Sunday, June 21, 2009

Horribly Hilly Hundreds: One and Done

Now that I've had nearly 24 hours to think about it, the Horribly Hilly Hundreds bike ride still sucks. It was all that was advertised. It is without a doubt the hardest thing I have every done from a physical standpoint. We all knew there was going to be tons of climbing. We tried to train for it by riding the Stillwater/Afton area. That may have been good had we done it twice a week for 6-8 hours at a time. We didn't do that. For those of you unfamiliar with the HHH, it has 2 lengths: 100k and 200k (62 and 125 mi) and 10,000 feet of climbing in the 200k version. We chose the 200k, of course. The ride (it is not a race) is located 25 mi West of Madison, WI., in an area called Blue Mounds. It's very unusual terrain. Flat all around and then this area of very hilly elevation. The story is that the glaciers missed this area. The ride starts at the top of the Blue Mounds state park, elevation 1,727 feet, the highest point in WI.

The ride is a lottery. Last January we all got online and were "fortunate" enough to get in. They cap it at 1,000 riders. I had 3 fears about this ride:
1. I suck at climbing. My 84 year old mother could beat me up a hill on a bike.
2. Since I suck at climbing, that means I'll be riding by myself most of time. That sucks.
3. I have always cramped in endurance rides. Cramps suck more then anything.

My first and second fears were realized at 5.87 miles. There were 10 of us at the start, and at the first big hill, I was all alone. It was about 8:15 in the morning, humid with wet roads, and the sweat was pouring out. I still had 120 miles to go. Just fucking great I told myself. When riding by yourself, the mind is your biggest enemy.

The ride is broken up into 5 stages. At the first rest stop (at the top of a climb) I met back up with the group. End of stage one. I noticed that there was not the usual chit chat and joking like on other rides. I think we all knew at that point we were going to get our asses kicked. I believe we had ridden about 30 miles at this point.
We went out together for stage 2, but at the first hill I was dropped again. Stage 2 was a loop that ended up at the same rest stop that completed stage 1, back up the same hill. John and Brad from my group were there. They couldn't keep the pace with the group. So, we banded together. We had put in about 50 miles at this point. The next 75 miles were just plain hard. There would be a few flat areas, but mostly it was just climb, climb, climb. I was in absolute 1st gear (out of 27) on every climb. The down hills were great, but it didn't take long to realize that every down hill was followed by a turn, and every turn had another climb waiting for you.

What we all liked about the course was the scenery. Absolutely beautiful! Narrow country roads with farms and rolling green pastures. It was hot, about 88 degrees. Bob's computer said 95-100 degrees just above the pavement. My feet were hotter then hell. What saved us from being absolutely fried was many of these country roads had overgrown trees shading them. They were a lifesaver.

John, Brad, and I persevered. It was great to have people to talk to and to help encourage each other. Or, at least listen to each other's bitching. Brad started having some cramps at about 70 miles. I was sympathetic, because I knew they would show up for me sooner or later. At 98 miles, my left quad cramped, and I was off the bike. I massaged it and managed to get to the next rest stop at the 102 mile mark. I heard people talking about this being the "graveyard" stop. This is where the people that give up or have mechanical breakdowns are brought to. (They get picked up later by another vehicle) I was seriously questioning whether or not I could finish. My legs were dead. I knew I could not climb the 900 feet at the finish line. I also overheard a guy talking about a climb called "Pinnacle" that was immediately after this rest stop. I spoke of my fears to John and Brad. They said, "let's just walk what we can't climb, so what?" That was the answer I needed! I've walked lots of hills on a mountain bike, but never on a road bike. It's hard to admit that defeat, but I knew it was the only way I could finish. There was no way in hell I was going to the fucking graveyard. I walked some of the Pinnacle. The ironic thing was, on a a flat segment afterwards, doing 15 mph, the cramps hit me big time. I couldn't pedal, I had to walk. I was walking at 3 mph, so it's a time killer. I could climb on the bike between 5-6 mph, so it's not that big of a time difference, but walking on a flat stretch of road when you could be going 5 times as fast is very disheartening.
I last talked to John and Brad at a water stop 15 miles from the finish. We were at 1,200 feet, so we knew we had to drop 300 feet before we were to start the 900 foot climb to the finish. We rode together until the climb into the town of Barneveld, a long 2 mi climb which I walked most of. Along the way, this "old" guy (60?) I had talked to at the last water stop swatted me on the ass as he rode past and told me to keep going! After that I got back on the bike and rode until the very last stretch: the final 2 miles of distance and 900 feet of climbing.

I checked my GPS, I was at 842 feet. I pedaled until 1070 feet. I wasn't cramping, but I couldn't pedal anymore. I walked till 1140 feet, it flattened out and I got back on the bike. Pedaled till 1260 feet and got back off to walk. At about 1360 feet it flattened out again and I rode to the entrance of the park, a flat area where they have the pay booth. Danny, one of the riders I started with was leaving in his car and he shouted out encouragement, Brad was leaving too and he hollered to me. At least I was pedaling at the time! Shortly afterwards, at about 1600 ft, I was walking again.
I could see the finish line banner. There was no way in hell I was going to walk across the finish. I got back on the bike and finished the ride.

I saw Matt after I crossed and I said, "Cross this sonuvabitch off the the bucket list."

The Talladega. It's the heavier of my 2 bikes, but it has a triple crank. Smartest decision I made was to ride this bike. (Bill, what do you think of the photo? The Armada ain't no tree, but it's all I had) I was riding Bob's wheels as mine had problems that couldn't be repaired in short notice. Thanks, Bob. I love my amigos! I also had a brand new fork on that had exactly one ride on it.
Very early in the ride, maybe 15 miles. It had rained the day and night before. The moisture is coming off the pavement. Humid as hell.

This was taken somewhere at around 80 miles. Beautiful scenery. There are no pictures of the hills or big climbs. It would take too much energy to take a picture when climbing.

John at the Black Earth rest stop. 70 miles down, 45 to go.

Bob after the ride. He finished in 8 hours. He had never experienced cramps before or had to get off his bike and walk. The last climb is 900 feet in elevation gain and about 2 miles long. It humbled everybody. I walked up 75% of it. I've never had such dead legs before in my life.

Matt loading up John's bike. Just one look at his face tells you the story. And Matt had a good ride.
The elevation profile that my GPS device recorded. Look at the very end, that is the 900 foot climb that ends the ride. Unbelievable.

Tale of the tape:
127.5 miles pedaled
12.8 mph avg speed
11 hrs, 4 min total time
9 hrs, 20 min elapsed time
8,931 feet of climbing (this is what my GPS recorded. There is supposed to be over 10,000 ft)
7,645 calories burned according to my HRM
Here is the link to showing the ride based on information from my GPS:

Final thoughts:
There is no way we here in flatland country can train adequately for this ride. As much as we all beat ourselves up over how poorly we did, we did OK. Almost all of us finished (one guy had a mechanical and had to be sagged). None of us quit. We didn't ride it as fast as we would have liked, but, we finished. That is the key to any endurance undertaking.
The consensus among all of us is that there is no reason to do this ride again. It is brutal. I think if it would have been 100 miles long it would have more appeal, but, it is what it is. The other issue is time and money. It's a 5 hour drive there and back, plus the cost of a hotel room and gas. On Saturday we got up at 5 AM and got back home after midnight. I suffered a major cramp in the car by the Dells. Bob had to pull over so I could walk it off.
It is a beautiful ride, but man, does it kick your ass.

Ana Popovic

I first heard of Ana Popovic this past winter while listening to iTunes radio. I heard one song by Ana, wrote it down, and bought it. I checked out her website: and found out she was coming to Mpls in June. Turns out it was for the Famous Dave's BBQ and Blues Fest. Apparently she has played the bar in Calhoun Square before. In fact, she will be back there again on August 21st. She gives a pretty good show and is engaging with the audience. She is also attractive. And she can play the guitar! After 90 minutes I was pretty blown away how good she was. She was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Her dad was a guitarist that was into American blues. Her idols are old blues legends and modern (but dead) artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix, both of which she played songs by in concert.
I video taped 2 songs plus the solo by the bass player (that's for you, Alex!). Not sure why the bass solo didn't upload as clear as the other two videos. It's crystal clear on my computer. I don't know everything about how Youtube operates yet. The 3 videos are below this post. Check them out!

Ana Popovic at Blues Fest, Mpls, MN

Ana Popovic-2, Blues Fest, Mpls MN

Ron Jonker, Bass solo, Mpls Blues Fest (Ana Popovic)