The alarm went off early Saturday morning, and it wasn’t long before I was up and getting ready. The day was finally here. The day that I’d been training for. The Hell’s Gate Hundred!
For 11 weeks I had been training. Scheduling rides based on a calendar that would end today. I was both nervous and excited. Nothing to do now, but to get my gear ready, mix my drinks and make sure the bike is ready to go. The official start time for the Hell’s Gate Hundred was 6am, with waves of riders rolling out every 10 minutes. I had been looking over the course map carefully and looking at the times for the control points. I estimated that, at my pace, I’d need all the time alloted, so the plan was for us to try and get out right at 6am to maximize our chances. The major climb had a cutoff of 12:30pm. If I couldn’t make it to that point by 12:30pm, I’d have to turn around. That would make my ride only 80 miles instead of the full 100 miles. I was sure I could do it, but I wanted a cushion.
While we were prepping, Marcus discovered he had a leak in his front tire. He set about replacing the tube and a few minutes later the bike was ready to go. Until POP! Damn, the new tube is no more. A new tube goes in and PSSSSSS! Damn, again?! We grab another tube and it holds (we hope) so we’re off to the start. We get there in time for the 6:30 wave. No worries, we’ll just have to make some time, but where?
I was riding the Salsa Casseroll, and with the fenders on it was probably one of the heaviest bikes there. I got many comments wondering why I would have fenders, or what it weighed. My response was “this is Death Valley, the weather can change very quickly here”. I would at least get a nice laugh as they rode on past. The field of bikes were mostly carbon/aluminum bikes. I was on a tank and I would feel it later. The climb up to Artist’s Pallete was pretty steep, with one section up to 12%. I just picked a gear that was comfortable and pedaled. John Marino rode along side me and we chatted about the Casseroll and bikes for a little while. He told me that he rode a steel bike on this ride last year, and this year he was on a lighter bike. Hmmm. I think he knew what I was in for, but he didn’t say anything. It was just nice to chat with him for a little while.
We made it up to the first control point at Artist’s Pallete. I refilled my bottles, ate a banana and took a couple of pics. Before long Bruce arrived and we were off again. The descent back to the main road was very fun, with another climb hidden in there to keep you on your toes. We turned north on our way to Hell’s Gate.
The route took us back past the campground, and Marcus had to stop there. So he pushed on ahead while Bruce and I rode at our own pace. It timed out perfectly and as we were passing the campground he pulled along side us. As a reward for helping with the tubes earlier, Marcus offered to do the pulling for us. So for the next ten miles or so I just held his wheel. It was an amazing feeling. We were making great time, passing people left and right. I couldn’t believe what a difference drafting makes. I told him later that it felt like we were on the Tour de France and he was pulling me up to a climb.
We got to the next stop by 9:30 I think. From here, it was 16 miles of climbing. At this point, we had pulled ahead of Bruce. By the time we were fueled up and ready to roll he was just pulling in. I checked in on him and he said that he was going to rest there a bit, so Marcus and I pushed on.
The climb didn’t start out too bad. We were chatting for a bit, passing riders here and there, and being passed as well. We were making decent time. Then the road started to get steeper, and steeper. I started to fall behind and before long I was on my own again. Still passing some, and being passed too, so I figured I was on the average pace. I was working hard though. This was the road to called “Hell’s Gate”.
By the time I made it to Hell’s Gate I was beat! I was ready to turn around. Somehow I had managed to lose enough time that I didn’t think I’d make the next cutoff time. I had underestimated the climbing big time. I wasn’t the only one, there were many people that looked like I felt. Including Marcus, who was still at the stop. We talked a bit about what to do, and we both decided to keep going. The first 10 miles of climbing was about 2K feet in elevation gain, the next 6 miles would be the same elevation gain, 2000 feet. It was not going to be easy, but we thought we’d give it a shot. I calculated that we’d make it with only a few minutes to spare, but I was wrong. I struggled and suffered on that climb. The cutoff was 12:30pm, and I pulled in to Daylight Pass at 12:32pm. It took me 2 more minutes to remember to take a picture of the GPS.
Marcus had gotten to the pass just before me, and was fueled up and ready. I told him that I was done, and couldn’t climb anymore, but encouraged him to go on. As he rode off I just relaxed for a couple minutes. Serbrina and my Pops had driven up to Daylight Pass. I was so glad to see her. She had been cheering me on for days before and her smile was all I needed to get back on the bike and head for the finish. I got ready to start the descent back and took a couple pics to prove I was there.
The descent was amazing. It took me 1 hour 15mins to climb 2000 feet in 6 miles, and then about 15 minutes to descend it. It was very cold up on the top of the pass, but with every few feet of elevation lost the temperature went up. The views on the descent were amazing!
By the time I got back to the bottom of the climb the wind had picked up. Luckily I met up with 2 other riders, Tim and Kerry if I remember right, so the 3 of us rode the 10 miles or so back to the finish, trading pulls here and there. I checked in at the finish at got my reward. Pepperoni pizza!
I wasn’t able to finish the ride like I had intended, but I still had a great time. The course got me this time, but I’ll be back to try again. I’m already planning to go back in October for the Fall Century. Hopefully Marcus and Bruce will join me.
I had my SPOT on during the ride. If you enjoyed following the live tracking let me know. I’m interested to know how many, if any, people follow along on the rides. I’m debating using it on future rides, so if you like it let me know, if you don’t care, well, let me know that too!
The final numbers are 8:19 for 79.4 miles. Total climbed was 7,110 feet. This was the toughest ride I’ve ever done, but I know I can do better. There is a lot of room for improvement. Who’s going to join me for the next one? It’s coming up soon!