Mountain Populaire – DNF

The route description for Sunday’s populaire posed a simple question, written by a master of understatement:

Really, how bad can a ride of 110 km with just 7 little hills really be? In fact, the climbs make up only about 8 miles/13 km of this 110 km ride – the rest is flat or gently rolling. (110 km, 1650 m/5400 ft of elevation gain).

Answer: It was brutal. I didn’t finish.

Map of the route
Altitude graph

I had doubts going into the ride, but I had so much fun on the
two populaires, I thought I’d try it anyway.

The first, hardest, and longest climb was Cougar Mountain Road, two miles into the ride. This one was as nasty as they warned, averaging 10% on the long section I tracked. One of the hairpin turns was closer to 17% as it was difficult to keep my front wheel on the ground. (When climbing, I tend to pull on the handlebars for leverage.)

The view at the top was fantastic and was soon followed by the first checkpoint of the day, at mile 5.3. I hit this at 9:53, about 20 minutes past the main pack. After getting my card signed, I blasted down Lakemont. Although there’s a bike lane, my potential energy was rapidly turning to kinetic. When I got to the posted speed limit (35mph), I eased out into the lane for a smoother ride.

After a left onto Newport Way, I started the climb back up Cougar Mountain on 164th Ave. This was a much gentler grade, leading to the checkpoint about 50′ from the first. Foreshadowing how the day would go, I was the last person to check-in. I wouldn’t see another rider until I was in my car, driving home.

The next several miles were generally downhill rollers interrupted by a few inopportune traffic lights. I came to the third, self-reporting checkpoint, near point 13 of the map. I noted my answer to the question and proceeded on.

I came to Issaquah-Hobart road. On the map, you’ll see there’s a detour in the opposite direction (point 14) to get in “one more hill,” Tiger Mountain. Because there’s an obvious short-cut, e.g., not doing this road at all, this is an obvious candidate for a “secret checkpoint.” The hill’s long, but not onerous. Although it was late, I decided to go ahead and do it in the unlikely event someone was still waiting. Tiger Mountain provided a nice respite from the busier alternative.

No one was there, which meant I was officially going to “Not Finish.”
Tiger Mountain dumps out onto Issaquah-Hobert (point 16), which I followed back through Issaquah to my car (point 1). Total for today was 41.4 miles, 3,129′ elevation gain.

The other hills are all familiar.

  • Black Nugget is my preferred way up the Sammamish Plateau when biking home from Seattle. It’s a 11.7% grade, very busy, and no shoulder. I stay on the sidewalk most of the way.
  • Dulthie Hill is only 350′ gain with a slope about 6 1/2%. It’s not very busy, and there is a bike lane on the uphill side.
  • Tolt Hill has 400′ gain with a varying slope. The initial portion isn’t that bad, but as it turns, the grade picks up for a short bit.

While looking for a profile for Tolt Hill, I found the SIR writeup for this same route done two years ago, also led by Jan Heine. Jan noted:

Unfortunately, none of the new riders managed to finish. Two riders never made it to top of the first hill, while the third got lost again and never reached the finish. I hope they will be back for one of our less challenging rides. Most of all, it was nice to see our randonneurs ride so strongly.

On a positive note, I’m within 75 miles of my new years resolution for mileage for the year. (I also accomplished the long distance ride.)

4 thoughts on “Mountain Populaire – DNF”

  1. Sounds tough! I need to check out some of those hills. Sadly, I’ve never been on cougar mountain or tiger mountain (well, just for mountain biking). Been looking for a longer hill for training.

  2. Ah, the question “how bad can a ride of 110 km with just 7 little hills really be?” The secret to that question is the questioner, Jan Heine. If I dig far enough I’ll find an email from him that says a ride without a hill is uncomfortable. He needs hills. So “7 little hills” to him . . .

    Look forward to meeting you on one of the 2005 brevets.


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