quite a bit of down hill too.

I stopped briefly at the first aid station to drop my jacket and gloves. It was still cool, so I kept my arm warmers on and then we proceeded to make the big climb into the old mining town of Cripple Creek. This was where the real work began. Sometimes things were not to hard with some flat sections and even the occasional down-sloping hill. Most of it, though, was hard climbing including a long section a 8% + grade and even some short sections at 9%. Our legs were still pretty fresh at this point so while not easy, conquering these hills was not overwhelming. Once we reached the top of a big hill, it was usually followed by a stretch of down which made for a good recovery.

Hitting the outskirts of Cripple Creek, we were immediately directed to a road that ran along the outside edge of the city. I'm told that the town is not particularly bike-friendly and that the local police have been known to wait for a cyclist to run a stop sign so they can ticket them. Probably just as well that we stayed off the main drag. Cripple Creek is one of three towns in Colorado with legalized gambling so I was also happy to avoid the casinos, even though I suspect they were not all that busy early on Saturday morning.

There was no aid station there so we made our way up the hill again toward the nearby town of Victor. Most of the modern-day mining operations are in this area so we got pretty good view of how a mountain in the area was being slowly taken down. Seriously, they were stripping it away, layer by layer. I have no idea if there includes a process to "put back" the tailing once the gold has been extracted from the ore. Fortunately, it was just the one (rather large) mountain. 

We crossed a high bridge (about 100 feet in my estimation) and then had to haul up a short but very steep hill before hitting the town limits. Victor is not home to any casinos so it kept some of the old, small town mining charm that you just can't get from a big parking garage or garish gambling hall. Of course, it was also much smaller. 

We stopped at the aid station here where I enjoyed a half peanut butter sandwich, a cookie and an orange wedge. Within five minutes, were underway again with another couple of big climbs that would see us to the high point on the course.

First was the climb out of town. This was only a couple of miles but the last half of that included hills that graded as high as 9% in a couple of sections. It was still cool and overcast, but with my arm warmers still on, I began to feel the sweat building. That was immediately relived when we cruised down into a valley ahead of the second hill. This was the view right before I started that descent:

You can see the bare mountain tops in the background. We were now approaching timberline. If you're not familiar with that term, it essentially is the point at which it is too high for trees to grow. In Colorado, that's somewhere between 9000 and 10000 feet above sea level.

The downhill was one of the steepest sections we had done to this point and brief glance down at my Garmin indicated that I was going 42 mph at one point. Then it was time to slow down make a left turn and begin another long climb.

It was not quite as steep as the climb that preceded it, but it was a bit longer--closer to three miles. We were on the back side of the mountain that was being taken down and there were huge dump trucks (the kind with 12 foot tires) dropping something like 25,000 tons of rocks back onto the mountain. Perhaps they really do rebuild it. 

Nearing the top of the hill, we reached the high point on the whole course, nearly 10,400 feet above the sea level. Looking toward the northwest, there was not a higher point around. It was like being on the roof of the world. I wish I could have gotten a picture, but I did not want to stop (I was headed down hill now) and trying to get the phone out of my back jersey pocket while working the breaks, negotiating a 9% downhill grade and steering didn't seem like the best of ideas. In truth, I don't think that a photo could really capture the magnificence. I grew up and have spent most of my life in Colorado, but I was still awestruck at what lay before me. You really have to experience it yourself to know what I mean.

After making my way back down to timberline, the road passed through a thick aspen grove that I found picture-worthy:

Shortly after this, we began a long, steep descent, back into Cripple Creek. It was taking us sometimes 12 or even 15 minutes to cover a mile before. The next couple went by in less than five. 

As soon as you hit the edge of town, you're greeted by a short but unbelievably steep hill. I measured this online and no joke, parts of it were 26% grade. Overall, this less than 0.1 mile section averaged 16%! I was out of the saddle swinging my bike from side to side doing my best just to keep moving forward and not fall over. It was that hard. Fortunately, after the crest, the downhill side was just a steep and I got a sustained rest.

Then it was back out of town and on the way to the second section of the race. Most of the way back was down and it gave my legs some time to recover, but it was still hard when the occasional climb presented itself. Back at the same aid station we passed earlier, I parted with my arm warmers and enjoyed a PBJ, some trail mix and an orange. I also refilled a water bottle since I had consumed about 1.5 bottles worth at this point. Here's the map of that first section:

Part 2: The Big Rollers on CR 11

We left the aid station and started rolling down toward what would become High Park Road/Teller County Road 11. The first section was fairly easy with a couple of small hills but a lot of easy downhill coasting which I managed in the middle ring of my road bike (tri bikes are definitely not advisable for this ride).

A t-intersection saw us moving to the left/south and southwest. The road here was mostly chip-seal which while not ideal, proved not to be too rough either. It was mostly uninterrupted by crack seals. Around five miles after the aid station, I encountered what I think was one of the toughest hills on the ride. It was one of only a handful of times I found myself out of my seat. I kept riding and riding hoping to crest it and even though the distance was only about a half mile, I was incredibly spent by the time I hit the top and then started cruising down hill again. It took several minutes to recover from that one.

Roughly 12 miles in, we hit a rest stop which my brother wisely suggested we use. He wanted to part with some of his warm clothing and he also noted that some really big climbs lay ahead. We spent a bit longer here which turned out to be wise. I had some more PB sandwich and oranges and again topped off my water. I was drinking to thirst and consuming a quite a bit, but the only time I actually had to stop and use the porta-potty was back in Victor.

We climbed out of the rest stop and the rest of the way on this section was one really big hill followed by another big down hill, a relatively flat section and then the same thing all over again. I don't know how many times we did this, but it felt like a lot. 

Here's the view near the crest of one of those hills.

You can see that there were some high clouds and the sun was out but filtered which mean that even though we had probably pushed into the low 70* range, heat was really not a factor. There had been a few head and cross-winds, but I hardly noticed. Another factor was that some hills were so steep, we were often in the lee of the wind!

The last section of this part of the ride was a fairly sustained downhill where I was cruising around the 30 mph range and resting my legs. A good thing, too. It was about to get rough. 

The section 2 map:

Part 3: The Long Hard Slog up Highway 9

As soon as you make the right turn from County Road 11 onto Colorado Highway 9, you see a sign indicating the town of Guffey is 14 miles away. Normally, 14 miles does not sound like all that much on a bike. However, I had done some fairly extensive map-study of the course and I knew that it also meant a lot of climbing. It totaled about 1480 of net gain which is as much as your find in some half iron man bike sections.

There was an aid station about two miles up the highway and it was preceded by a fairly flat section. I again refilled my water and had a couple of orange wedges. I also consumed some of my own nutrition in the from of a Honey Stinger waffle and it was pretty good.

Then it was time to start climbing. And climbing. And climbing some more. About 10 miles in, after a very long and sustained climb, we hit the first of two steep downhills where you could rack up more miles quickly. Of course, this also meant that you had to climb again immediately afterward.

After one last enjoyable downhill, it was time to climb a couple of miles into the tiny little town of Guffey. This would be the last rest stop before the meanest hill on the whole ride. I was very tired and sore at this point and upon resting a couple of times, I actually felt light headed for some reason. I had some pretzels, a PB sandwich, plenty of water and more oranges and even enjoyed a few minutes in a camp chair. Then it was time to go face the mountain. No, not this guy:

That would have been preferable.

Here's the Part 3 map:

Part 4: Hell Hill

Leaving Guffey, we went by a group of small cabins. They looked to small for a person and too big to be dog houses. There was a corrugated metal sign stating "No Trespass" without the "ing." In truth, they looked like the log cabin version of a crypt. Creepy. There's is something about small, high altitude towns that brings out the crazy hill billy in people. Back water swamps in Louisiana have nothing on us!

Putting that aside, it was time to face the big hill. The hill truly starts about a half mile after the aid station. It's just under 1.7 miles long and the average grade is 7.5%, but there are long sections of 9% and 10%. As I approached the first of these, I passed a guy walking his tri bike. I saw another guy ahead who had been walking but re-mounted and continued on before I caught him.

This is a case where the most you can do is just concentrate on going one more foot forward. I tried not to look up too often and just mashed my pedals in my lowest gear. Again, I had familiarized myself with the map and I knew the last and worst section was a question-mark like curve. Once the curve was done, the hill would be crested and I would have it topped. 

Once done, I won't say that it was easy. It was incredibly hard, but I had done some much climbing, there was a sense, of yeah, I've been doing this all day, so what? Nevertheless, I was glad to be done and on my way down for a long section.

Part 5: Finishing Up

For the next several miles, it was just down down down. Nothing especially steep, but the kind of section where you can stay at or near 20 mph with minimal pedaling. I did make a short stop at an aid station to top off my water and eat a couple more cookies which were quite good. Then it was back to Teller County Road 11, our big loop complete. The remainder would be a couple of hills that probably felt steeper than they really were due to fatigue and a lot of down hill.

Once we got back to Teller County Road 1, the same road on which we started, I just had to keep pedaling and get done as soon as I could. I wanted off that bike something terrible and focused on making as good of time as I could. There were a couple of short but steep hills in my way,and I keep watching the tenth of miles tick off. Soon, I could see the town of Florrisant and shortly thereafter, I was riding up to the Grange hall, happy to be done. Oh was I happy!

Part 6: Post Race

I was really wiped out for about 10 minutes after the race. I sat at a picnic table outside the Grange Hall, ate a brat, drank a sprite and finished off another water bottle. It took me a few minutes to get my bike, load it and then head down the hill. I had a clean t-shirt in the car, but I could muster the energy to change.

On the way down, my brother and I stopped at the Paradox Brewery in Woodland Park for a couple of bottles to go. I had my first pee since that morning in Victor despite consuming around 168 oz of water during the day. It just goes to show, it's no just the perspiration but the respiration that dries you out, especially in the high mountains.

There's a lot more I could say, but this has turned into a monster of a post that's taken around 90 minutes to write and illustrate. Suffice it to say that this was a well-organized, well-supported event that was challenging as it was rewarding. I'm pleased with my ability to have handled the hills. I also think this is fairly substantial proof that my coaches training philosophy of intensity over volume is a correct one. I don't know that I had very many more miles in me that day, but I accomplished the task without ever being concerned about my ability to finish.

Of all times, thanks for reading!