The forecast did not look good. In fact, it looked pretty bad.
It was Sunday of Memorial day weekend, and I was forecast-shopping. That’s what I do when I want to ride and the weather is marginal; I look at the different weather forecasts (Accuweather, wunderground, weather.com, national weather service) to see if I can find one that I like. They said – if I recall correctly – Rain, showers, showers, rain.
I was registered to ride 7 hills for the nth time (where 5 < N < 10) on Memorial day. To be specific, I was registered to ride the 11 hills “metric century”. Quotes because a kilometer is about 8% shorter on this ride, needing only 58 miles to reach the metric century mark.
I had tentatively agreed to ride with a few friends, which is not my usual modus operandi; after a few rides where a group ride turned into a single ride, I started doing most rides by myself.
I rolled out of bed at 6AM on Memorial day, and took a look outside. It was wet but not raining. A look at the radar (the NWS National Mosaic is my favorite) showed that not only was there no rain showing, it looked like it was going to be that way for the next 6 hours or so.
Normally, my ride prep would be done the night before; I’d have everything that I wanted out on the counter, appropriate clothes chosen, and a couple of premixed bottles in the fridge. Since I expected not to be riding, I had to do all of this in a bit of a hurry. I got packed, grabbed my wallet, keys, phone, and GPS, and headed out.
I passed the first group parking on Lake Washington Blvd (people always park too far to the south), find a spot and unload. I roll into the park, get my registration band, route sheet, and find my companions. I’ll be riding with riding friends Joe and Molly, and their friends Bill and Alex. We roll out at 8:20 or so.
Market street (Hill 1) is quickly dispatched, and we head up Juanita (Hill 2). The first two hills are fairly easy; something like 5-7% gradient max. We regroup at the top of Juanita (well, actually not the top of the hill, but the part where we head back down). My legs have felt pretty good so far, but we are coming to Seminary hill (#3), which is steeper and harder than the other two. I think it’s the second-hardest climb of the ride. It also is a bit misleading; there’s a steep kicker right at the beginning, a flat part, and then it steepens up again for the remainder of the climb.
I start the climb. I’m have a secret weapon – my power meter. I know from the intervals that I’ve been doing that I can hold 300 watts for 2 minutes. I also know that I can hold 240 watts for 10 minutes, so I set that as my “do not exceed” level. I pass a few people, pass a few more, and before I know it, I’m at the top. I do have legs today.
The others filter up soon after. Well, that’s not factually true; Joe and Alex finished quite a bit faster than me, and Molly and Bill filter up soon after. Joe is my benchmark for comparative insanity, so I know that him finishing in front of me just means that things are right with the world.
We head north to descend; Joe/Molly/Bill have an almost-incident with a right-turning truck. We get on the trail and spin to Norway hill. As we approach the base, Joe is talking with a few friends, and we turn right and the climb starts. The road turns left, and I see a bunch of people on the hill. I start passing people, and strangely, nobody is passing me. I hit the stop sign, keep climbing, and eventually top out. I passed 40 people on the way up, get passed by none. Though in the spirit of full disclosure, I did pass the last 5 as they were getting ready to pull off near the top, and most of these riders are out here for the “7 hills” version of the ride.
We head south, and turn left on 132nd. The previous course would take us all the way to my favorite intersection – 132nd st and 132nd ave – but this year they instead route us south, and then to a food stop near Evergreen Hospital. Somewhere on the last section, the sun has popped out, and we feel pretty good. I get some sort of energy bar and pretty tasteless bagelette. After a bit too long waiting, we head out again, and take 116th north. We descend down brickyard, and turn right, heading towards back on the south towards Winery hill.
And into the headwind. I go into ride leader mode, and settle in with the rest of the group somewhere behind me. After a few minutes, Bill – who is tall and wide like me – passes and pulls for a little bit. Soon enough, we reach the base of Winery. The route that we are taking – through the neighborhood – is a series of climbs and flats. We hit the first one, which is something like 15%, and Joe and Alex ride off. I try to stay around 300 watts on the climbs and recover a bit on the flats. Soon enough, I hit the top, and find the the 7 hills bagpiper is too busy having his picture taken with riders to play. He starts playing as Molly pulls up and we ride off down to the next food stop. The new route has changed this experience; previously you would have to climb north while being demoralized by the riders approaching because they had already finished winery, and then have the opposite feeling when you come down the same road after Winery. The new route is fine but is missing a bit of the emotional experience of the old one.
I grab a dark chocolate chip cookie, refill my Nuun bottle and deploy some cheez-its, my wonder ride food.
We now have a decision to make. We have done 6 hills, and we can either descend down into the Sammamish River Valley, ride south, and climb up hill #7, Old Redmond Road, or we can head east to grab an extra 4 hills before returning for the last climb. We decide to do the full metric and head east. This takes us on 116th to a short but really steep (say, 17%) climb. There’s a route via 124th that is much more gradual, so I’m not sure whether this route is because the organizers don’t know about the other route or it’s a deliberate choice.
This is one of the downsides of being a ride leader; I know the vast majority of the roads out here and if I’m on an organized ride I’m constantly plotting where we are going versus what the other options are.
The next climb is Novelty Hill. There really isn’t a lot of novelty involved; it’s a 500’ or so climb with a lot of fast traffic. On the way up, I find myself stuck on “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”, planted by Joe a few minutes before. A few minutes later, it morphs to the surprisingly appropriate “I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to get out of the rain” (America, 1971).
We finish, regroup, and head south to Union hill road. There’s a bonus half hill here that isn’t part of the 11 hills, we finish that section, and head north to descend Novelty again, and head up NE Redmond Road (not to be confused with Old Redmond Road, which we will climb later). This is a fairly easy climb but everybody’s legs are a bit tired. Even Joe’s, though his are tired because of the miles that he has put in the past few days. Another hill top, another descent, and we head up education hill on 116th for the second time (re-education hill). That takes us to the last food stop, where I have a fairly pedestrian ham and cheese wrap and make up another bottle of Nuun. Unfortunately, it seems that I chose “moldy fruit” flavor, so I’m not too excited about it, but I choke a bit down.
We descend, head across the valley with a vicious sidewind which turns into a headwind as we head south. I pull for Molly for the couple of miles, then Molly and Bill and I hit the base of Old Redmond Road at the same time. This is the last hill, and I open it up a bit, passing X people (5 < X < 300,000) on the way up. We crest, regroup, and head down the last descents and the final run on Lake Washington Blvd back into Redmond. I get ahead, wait for the group, Joe goes by, and I find that I have one last sprint in my legs, so I open it up, and catch him.
Then it’s through to the finish, chocolate milk, and strawberry shortcake.
Normally at this point, I would talk about stats, but I only have 30 miles of the ride. I *can* say that I got PRs on Seminary, Norway, and Winery hills, so it’s pretty clear that I did have legs.