Cycling the mighty Mt. Hood
US #98 Hardest Bike Climb
Ride 15 miles gaining 4,300’ at 5.4% average grade.
Mt. Hood is home to the annual Tour de Hood which is described on their Facebook page as:
“The idea started as a simple one: Since the Mt Hood Cycling Classic race had the roads for the day, why limit the good time and challenge to the racers only? Tour de Hood, or the TDH as some call it, covers the same amazing course that challenged elite racers in the popular Mt Hood Cycling Classic stage race for years. The Tour de Hood will challenge you with its mountain climbs and stunning scenery and make you smile with its good food and friendly staff and volunteers. It will take your breath away both literally and figuratively!” Tour de Hood Facebook Page
The following are informative summaries from Strava members Garrett Simpson, Ohio:
Garett Simpson Mt. Hood HC
Being a cyclist who lives in Ohio, long climbs are a rarity and mountains are unfathomable. Therefore, when the opportunity presented itself to test my mettle on a real mountain, I jumped at the chance. I had a limited amount of time between dropping a friend off at the Portland Airport and making it back in time for my own flight. Therefore, I had to choose a route that would fit the time I had available and also provide a route yielding the largest elevation gain. I scoured Strava activities and segments and found a tiny village along Hwy 26, Alder Creek, which would provide the perfect distance with the largest ascent. I located a parking lot that would work as a launch point and hopped in the car.
I arrived at the Ivy Bear Pizzeria and entered to inquire about parking my car in their lot while I attempted the climb. The girl with whom I spoke was incredibly nice and had no problems with the request. In hindsight, I wish I had put in an order for a pizza to be ready when I came back down the mountain, as I was in a rush at the end and a pizza sounded sublime. Unfortunately, I had to settle for a soda, which still tasted like the god’s elixir after the ride.
With my car in a safe location, I see off up the mountain. The first 10 miles or so were glorious as I had a tailwind and only ascended 660ft (1.25% grade). This yielded an 18mph average with very little effort. Something that is worth noting is that in Zig Zag there are 2x2 ft. grates on the shoulder around which that you have to be careful. Avoiding them pushes you closer to traffic, but I encountered debris around them and the grates themselves did not look safe for road bike wheels. Steering clear of them was for the best. There were probably somewhere around 20 of these grates total spaced every couple hundred feet throughout Zig Zag.
Once I hit mile 10 I started to realize what climbing a mountain really felt like. The next 5 miles ascended 1,042 ft. (3.95% grade). This was also an important section because I encountered construction around mile markers 49-54. However, I must point out that even though it was heavy construction, the workers and the cars on the road were very polite. I never felt unsafe even when the shoulder was gone and I was riding on the white line.
The next 5 miles started to make me wonder how hard this might end up being. I ascended 1,357 ft. during this section (5.14% grade). At this point, I had climbed 3,059 ft. - over 20 miles (2.90% grade) and I was definitely starting to feel it. Once I passed through Government Camp and got to the Timberline Hwy turn, I decided to take a break for a couple of minutes to fuel up. As I was looking up Timberline Hwy, I kept thinking to myself, “That looks quite a bit steeper than the first 20 miles.” Well, as soon as I started up I realized how big of a difference it truly was. My legs were already feeling a little heavy (not helped by the fact I had hiked over 20 miles - ascending over 7,000 ft. – during the 4 days before this climb, including a Mt. St. Helen’s summit attempt) - so I knew the last 5.5 miles were going to be a battle.
I would be lying if I said I was not tempted to turn around and coast down the mountain during the last 5.5 miles, which saw me gain another 1,954 ft. (6.73% grade). I made 2 very brief stops during this section as my legs no longer wanted to turn the pedals. However, a friend of mine had told me before the attempt that when I was hurting and needed motivation to look up at the mountain and the beautiful scenery. I could not believe how important that statement was - the beauty on this ride is incredible! The entire way you are living and breathing the Pacific Northwest. Massive forests, huge drop-offs and rock walls, bubbling brooks, swiftly moving rivers, and of course the mountain. When I first rounded the corner on Hwy 26 that revealed Mt. Hood to me, I could not believe how momentous that occasion felt. I was amazed by its size and beauty! We as humans often feel as though we have complete dominance over Planet Earth but staring up at that mountain made me feel so insignificant in the face of such awe-inspiring nature. Even though the last 2 miles were extremely difficult, the experience carried me to the top.
I had planned to continue up to the lodge as that added a couple more feet to the climb and I really wanted to maximize the elevation gain. As I got closer to the parking lot, I had an internal struggle about calling that good enough. However, I reminded myself that these opportunities are few and far between so I climbed that last steep incline and made it up to the lodge. The total at this point was 25.7 miles ridden and 5,013 ft. climbed (just short of a mile!! – 3.69% grade).
The dominant feeling at the top was one of relief. I experienced many emotional moments during the ride but once I made it to the top, I was just happy to be done. The number of people on Mt. Hood that day was impressive. Some of them were looking at me like I was crazy to have attempted the climb. One guy told me he passed me on the way up and wondered if I was going to make it; he expressed his happiness for me that I accomplished the task. I was almost out of water so I stayed long enough to fill up my bottle at the lodge bar, which was a very unique place. I took a few pictures and then headed back down the mountain.
After the physical challenge of that last 5.5 mile stretch, going down that same segment was like being a kid again. I was cautious but definitely opened it up when I could and felt like I was flying. I actually passed cars going down as they were either taking in the beauty or just being extremely cautious. This section of the ride took 45:54 to go up and only 11:39 to go down. It was a BLAST!
Once I turned back onto Hwy 26, the quick descent continued. Unfortunately, I hit the construction again and got held up quite a bit including a short stop during a section where they had cut it down to 1 lane. The next 10 miles went by in a flash.
During the entire time leading up to the attempt, I felt as though once I turned around to go back down the mountain I would barely have to do any work. Unfortunately, that was not true for the last 10 miles. As I noted earlier, I had a very nice tailwind going up the hill and the direction of the wind had not changed for the descent, so the last 10 miles were straight into a headwind. Being at 40+ miles and after all the hiking leading up to the attempt, this last portion of the ride was not very fun. I was ready to be done and the headwind did not make me a happy camper. Happily, it was not much longer until I saw the Ivy Bear holding his pizza and the ride was complete.
This was a ride of a lifetime. I cannot imagine living in an area where this is your daily reality. You can throw your bike in your car and be on 25+ routes as challenging as Mt. Hood within hours. What an amazing playground! This experience has definitely added many items to my bucket list that include iconic climbs. We only live once and seeking out these experiences, in my opinion, is what life is all about.
PJAMM Note: The Strava segment below begins 1.8 miles down the climb than our start point.