We decided early in the year that we were going to do a supported ride this summer from West Glacier, Montana to Banff to Jasper, Alberta. That trip starts right out with a huge day, 4500’ of climbing over 70 miles. (And actually, 4,000’ come in just one 12 mile stretch.) Most of the days after that have only 3,000’ of climbing in 50-60 miles.

Concrete-Larry-Marishka-WiddellsThis was going to take some training, so we started early. By the first weekend in May we did Phil’s May Day Metric which is a hilly 80 miles. But we knew there would be some gaps later in our training schedule, what with Sheila’s two week trip back east to see family and attend the national Cohousing Conference in Durham and Spencer’s volunteering at Camp Ukandu for the 25th year and of course our annual meditation retreat. Each represented a full week or more off the tandem in June and July! When we got back from the retreat we sort of panicked and reassessed. We cancelled most of our social events and Sheila suggested that instead of the time and money that usually goes to her 3x week yoga practice, we should invest in joining our nearby Anytime Fitness. Doing so allowed us to add several spinning classes a week as well as some targeted weight-training. We also started setting up some rides with ETC. Our biggest goal became riding Hurricane Ridge on the Olympic Peninsula, a 5,000′ climb in 18 miles. We arranged to do that as an organized ride along with our friends Mike and Chris who would also be joining us on our Canadian trip on their tandem.

Riding the Hurricane

July 31 we drove to Discovery Bay (near Port Townsend) as we prepared for riding the Hurricane. That would be Hurricane Ridge which rises to 5,240’ over the town of Port Angeles.

We were fortunate to be able to stay at our friend Rich’s home while he was out of town. It made a perfect base camp for our 3 day weekend. We thought we’d gotten an early enough start on Friday to avoid ferry traffic, but we were delayed an hour and a half getting to the boat. When we finally got on we were one of the last 3 vehicles. We settled in at Rich’s by 3:30, then got on the bike for a trip to Port Townsend for an early dinner.

port-townsendThe ride featured a stiff 15% grade to start a 1 mile climb to the top of the bluff. We felt strong as we pulled through it. Twelve miles later we were sitting on the PT waterfront sharing pie and waiting for our friend Robin to join us for Thai food. After an all-too-brief visit, we headed home. We’d done 25.6 miles and 1500’ of climbing.

Saturday we rode to Port Angeles to pick up our rider packet for the Hurricane. We had to ride on the wide shoulder of 101 at first, but found that the Olympic Discovery Trail has now extended far past Sequim. Sheila saw riders on it as we passed the Jamestown Tribal casino and then we found a way onto the trail. It is almost entirely gentle railroad grade, nicely paved. The Tour de Lavender was happening on the trail so we saw lots of bikes, mostly going opposite us. We stopped and talked to two women who turned out to be from Seattle, Kari and Kelly. They were going to ride the Hurricane the next day also. The TdL was only about 50 miles long. Our trip to Port Angeles and back was going to break 80.

Past Sequim the trail was uneventful except for one ravine which didn’t have a trestle any more. That meant it was a 15% down followed by a 15% up, and they were pretty long. It’s a good thing we have those low gears on the bike!

In PA we saw out tandem friends Mike and Chris and their daughter Alison and her husband Brad picking up their packets. We set our plans for the morning, had some lunch, then we headed back.

S2-coconut-blissThe return was starting to feel long. Our longest ride of the year was only 80 miles. But we muscled through the ravine again, up lots of hills and we followed the trail until it dumped us back on 101 at the bottom of another long slow climb. When we topped it, we were looking at about 10 miles of down to our destination. We started to fly, getting up to 35 mph, when suddenly the cars on 101 lined up as someone was going to turn left. Before we knew it, 2 vehicles pulled onto the shoulder to go around the parked cars. Only our very good disk brakes kept us from flattening ourselves on the cars which had stopped cold in the shoulder right in front of us.

We pulled off at a nearby store to regain our composure, let the adrenaline settle and refill water bottles. It had been a very close call. Neither car had looked back up the shoulder despite having passed us not 15 seconds prior. Be wary out there.

We got home with no further excitement, went in to town for Coconut Bliss, fruit, and extra food, then slept early. We’d done 82 miles with 3,000’ of climbing.

August 2 – Riding the Hurricane – 36.5 miles, 5,058’ of climbing

sunriseWe drove to Port Angeles at 5:45 AM. The sun rising over Discovery Bay was spectacular. The weather was a little cool, but we knew it would warm up as soon as we started climbing. We set out at  7 from Peninsula College on the first 6 miles up to the gate at Heart of the Hills.

That first six miles was very tough. There were long stretches of 8-11% grades and it was always over 4%. We’d done a lot of hill training, though, and had found how to run our gears so we could keep a higher cadence. We used to mash our way up hills with a 55-60 cadence. This whole trip we kept it above 70. It makes it a lot easier on the knees and muscles. We were rewarded with almost a mile of really flat riding getting to the gate.

We saw Alison and Brad arrive on their tandem as we were getting ready to leave the gate. They reported that Chris and Mike were further behind and that they’d all left about 7:05. We rode on and were told we were the first tandem on the course as we headed further up the hill.

There were no cars on the road until noon, so it was a safe, though not easy, climb. The grades leveled off some and rarely broke 5% for the next 7 miles. At that point we had reached the third rest area which had a Hawaiian theme with a throng of cheering volunteers and mini-cinnamon rolls! There was also an aid car which came in handy. Within the last mile, we stopped to give a fellow rider some ibuprofen. When we did that I discovered my saddle had broken and a coat hanger sized wire was sticking out catching my inner thigh with each stroke. We used a band-aid to hold it down until the rest area. The medics gave me some first aid tape that did a better job of repair. Alison and Brad took off ahead of us. That’s them waving in the background behind Spencer. And Chris & Mike coming by the aid car right after they left.

The next hour and a half was just steady climbing. Looking up the road we could see it rising to a notch, but then as we’d get to the notch, the picture just reset. The climb continued to another notch. Up and up and up. At one point Sheila needed to pee and off to the side of the road found a protected place with a view of a little waterfall. Further up, my legs gave out and I had to down an energy gel to keep going. But we continued. “We are cyclists and we love to climb” was our motto thanks to our video spinning coach.

Finally, after almost 3 hours in the saddle, we reached the summit to more warm cheers and cowbells. Mike and Chris arrived not more than 5 minutes later. We’d done it! Climbed nearly 5,000’ in less than 18 miles! That is some serious climbing!

The view from the top was lovely and the organizers had someone taking pictures of us. After a break at the top, we started back down. The only hard part about that was holding our speed to the 35 mph limit. We flew past many single bikes since the tandem rides so smoothly at that speed. And, while they were pedaling like crazy to go faster, we didn’t pedal at all for probably 10 miles. We were down in about 30 minutes. On the descent we also saw the last couple from the tandem club on their way up. Of course, they’d started riding from Port Townsend and ended up with a 120 mile, 10,000’ gain day. A bit more than we were ready for.

But we were extremely happy with our performance on the ridge. We didn’t falter. We kept our cadence high. We kept going like the Energizer bunny. We felt ready for the Canadian Rockies.

Reconsidering our training

When we got back to Seattle, we re-reviewed our itinerary for the Glacier-Banff-Jasper tour. We discovered that we had miscalculated the daily mileage and daily climbs dramatically. We were expecting 70-80 mile days and average climbing of 4,100’ a day. The reality was much less. We were only going around 40-50 miles a day and most of the days were around 3,400’.

We recalibrated our training for the last 2 weeks to reflect shorter rides still with an emphasis on hill work. Over the next 12 days we rode mostly between 45-55 miles. With the exception of the Sedro Woolley-Concrete loop, all of them had some hills. We rode up a quarter mile stretch in Bellevue which had a steady grade of 18%! On another day we rode to the top of Cougar Mountain and ended up gaining more than 3000’ for the day. But we had great confidence now. Hills may come and go, but we will just ride right over them.

Sedro Woolley is one of our favorite trips. It is mostly flat and generally very fast riding. We averaged a full 1.5 mph faster on it than on any other ride this year. What made it really fun was having two other tandems with us. Mike and Carol Widdell and Larry Gill and Marishka Pilch (all long-time ETC members) showed up to ride with us. We took turns leading, chatting, and cruising along the back roads to Concrete. We passed a couple of German cycling tourists who were headed toward Seattle from New York. We got this info from the clerk at our lunch stop. The return from Concrete was a nicely shaded romp along the Skagit River. Sheila and I kicked it into overdrive on the last 10 miles. It felt good to be strong.

An odd story from that trip: We always start rides at a park so there is a bathroom available. But when we got to Sedro Woolley, the bathrooms were locked. We were told the parks department always locked them on the weekend. When we got home and investigated, we learned that those restrooms have been burned down twice since they were erected 5 years ago and viciously vandalized regularly. The city maintenance staff of two can’t keep up with it. They plan to hire a retired RV couple to hang out there on weekends. It was a sad story to learn.

We had one last shakedown trip with Mike and Chris. We rode around Camano Island, 50 miles, several thousand feet of climbing. It was a great day of riding even though we got spit on by the weather gods. We felt ready for our big trip.

Bicycling in Tri-Cities