Sunday, June 24, 2007

Tour de What a Blast

Saturday, June 23— Our adventure began the night before. Bryant, Kristin, Warren, Rick, Jim and I met at Eastside Foursquare Church, loaded our bikes and then ourselves for the drive to Castle Rock. The next day, we planned to arise early and begin our trek to the "top" of Mount St. Helen's for the Tour de Blast, a bike ride up the face of the Northwest's active volcanic peak in the Cascade mountain range. Traffic was slow and awful at times, but we reached Olympia for a fine pizza or pasta-loading dinner at Dirty Dave's Pizza and Pasta. Our accommodations in Castle Rock were spacious yet sparse. But we weren't here for entertainment. It was time for sleep. Morning would come early and we would be on our bikes for most of the next day.

Breakfast at the restaurant near the hotel filled us well. We were puzzled why one weary server alone was trying to meet the demands of booth after booth of TdB cyclists. Shortly thereafter, the patrons began filling the void by serving each other coffee.

Our starting line was Toutle Lake High School, about 10 miles from I-5 on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway and at 500 ft. above sea level. The route is an out-and-back 41 miles to Johnston Ridge Observatory, 82 miles total. The elevation gain is posted as 6,240 feet, but we calculated a bit more. There are three significant climbs. The first is Elk Rock Summit which is 3,800 ft. at mile 27. From there, we drop down to 2,530 ft. at Coldwater Creek and then begin the 6 or 7 mile climb up to Johnston Ridge at 4,200 ft. On the return trip, we climb from Coldwater Creek back up to Elk Rock followed by a long and thrilling descent that lasts forever on the return to Toutle H.S.

The weather began sunny yet cool. Last year, the temps were well into the 80s, so a few of us were prepared for heat, though the day would never get warmer than 65 it seemed. In fact, I have never dressed and undressed on a ride as much as I had this day. It went like this. Clouds are coming in, it's getting cooler. Stop the bike. Put on a jacket and gloves. Beginning the climb to Elk Rock, take off the jacket, take off the arm warmers, take off the gloves. Reach the summit. It's cold up here, put on the jacket. Ready to descend, put on the arm warmers, put on the gloves, put on the vest underneath the jacket. Descend. Stop the bike. Take off the jacket. Take off the gloves. Ride. Time to climb again. Take off the arm warmers. Unzip the vest. Reach the summit. Repeat.

In fact, at the rest stop at Elk Rock, it was cold enough that the good people staffing the stop had prepared a firepit surrounded by camp chairs. Not too many June rides feature a fire pit. It was a nice touch. But, we didn't linger too long around the flames. We had some burning of our own to do, namely the remaining 14 miles to the top of Johnston Ridge.

The descent down to Coldwater Creek was fast and refreshing after the long climb up. But, as mentioned, it was cold. We past just as many riders who were already returning from the summit and on their way back to the finish. I could tell that the descent from Johnston Ridge was going to fast and fun. But first, the climb up. This was my third year riding TdB and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this climb wasn't as hard as I remember it. That might be due to improved fitness, or it could be that I just had fashioned a memory in my head that was so painful and long that the actual experience fell short of how I recalled it. Cyclists' psychological trick #47. "Prepare for and expect the impossibly hard. Be pleasantly suprised when it's slightly easier."

At the summit, all of us—except for Rick, who had already descended—met up for a group photo and to recall the climb and comment that the food was far more plentiful than last year. Now it was time for the payoff. After all that climbing, now we get the freebie... the descent that will carry us as fast as we want for the next 7 miles. Bryant S. deserve credit for getting the most out of his descents. He clocked 50 mph that day. Crazy.

The hardest portion of the ride for me was the long, very long, climb back up to Elk Rock from Coldwater Creek. It seemed to go on forever. Not particularly steep, just long. Bryant had counted the bridges, so he had a good idea of where he was and where he still had to go. I found myself thinking "Okay, just around this corner... Crap. More climbing." (It's a thought that comes far too often during these summer rides.) Finally, I made it to Elk Rock, certain that the rest of the group was way ahead. Only Jim, who arrived right after me, and Bryant were still with me. Jim and I began the crazy descent from Elk Rock that felt like it wouldn't end. We pedaled like madmen and just kept descending. When we finally flattened out, Bryant joined us (no doubt descending at 50 mph again). The three of us formed a rotating paceline and covered the last 15 miles to the finish despite a nasty headwind. I was grateful for the teamwork and especially for two riders who cast a fairly significant "wind shadow."

Our reward for the ride was a great spaghetti feed, hot shower, and a comfortable ride back home. Our 82 miles was behind us and now we were mentally preparing for the next big ride. Tour de Blast was a blast. Afterall, it's not every day you get to ride your bike up the face of an active, steam-spewing volcano.

Dist: 84.59
Time: 6:29:59
Avg: 12.0
Max: 38.4
Total Ascent: 7,578 ft.
Max. Elev: 4,203 ft.
Riders: Bob H., Warren, Kristin, Bryant, Jim, Cary, Gary, Rick S.

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