As the summer swelter finally subsides and the lingering days slowly escape from your after-work rides, you'll find October might be the most underrated riding month of the year. With no more summer holiday traffic to clog the roads, crisp, clear mornings and long-shadowed afternoons, October is the ideal time to do that last big ride. It's a final chance to unload the fitness tank before relinquishing your summer form for that of something closer to jolly ol' St. Nick.
I use this time of year for my annual assault of Hurricane Ridge, a 17-mile (27km) uphill onslaught peaking at 5242 feet atop the breathtaking Olympic Mountain Range in Washington's scenic Olympic Peninsula.
Based in the seaside town of Port Angeles, Washington, the climb is most often accessed by the M.V. Coho ferry from Victoria, British Columbia. The two-hour tug across the Straight of Juan de Fuca provides both an opportunity to take in the splendor that is the west coast, and a chance to revel in the fact that you have volunteered to climb for an hour and 45 minutes at an average gradient of six percent. Too late to turn back now.
Off the ferry, we endure chuckles from the U.S. border guards while waiting in line for customs. Apparently the frequent sight of brightly colored spandex is a novelty that's hard to overcome, but we're clean-shaven and packing current passports, so they let us through and we're on our way.
On paper, the climb starts at the ranger station, about 20 minutes out of town. But in reality, you're ascending as soon as you set foot outside the ferry terminal. It's not an easy slog either, especially after the obligatory caf? stop in town. If you ever want an honest taste for a locale, stop for an espresso and drink it all in.
We reach the official start, and the road kicks up to eight percent. While it's fair to say that eight percent isn't all that difficult--especially with end-of-season fitness--this eight percent adds a little treat: you can never see where you're going. Like a rolling hamster wheel, the climb lulls you into a submission over the first four kilometers as you snake your way over what feels like an eternal half-moon road.
At long last the road levels and we see a beacon amidst the evergreens. What looked from afar to be a hut from Hansel and Gretel turns out to be a tollbooth. Hurricane Ridge sits in a national park, and cyclists are subject to fees just like motorists. Five dollars isn't such a bad deal though, especially if it accompanies some wisdom imparted by an old fashioned forest ranger a la Smokey the Bear uniform and all. With a wink and a weathered smile, Ranger Roger sizes us up and says, "Good luck fellers, you're going to need it." I took it as the calm before the storm.
As the road resumes its siren song of scenic false flats, I get into a rhythm. Having taken off my speedometer and left the heart-rate monitor at home, I'm actually taking in the sights and sounds of my surroundings. The periphery sparkles into clear view and I realize that there is far to more climbing than the pain and suffering we are all so accustomed to.
Our treetop canopy fades, making way for jagged mountain views. Pine and cedar are slowly replaced with exposed rock. Road signs that mark the ascent indicate that, much to our chagrin, we are not the first cyclists to attempt this summit. Details such as these usually go unnoticed when you're searing the steak of your legs to break that personal best time. For once, I find that I'm smiling as I climb.