Cycling Hurricane Ridge: Pacing Yourself on Long Climbs

Last weekend I went out to explore the Olympic National Park, partly on my bike, partly hiking, and driving around. That place is an outdoor paradise that can offer something to everyone.

One of the activities I chose to do is cycle up to ‘Hurricane Ridge’ visitor center. This place is a ski resort located over 5000ft above sea level. Accessible from Port Angeles, this smoothly paved road winds up without interruption for about 19 miles. This route challenged me in two ways: first, it’s the highest I’ve cycled uphill, and second, almost without any ‘downhill break.’

Larger patches of snow as I pass the 3/4 mark of my climb.

The road was stunningly beautiful. At ground level, I could see green vegetation everywhere and the stunning distant background of the Olympics. As the ride progressed, I saw the vegetation get smaller, fewer trees, and an increasing number of snow patches. By the time I reached the summit, it was, well, a Ski resort. I have seen such dramatic changes in scenery only on my virtual rides on Zwift.

I leave the route and details here if you decide to place it on your bucket list.

Mastering the Longer Climbs

When I began riding on the road, I dreaded going up hills. I would go completely out of breath, my legs would hurt, and I would feel compelled to stop and catch my breath every five minutes. Riding non-stop for two or three hours uphill only seemed unimaginable. I often had to stop and do the ‘walk of shame,’ walking my bike up the hill. If this feels like you, I will give you some tips that will help you conquer any paved mountain.

Train for Endurance: Before attempting to go up to large mountains, you need to make sure your heart (cardio endurance) is up to the task. You can train this by riding progressively longer and longer non-stop. You can start with intervals of 20 minutes and gradually increase to 30, 40, and so on. If you can afford it, buy a heart rate monitor. Then you can ride at a comfortable pace where your BPMs are under control.

Keep a steady pace: Initially, I got very competitive, especially on group rides, and I wanted to go as quickly as the first ones on the pack. While I managed to keep up for like five minutes, I quickly ran out of energy and then went even slower than the slowest. Keeping a steady pace is pivotal. Remember that you’ll be using a lot of energy, so it’s best to preserve it.

It’s best to go to start with your lowest gear: I also learned this through frustration. For some reason, I felt there was something shameful out of going to the minimum. It was not until I started joining organized group events that I saw people blast past me on the climb in their lowest gear—the secret: cadence. When you’re at your lowest, you have finer control of your power output by tweaking how fast or slow you spin your legs. The easiest way to produce more power (and thus climb faster) is to bring your cadence up.

Mentally prepare: In the end, climbing hills with your bike is a test of your endurance. You need to go with a mindset of resisting. You can take some breaks to recoup by lowering your cadence, zigzagging up the hill, or turning momentarily on the intersections, so it becomes flat. But try to keep yourself mentally on the bike as much as possible.

Climb progressively harder hills: The last one is the most obvious. Before tackling 3k+ ft. hills, I trained weekly on a moderate 1100ft route close to home. You would not imagine how happy I was the first time I could ride it non-stop.

Fuel yourself well: these types of endurance efforts will exhaust your glycogen stores quickly, and that’s when you begin feeling miserable. Eat plenty of simple carbohydrates (sugars, fruits, processed flours, and grains) before riding, and carry a few granola bars to replenish every hour.

My Pacing Strategy to Ride the Hurricane

This little guy welcomed to the summit by saying “No way you came here on your bike!”, then proceeded to take a selfie as I prepared my bike for the victory shot.

Being a cyclist for a long time, I’m used to training with all the bells and whistles. My bike carries a cadence sensor, a speed sensor, power meter pedals, and other gadgets. These pieces of technology are not essential to riding, but they do help you go beyond what you perceive is “too hard” or “too easy.” Here I describe my strategy:

  • I went on my lowest gear throughout the climb, switching to a harder one only when it was too easy.
  • I tried to keep my heart rate constant at 90%. As soon as it went higher, I would reduce my cadence (and thus power output) to stabilize it.
  • I kept my power output between 75% and 90% of my FTP. If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry. I’m simply using a cyclist term to say I was pushing hard but sustainably by not going over the limit of what I can sustain for an hour.
  • I ate a crepe before the ride and one PB&J sandwich split in half during the climb.
  • I made sure to drink a sip of water every 15 minutes.

With this, I close my post. I hope you find some of these tips helpful and can apply them on your next gravity-defying ride.

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