Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Climb Ev'ry Mountain!" with apologies to The Sound of Music

One of the toughest club rides we do is the "Issaquah Alps." This ride circumnavigates Cougar Mountain near Issaquah and includes three Cat 1 climbs. (Okay, I don't know if they would really qualify as Cat 1 climbs, but I like to pretend I'm contending for the polka dotted jersey when I'm on them!) The finale is "Zoo Hill" which is a solid three-mile winding climb past the Cougar Mountain Zoological Park. This was the bait that brought out today's contenders.

On this beautiful weekend, our group gathered at Eastside Church in Bothell, ready for a challenging day. We shared a short devotional and prayer, then hit the road. We had barely left the parking lot when David's bike emitted a loud "BANG!" We stopped to discover he had not merely blown a tube, he had a 4-inch gash in that tube! David started the stopwatch and changed his tube in record time. Warren rode back to the car and carried his floor pump over to David. Now, that's a cycling accessory... carry your floor pump with you and just tuck it in your jersey when you're done! Soon, we were riding south once again through Kirkland, Bellevue, and Newcastle. We turned east and began our first "breathing hard" climb to access May Valley Rd. This route along May Valley is on the south side of Cougar Mountain and is a fairly rural, rolling ride.

Our first warm-up climb is an up-and-back-down-again of 1000 ft. with portions that are a 16% grade! I told everyone this was an optional climb and they could wait at the bottom for our return. A few tentative faces looked around and someone muttered, "Are you going?" "Yes, I'm going up." I replied. Soon, the whole group acquiesced and each took the hill at their own pace with four of us summitting and enjoying the awesome view of Lake Washington. The ride back down is a screaming descent in which brake pads overheat and a stop sign greets us far too quickly.

We got back on May Valley Road heading east and took our first lengthy rest stop at Squak Mountain State Park for restrooms and rest. We took our group photo and upon reviewing the photo, I couldn't help but notice Tenille was standing a good three feet away from the rest of the guys! Here's the caption: "Stinky boys... I'll stand over here!"

Johnny had to leave our group after the rest stop and miss the most exciting climbs to come. We turned north on Issaquah-Hobart road and picked up our speed. It's a heavily travelled road, but it's fairly flat and straight and good for pacelining. I let Warren take the lead, tucked in behind him, and we cruised into Issaquah. At about this point, a few of the guys who had ridden this route before began to moan and groan. They knew where I was taking them. I turned left into a residential area that features two very short but severe climbs. More warm up. I grinned. "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" I thought to myself. But, the truth is that whatever doesn't kill you just wears you down so that the next thing will... That would be Zoo Hill.

After those intense neighborhood climbs, we dropped back down into Issaquah and stopped at a neighborhood ballfield for water. Then it was west toward "Zoo." This is the hill that defines you. It proves what you're made of. It separates the men from the boys, the cyclists from the bike riders, the athletes from the hobbyists, and... the sick and twisted from those who know better.

As we geared down and turned up the climb, I pulled out my iPhone. My fellow riders needed some encouragement. And I found the song I was looking for to do just the trick. I turned up the volume, popped the iPhone in my rear jersey pocket and passed my friends while playing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" from the Sound of Music. Warren sneared. Tenille laughed. Jim and Dave largely ignored me. I smiled. This was a great climb!

I reached the top, pulled out my camera and waited for my friends not far behind to capture them as the crested the summit. Jim and David were next, followed closely by Warren and then Tenille. Everyone made it up! Now, it was time for a sweet, screaming descent to Factoria for Starbucks!

We relaxed in the mid-afternoon sun enjoying our iced lattes and mochas and congratulating each other on an intense ride. All we had to do now was enjoy the last 12 miles back to EFC and call it a day. Zoo Hill had not defeated us. Perhaps reminded us we were human--mere mortals--but we had climbed that mountain. At that was sweet music, indeed.

View a few more photos of our ride at:

Riders: Bob H, Warren, Jim, David, Tenille
Dist: 56.2
Time: 4:26:39
Avg: 13.2
Elev Gained: 4410 ft.
Max Elev: 1271 ft.
Avg Climb: 5%
Max Climb: 16%

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