Despite the fact that technically my training and racing season is over, I joined a couple friends for an epic hill climb this past weekend to tackle a mountain: Mt Baker!
I’ve never actually been to Baker before, not even to ski, so thought it wouldn’t hurt/might be fun to see it on two wheels. Besides, I wanted that picture of my bike in front of a wall of snow and ice that other people have on their Strava.
My friend Gregg invited me along on a ride he and some of his friends were doing. An unofficial Kits Energy/Glotman Simpson (GS) joint ride, where everything was mostly fend for yourself. I met Gregg at his house before 6:30 am on Saturday to pack the car and drive to Abbotsford. The plan was to start cycling a block from the border, cycle across the border, to Baker, up Baker, down Baker, and back to Bob’s Burger and Grill for a beer and some much needed Best Energy and Electrolyte Replacement Therapy, before cycling back across the border and driving home. Total ride distance: 147 km.
Cycling through the border was fun! We had to go in and declare ourselves and then walk through to the other side. Once there, we met up with the group and set out. Pretty early on in the ride to Mt Baker there is a little popper of a hill: generally the pace line slows down a bit at the top of this hill and waits for everyone to join back on before continuing. I got dropped off the back of the slowest paceline pretty early on. A climber I am not (why was I going to climb this mountain on my bicycle again??), and since no one from GS knew who I was, I was on my own for the next 27 km. Luckily, all the solo riding I’ve done this year in preparation for my half Ironman at the end of June paid off, and my average speed was faster than the average speed of the paceline, so I ended up catching up to them about 3 km outside of Glacier, our first stop. It was a long haul to get there.
A quick break, and a chance to refill water bottles and I set off again with my Kits Energy buddies. Being the significantly better cyclists than me that they were, they took off like a shot and left me behind again. I wasn’t upset with them. There was no way I could have kept up and still made it through the rest of the ride. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I needed my energy and legs to get me to the top at my own pace.And besides, I thought, the GS paceline would catch up to me eventually and I would be able to hop on and alternate pulls with them until the base of the mountain.
Sidebar: a paceline is when a bunch of riders ride together in a line, at a certain pace. We use the momentum of the person in front, the person who is pulling the line, to use less energy ourselves by being in the slipstream of the person directly in front of you. This means you need to be within a foot of the person in front of you. 6 inches in better, 2 inches is pure trust. The entire line can move about 30% faster than if you were alone. Each person takes a turn to pull, and we rotate to the back of the line when our pull is over, to be pulled along by the others. Everyone sings out ‘Thanks for the pull!’ as you retreat to the back of the line, making you feel happy and accomplished and like you’ve added to the greater speed of the line as a whole.
The paceline never caught up to me.
22 kms of somewhat gently ascending roads later I reached the base of Baker. It was time to begin the climb. I thought it was only 13 km, and off I went, pedal stroke after pedal stroke, watching my elevation and the temperature rise. Alpine temperature inversions in the summer are not something one generally thinks about. I need to start thinking about them more often.
Andrea, Susin and Matthew did catch up with me at some point, and we had a nice chat. It was lovely to be with company after nearly 70 km of solo riding. We also sang a few songs, including “The Hills are Alive” . . . based on the backdop we were singing against, it seemed pretty apropos. When we arrived at the meadow (which is above the ski hill parking lot), we refilled our water bottles, stretched our backs, and hopped back on our bikes for the final ascent.
Artists Point is a mere 4.09 km from Heather Meadows. On an average road, I could bike that distance in about 8-9 minutes. It took me over 30. They were the hardest 4 kilometres I’ve ever encountered. Harder than sprinting, harder than swimming, harder than climbing Kilmanjaro, harder than a half ironman or a half marathon, harder even than the last 4 km of a half marathon at the end of a half ironman. The hardest. Not to mention it was AS HOT AS THE SURFACE OF THE SUN by this point: 32.6C. I am not allowed to type the thoughts I was thinking on The Pulse, but you get the idea.
There was one lonely little tree that was offering a tiny bit of shade (it was about 12:30 pm) on the wrong side of the road. I crossed the road, and managed to unclip from my bike and didn’t fall down the sheer, rocky, mountainside while I dismounted. I did not cry. I wanted to, but at nearly 1500m elevation, air is a bit thinner. Besides, I needed that oxygen to have a little chat with myself. I was about 1.5 km from the top at this point. I could do it. I just had to keep going. Back on the bike, just keep going.
MADE IT. Someone gave me a Coke. Gregg took my bike and I put my head in the snow, then rubbed snow all over my body and shoved it down my shirt. I wanted to be cold. Surprisingly my legs held me up while I gulped the Coke and shoved a Cliff bar in my face. Took some pictures of the happy climbers and #sharkthebike and then started my descent before the others so I would have a hope of catching a paceline on the way back to Sumas.
My plan worked! Met up at the maintenance shed with a GS group and helped to haul us back to town. Put in a couple good pulls, and almost forgot how not being in a line makes long rides 100x harder. The 37 km back from Glacier were the hardest of the return trip. We were all tired and cranky and hungry and kind of loosing our minds by the last 10k . . . we’d been riding for over 6 hours, and needed more than protein bars and electrolyte drinks. Finally, we rolled into town. 6 hours and 38 minutes in the saddle.
Burger. Beer. Ice cream. SITTING IN A CHAIR. Home. Shower. More food. Sleep.
If you want a challenge that doesn’t involve swimming or running, this is it. I won’t do this ride again this year, or possibly even next year, but it was worth it, so I will head up there again one day. Next time, I’ll check the weather for an inversion, and make sure I have a paceline to help me both ways. This weekend, we’re going to top Cypress . . . there might be something wrong with me ;)