Saturday was the Mt. Harrison Hill Climb. I have never entered a race that consisted of nothing more than a hill climb (other than my Sidewinder TT). It doesn't really play to my strengths, as it's just a long, steep climb. Before the race began, Eric was suggesting that I'd come to represent and mentioned my Sidewinder TT time (which doesn't look so impressive after the weekend). I told him I can do long rides, and I can do steep rides, but long and steep was not my thing. Either way, I was there, so I needed to pedal.
Speaking of being there, I almost never made it. I didn't want to drive the 175 miles or so each way from Boise, so I searched around for some carpool partners, I thought to no avail. Then late Friday night, I got an email from Kai, indicating that his crew had room for one more. So I jumped in with them. It was interesting to me, as one who was riding just to see how I measure up, to ride out there and listen to the discussion of three guys who were there to win their group, if not the whole thing.
Before the ride began, I bumped into an old friend and her family, who live in the area and were having breakfast at the restaurant where registration occurred. I hadn't seen them for about four years, so it was really nice to catch up. Given that the race started at 11:15 and we got there at 9:00, we actually had a fair bit of time to chat. These locals, who didn't see the sense in paying to climb a hill they can suffer on whenever they want, offered some valuable advice about how to approach the climb. I'd have liked to see Travis and Brek enter the fray, because I suspect they could have held their own. I, on the other hand, had a sense of foreboding like I was about to be owned.
One of the first things I figured out was that this ride was going to be harder than I imagined. The course description indicated that it would be 16.9 miles with ~4500 vertical feet of elevation gain, topping out at an elevation of just over 9200 feet. What I didn't realize was that the first four miles were nearly flat, so almost all the climbing happens in about 12 miles. So it was going to be nothing like riding Bogus with a little tacked on at the end, as I had imagined--it would be much harder than that.
As we got ready to start, of course there was the obligatory sizing up of the competition. The one racer that really stood out to me was the kid from Sun Valley who showed up with hairy legs and a full Rock Racing team kit. He was quite a spectacle. Turns out he was also really fast--more on that later.
The race began with a neutral start. I knew from my warmup that the pace would be fast heading into the slight incline before the real climbing began. I told myself that I wasn't going to try and hold on to the group and go beyond my threshold doing so. So much for that plan. I finally let go when my heart rate passed 180 and my quads were searing. At which point I needed to back it off enough to recover and hope I didn't deplete precious reserves.
There were a few that fell off the same time I did, so we formed our grupetto and kept grinding it out. I figured I'd do my typical climb--nothing fast, but consistent--and gradually pick off a few other riders as I made my way to the top. Turns out that I was able to pass exactly two other racers and got passed by one more. Not my best performance.
Not much to say about the climb itself except that it was long. And Travis was exactly right--once you get above treeline, it gets really hard. He warned me about the steepness, but the thing that really killed me was the altitude. And pushing too hard at the start. This surprised me, as I usually don't struggle much with elevation. But above 8500 feet, I felt as if my energy was really low. I took a gel, but still had no snap in my legs. I eventually realized it was a lack of oxygen, not a lack of glycogen, that was holding me back.
As I approached the top, the real contenders were already starting to descend. Turns out it was quite a race in front of me as Cody Peterson and Richard Feldman, both pros, were duking it out up front, along with the kid in the Rock Racing kit (yes him, hairy legs and all, can you believe it?). Cody took the win, with Richard coming in second. Behind them, Kai was alone for much of the climb before being caught by three others. He attacked at the line and took fourth and was first amongst Cat 3's--that may be enough for him to earn an upgrade to Cat 2.
At the top, I chatted a bit with Brad, Eric, and Joellie before making my descent. Brad, as race organizer, had to stick around until everyone finished. He was making noises about next year imposing a time limit. I have no idea what time he finally came down. The descent was cold and windy at the top, enough to make me shiver a bit and make me feel nervous in a few stretches. OK, who am I kidding, I am almost always nervous descending on the road bike. I really don't get it, because I'm not at all that way on the MTB. But for some reason, I never feel completely comfortable with having nothing holding me to the road but two square inches of rubber.
As I made my way down, I saw the rider who I'm pretty sure was the lanterne rouge for this race. He still probably won his category, though, as he looked to be at least 80 years old. He also weighed about a buck ten and looked like he was going to fall over at all times because he leaned so far to one side as he pedaled. But he was going to make it to the top. Pretty remarkable that when most of his contemporaries are sitting in rocking chairs and hospital beds waiting to die, he's pedaling his bike up a hill that I'm not in any hurry to return to.
Once at the bottom, none of us wanted to wait around, so we jumped in the van and started the drive back. Just outside of Mountain Home, the van started surging like it was running out of gas. Except that it still had over half a tank. We pulled off the freeway, and it stalled completely, with just enough momentum to almost coast into a parking space at Jack in the Box. We tried to figure out what to do and how to get the rest of the way home. Nick went out to the parking lot, and I was telling Kai and Pete "if the van starts by some miracle..." my words trailed off as I watched Nick drive by the window. So we all jumped in and made our way home. Still no idea what really happened, but best guess is a vapor lock because of the heat.
Overall a good race, but I doubt I'll be back next year. I don't need to drive three hours and pay a registration fee in order to be humiliated on a climb. I certainly am impressed with the guys who were at the front though--to do that climb in 1:11 is really moving.