Monday, May 25, 2009

"7 Hills of Kirkland" - or - "How do you fit a Century in a Day?"

This is the benchmark ride. This is the ride that will determine if the training has been sufficient. This is the ride that tells me if I'm ready for 3800 miles over 52 days. It's the 7 Hills of Kirkland. One hundred miles of cycling over some of the toughest hills in Kirkland, Bothell, Redmond, and Duvall.

We began our day at the Kirkland Marina at 8:00 a.m. where I met up with Kristin and Bob, my riding partners for the day. I was also joined by Jay, who was riding with me for just an hour or two, and Brenda and Dale, who were taking the shorter 62-mile route. The morning was cold, but clear, and it looked to be a great day of riding.

After registering, getting our map, and praying with my friends, we headed north up Market Street Hill (210 ft.) There's no delay in getting to our first hill. It's right out of the gate and we're climbing. I chatted with Bob all the way up the hill, not really noticing the climb. That was a good sign.

We continued over Juanita Hill (285 ft.) and the harder Seminary Hill (455 ft.). It was on Seminary Hill that Bob joked with Dale that this was the hill that would make him reconsider the friends he had chosen... Cyclists that do hills like these. Jay was breathing hard as we climbed. I was breathing good and able to carry on a conversation. Another good sign.

The downhill into Kenmore is a fast one and the breeze felt good. The morning was warming up fast and so were we. Next, we climbed up the north side of Norway Hill (475 ft.) which is the tallest hill on the Eastside until we reached Redmond. At the bottom of Norway Hill, Jay departed and the rest of us continued on. We were just under 15 miles and had a full day ahead of us.

Our next hill to climb was Kingsgate (412 ft.) which led us right to the first rest stop of the day. Bob and I were riding together and we rejoined Kristin. Our stop was very brief. We rolled through the Kingsgate neighborhood and down the exhilarating descent on Brickyard Road. The downhills are hard-earned on this ride. We were about to pay up.

Winery Hill (390 ft.) is not highest, but it has to be the steepest. The grade is 14% in some places. As we turned up the incline, we made sure we dropped into our easiest gear. Breathing increased. Conversation abated. Climbing ensued. At the top of Winery Hill is an unusual sight. But you hear it long before you see it. A lone bagpiper is there every year playing his pipes while all the cyclists roll by.

Now we had a few miles of flat until we had to climb again. Education Hill (410 ft.) took us into Redmond. The day was now warm enough to remove vests and arm warmers. I was beginning to rethink wearing the over-the-knee knickers. They felt great at 8 a.m. but now two and half hours later, they weren't necessary. At least I had on a sleeveless jersey to keep me cool.

Bob D. and I spent the next handful of miles together chatting about my upcoming cross-country ride, his summer challenge on the Death Ride, and about our wives and families. I like good conversation during a long ride. It makes the miles go by more quickly, but moreover, it builds up friendships. Some of my best friendships have formed on cycling rides.

We were now climbing Union Hill (636 ft.) and had reached the Century / Metric Century cut-off. A Century is a 100-mile ride. A Metric Century is a 100-kilometer (62-mile) ride. If we turn left, we're committed to 60 more miles of riding. If we turn right, we reduce our remaining distance to just 22 miles. We turned left.

We reached our second food stop in the Carnation Valley, rejoined Kristin a second time, and enjoyed cold water, peanut butter and bagels, and oranges. Getting back on the bikes, we rode through Carnation and then towards Duvall. It was a beautiful day in the Carnation Valley. I've ridden this route so many times and yet I never tire of it. But the sightseeing had to be put on hold. It was time to climb Stillwater Hill (320 ft.). Stillwater is a long slog that never really ends. We had a headwind and very slight uphill all the way around Duvall until we were nearly at 60 miles and ready for our third food stop.

The halfway mark had been met and at mile 59.2 we stopped for more water, a small sandwich, and plenty of cookies. The heat was cooking now. But I didn't mind. I was feeling good and still had plenty of energy left for the remaining 40 miles. Our route took us over the Snohomish River valley and then north towards High Bridge Hill (291 ft.) The rolling rural roads run past farms, country homes, and wooded land. We turned south up Fales Road and I realized we were getting down to the last quarter of this thing. I think it's in the bag.

We now had to climb Maltby Hill (471 ft.), ride through the Woodinville Valley and then climb Education Hill a second time to reach our fourth and final food stop. I had been gapped by Bob and Kristin for a few miles and when I pulled into the rest stop, they were pulling out. I decided I needed a restroom and water more than my cycling companions so I chose to stop.

Now I was really regretting wearing these knickers. It wasn't unbearable, but it was definitely too warm for the 80 degrees I was riding in. I was back in Redmond riding through suburban neighborhoods now. The end was in sight. I climbed one last hill, Rose Hill ( 525 ft.), and was now in the home stretch with just 10 miles to go.

As I rolled back into Kirkland, I found Bob and Kristin who had finished just a few minutes ahead of me. We enjoyed the traditional 7 Hills strawberry shortcake and sat in the sun talking about the ride. I remarked how good I felt. I've done this ride before and after 100 miles, I usually have felt sapped. Not today. Today I felt good. Bob noticed and remarked about my upcoming cross-country ride, "Well, Bob, I think you're gonna do fine."

I think so, too.

Riders: Bob D., Bob H., Kristin
Dist: 101.14
Time: 6:45:26
Avg: 14.9
Max: 40.0
Elev Gained: 5896 ft.
Max Elev: 718 ft.
Avg Climb: 3%
Max Climb: 14%

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