2017 was my second year of cycling and I decided to fully devote my spring and summer to trying out new disciplines of cycling. With that in mind I signed up for High Pass Challenge as a way to experience a competitive Gran Fondo. High Pass Challenge features an out and back course that starts in Packwood then climbs over independence pass before turning at the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. In total the ride climbs 7400 feet in 102 miles. The event is also timed and riders are awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals based on their arrival time at the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. My goal for the ride was to race it and put in the best effort I could.
The day started early as I left my house at in hopes of getting to Packwood by . I wanted to give myself plenty of time to get ready for the start. The drive went a little too quickly and I got there at . With extra time and nothing to do I decided to pull out my lawn chair and watch the riders coming in. I quickly realized that there were some very good riders at the event. The majority of the riders were sporting their race kits and the guy parked next to me was a retired pro rider. Needless to say I felt a little out of my depth but I decided to stick with my original goals.
The ride started fast and I mean FAST! We were flying down Hwy 12 at speeds between 25-28 MPH. Unfortunately, I lined up too far back at the start and had some work to do to get back near the front. Luckily there were several others that made similar mistakes and I was able to ride their wheels back to the front without wasting too much energy. By the time we turned onto Forest Service Road 25 I was positioned in the front 30 riders. Holding my position was difficult as other riders were constantly looking to move up. It had the feeling of a race near the front.
The ride exploded on the first climb of the day. It’s a 1.2 mile climb that averages 6% but starts gradients above 10%. Most of the riders attacked this climb like it was the only climb of the day. Not wanting to get dropped, I burnt my first match of the day and put down a 300+ watt effort for a 6 minute climb. Unfortunately, this left me in no mans land as the leading group of riders was a good 20 seconds in front of me and everyone else was scattered. When we got back to a flat section I tried to bridge up to the leading group but quickly realized that it would take too much to reach them. I decided to hold my position and hope a chase group would form. To my luck about 5 minutes later a group of 8 riders came by and and I jumped on. This group worked together and we were able to rejoin the leaders after a few miles.
The group stayed together until we passed the Iron Creek Campground and started the 13 mile, 2800 foot climb to the top of Independence Pass. The other riders were more conservative on this climb and the group slowly separated as the stronger riders pulled away while others fell back. I decided to ride my own pace and target 250 watts for the climb. This strategy worked well and I was able to pass several riders in the second half of the climb. By the time I reached the top of the climb I was in a small group of riders and placed somewhere in the top 20. But unfortunately I still had 10 miles of rolling road before reaching Windy Ridge.
This last section of the climb didn’t go as well for me. I was getting tired, the day was getting HOT and I was out of water. The mental and physical impact of running out of water was surprising. I found myself limiting my efforts and counting down the miles. Unfortunately this meant I had to watch several riders pull away and I got passed by a couple more. But to be honest it didn’t bother me that much as I was more focused on getting to the Windy Ridge Food Stop and some much needed water. In hindsight I really wish I would have taken an extra bottle in my jersey pocket. When the aid station came into view, I was ecstatic and rushed to the line. After parking my bike I filled my water bottle drank the whole thing before filling it up again. Feeling better I decided to check out the food before making my way over to the time check to see how I finished. I finished with a gold medal time of , 22nd overall and 9 minutes behind the first finishers.
The ride back to Packwood was pretty uneventful. I was one of the first riders to leave and rode the 51 miles back by myself. Despite the 90+ degree temperatures I did my best to enjoy the ride. I only stopped twice on the way back. The first time to refill the bottles and the second to fix my only flat tire of the year. By the time I got back to Packwood I was hot and exhausted but also pleased with my performance.
I learned a lot from the ride. First I need to start near the front when I want to ride near the front. I wasted too much energy chasing the leaders in the first 15 miles. Second, I need to take more water than I think I’m going to need. For me that means one bottle for every hour of riding. Most importantly I learned that I really enjoy this style of riding/racing and I can’t wait for my next opportunity to ride an event like the High Pass Challenge.