Since I was not participating in Ironman this year, I figured I might as well give the Tour das Hugel another spin. I had done the Hugel in 2015 and don’t remember it being too bad if you were trained for it, so might as well hit a few hills, then do it again. My training began in earnest in early October with River Place/Big View hill repeats once a week after work, along with the rest of my bike riding (spin classes during the week, group workouts, and long weekend rides). While I cannot imagine that this would not be enough. Well, we’ll see…
The Tour das Hugel is described on its Facebook page as:
“The annual TdH: more than 100 miles of Austin’s toughest hills, including more than 13,000 feet of climbing.”
It’s Website has such gems as:
Should I ride Das Hugel?
Why shouldn’t I ride Das Hugel?
It’s extremely dangerous. Some of the descents are wickedly fast with winding turns. There’s grooved pavement, traffic, grumpy police, steep grades up that might leave you falling over in your clips, etc. Your doctor would advise against it unless your ticker is in top shape. Your spouse would force you to up your life insurance.
Inexplicably, I met folks on this ride that were surprised it was so hilly. ???
There are two parts to this ride. The first section is 40 miles with about 3600 feet of climbing. We start and end at the pedestrian bridge by Mopac at the Hike and Bike trail downtown. There are no designated* rest stops on this section, and everyone rides this section. You’re supposed to reload with anything you might need at your car before you start the second portion. A lot of folks pre-determine that they will only so this first section (and other folks just quit after riding 40 miles). Then you set out for the second leg, 60 miles with 7500 feet of climbing.
*Since this ride is totally informal, there are really no officially designated rest stops, but there is a stop with food at a park at mile 68 which you pass again at mile 88, so you need to take some initiative and have food/drink or stop and get some at convenience stores, coffee shops, and gas stations along the route before you get to this rest stop late in the ride.
I polled my friends to see who was riding and even tried to recruit folks to do this ride with me, but there were no takers (I’m not saying that my coach telling everyone that I am insane was not a factor, but, my coach telling everyone that I am insane did not help recruiting).
Since I am notorious for getting lost I took precautions this year.
I joined RidewithGPS and downloaded the maps, I bought a Anker smart speaker so I could hear the audio cues (this thing is so cool!), I charged up my phone and my extra battery charger (which I kept in the car in case I needed it for the second half), I even brought bifocal sunglasses so I could see my phone. I figured I would need about 10 hours of juice from soup to nuts (apparently I am still hungry. Translation: I would need the batteries to last about 10 hours from the start to the end). But I also figured I would hook up with riders my pace at some point and probably wouldn’t even need the maps.
That morning I arrived at the ride start to perfect cycling weather: dry but overcast, with morning temperatures in the low 60’s on their way up to the low to mid 70’s. I made some new friends in the parking lot, and ran into a few old friends. One of my friends said she was going to “get up front” for the start and I bid her good luck. One thing I have learned with this ride is that I do not want to start with the aggressive riders if I plan on finishing.
There were a few hundred of us (I figure) and at 7:00am we were off.
I am not going to detail every climb. There were so many and we would be here all day.
Here is the Elevation graph for this ride, so yeah, hills:
Some of the Hills I climbed: Torro Canyon, The High Road, Barton Creek, Lost Creek, Mt Bonnell, Beauford, Courtyard, Rain Creek, Bluegrass, Smoky Valley, Ladera Norte, Cuernavaca, River Hills, Big View, River Place, Jester.
I will say, my phone map/speaker combination worked great. About 1/10th of a mile before each turn a loud, clear voice would say “turn right on Rollingwood” or whatever the turn was. I highly recommend something like this if you have no sense of direction (like me).
The first bad hill we hit was The High Road – seriously, that is the name of the road. I’ve ridden this hill over the years about 5 times before, but apparently it is like childbirth – you forget the pain. This is the first hill where I was in my granny gear (39X32 – the lowest gear on my bike) but the hill was so steep that I was pulling my front wheel off the ground, so I stood up to put weigh over the front wheel and keep it down, but now there is less weight on the back wheel and it starts slipping. I quickly found a balance between the front and rear wheel to keep everything on the ground as I rode up the hill. While the high road is three short steep hills with a tiny break between each, there is a 19-22% graded section (While a hill grade is figured by determining the slope (rise/run) presented as a percentage, this article nicely explains what that a grade feels like to the layperson: Guide to Climbing Grades).
From there we headed over to Bee Caves Road here we would find Cuernavaca/River Hills. In my opinion, this is prettiest hill. It’s a loop in a neighborhood so there is little traffic. The road is narrow and tree lines with big old houses and the lowest point is at the water (I have no idea what water, but there is pretty water). It’s one long down hill, then one long uphill, but it is not awful and it is so pretty. Here I ran into Shannon. We were certain we had ridden together before, but neither of us could remember when (Shannon – it was the Bagel Shop ride last week!). She was riding with her friend Larry (I think), and seemed way too excited to be there. I later learned she was doing only the first section of the ride, so maybe that was it. We stuck together for most of that hill, but then I was off on my own again.
From Cuernavaca the route headed to Lost Creek. OK. Lost Creek is three hills, a steep downhill to a steep uphill, then another, then another but with a much longer up hill on the third. It’s long, but generally pretty fun. HOWEVER, at some point “they” grooved the road.
So instead of flying down the hill all “Weeeee!” I was getting my teeth rattled out of my head, trying to keep my bike from shaking apart while gripping my brakes and probably getting carpal tunnel syndrome. Then, due to braking the whole way down there was no momentum to help me out on the uphill.
From there I headed back to my truck for a granola bar and bathroom break.
Surprisingly, I had not found a group to ride with, although I did see the same folks on several of the hills, we just never seemed to sync up.
I ate a PowerBar, used the restroom, and refilled my water bottle, then I checked my phone battery. Hmm, 77% and I am 1/3 through the ride, so that should be plenty of juice. I opted to not take my battery charger with me (while it is 2″ x 5″ x .5″ and weighs 6 ounces, I don’t need that kind of extra weight). <- more foreshadowing
I headed back out by myself. The first big hill on this side of the ride is Mount Bonnell. As I was climbing Mt. Bonnell, Laura and Matty pass me. The only reason this is unusual is because they should have been way ahead of me (I later found out that they stopped at Mozart’s Coffee Shop for lunch, which is retrospect was a brilliant idea).
I also determined that there are some good hills in those neighborhoods back by Mesa Drive. Who knew?
on my way to the double whammy, Smokey Valley / Ladera Norte hill combo. As I was riding towards Smokey Valley, a fella pulls up next to me and asks, “How much longer to the end?” Uh, really? “Umm, 60 more miles.” I replied, “But you’re gonna love the next hill.”
“More hills!?!” he exclaimed (apparently he did not read the website description). “Is there a short cut?” Thing is, we are riding all over Austin, so there is always a short cut, but no one wants me giving them directions if they actually want to get where they want to go. Also, once you get to the bottom of Far West Blvd, the only way out is up, so he was committed to at least two good hills before he could try to get back to the start. Shortly thereafter, I am by myself again (because he was walking up Smokey Valley).
So, Smokey Valley – I believe this is the steepest hill in town (My Garmin registered a 23% grade at one point):
Then Ladera Norte:
So I get to the top of Ladera Norte and I gotta say, I’m not feeling great. I’m not feeling sick (as one might suspect) but I am tired! And I feel like I am spending way too much time climbing in my granny-gear and out of the saddle, my quads are killing me. Usually I can stay seated in my granny gear even on some of the steeper hills, but I am not feeling strong at all. The fact that I have been alone all day is not helping quell my doubts about finishing either. Having a bunch of insane cheerleaders urging you to keep going is surprisingly effective.
I get through some not hideous hills, then get on 360 and head over to Beauford. Beauford is probably the suckiest hill in town. It always looks like this. Those grooves are there permanent and on purpose, and lookit that grade!
So from Beauford, I know I have to do West Courtyard then City Park Road, which will take me over to Big View and River Place. Since I practice Big View/River Place loops I somehow feel like of I can get there I’ll be okay. I also know there is a water fountain at Big View in the park where it meets River Place, then there is a gas station on 620 at River Place where I am planning on stopping for food.
Then my mini speaker battery dies. Damn it! Why didn’t I grab that charger? This is the first ride I have done using the speaker directions, so this is where I determine how long the battery lasts (and I can’t even remember if I fully charged it after the last time I used it). That’s ok. That’s ok. I blast the volume on my phone so I can hear where there is a turn and I can stop and look at the map if I don’t hear which way to go.
At the base of West Courtyard at mile 60ish, I take a gel … in retrospect I can see that the last thing I ate was that PowerBar at the start of this loop. I am in desperate need of some food, but inexplicably my brain is not telling me to eat everything I have on me, so I take a gel and start thinking of the best places to bail out of this ride.
Courtyard is great because it has several sweeping curves, so every time you think you must be done…Wrong! I make it City Park Road, then through the rollers of Westminster Glen (which is actually pretty fun).
At this point I have serious doubts about finishing. Maybe I wasn’t ready for this ride. But I am not bailing before Big View and River Place. I’ve been practicing those hills, so I am definitely hanging in until I can get through them. Onward to River Place!
When I finally achieve the top of River Place (a nice 2.3 mile climb of varying grades), I stop to full my water bottle and find the Official Rest Stop at mile 68.
I head over to the tables of glorious food: peanut butter, pop-tarts, bananas, Coke (full sugar Coke!), crackers with something orange between them… I eat everything and start doing shots of Coke, while talking to the guys at the rest stop. Everyone assures me that I can’t quit once I’ve made it to mile 68 (‘cos only 42 miles left! Wait, what?) and there aren’t even many hard hills to go.
After consuming 500 calories and getting a pep-talk, I am in a much better mood and set out to make the last 42 miles my b1tch! It is amazing what food can do for your attitude!
Now I head over the Bullick Hollow (you ride to the Oasis then make a right). Again, I am on my own, but one of the guys assured me that Bullick Hollow wasn’t to bad. I ride past the Oasis and head down a long gradual grade waiting for my phone to tell me where the right turn is. I pass Hippy Hollow and end up at Bob Wentz Park…at the end of the road…down by the water. Wait. This doesn’t look right.
I pull out my phone and see that “somehow” it has turned itself off. I go to turn it back on as see that I have 1% battery life.
So now I have no map and no phone and no freaking idea where I am or where I am going.
I turn around and start to climb back towards the Oasis. At this point, I figure if I cannot find Bullick Hollow, I can just head to 620 and the Mansfield Dam since I have already added at least a few miles and good climb to my ride, but the recently consumed food is making me feel a whole lot better so I am not nearly as frustrated as I might have been.
And as I approach the Oasis, I see a big intersection turn to my left that looks like it was the right I was supposed to take on the way out, so I turn. Yep, this was my turn (I later learn that I added about 3.8 miles to my ride).
I make my way up Bullick Hollow (which really wasn’t that bad), then I head down 620 to the Mansfield Dam. At this point I pretty much know where I am going as the Mansfield Dam is part of “The Dam Loop” an extremely popular cycling route here in town. So I just go down 620 all the way past the dam (5.5 miles downhill), then turn into the park to get on a trail that goes to the low water crossing under the bridge, then climb the 5.5 miles back to 2222/Four Points. How hard could that be.
I coast all the way down 620 over the Mansfield Dam, turned right aaaand, that trail should be right around here somewhere. [looks left…looks right… sees a drainage ditch… looks around for other cyclists (there are none)…where is that trail???]
After riding up and down the road and peering into the drainage ditch with trepidation, I decide to ride over to the parking lot attendant for directions.
Me: Hello. I’m on a loosely organized bike ride and I am supposed to take a trail under the bridge. It’s not that murder drainage ditch thing, is it?
Her: Yeah, that’s it.
Her: It looks a lot better from the other side.
I ride back to the murder ditch and there are two other cyclists peering at their phones. I inquired as to whether they were looking for the trail, which of course they were.
“That’s it.” I say gesturing to the murder ditch. Neither of them was incline to believe me, probably suspecting I was the bait for a The Hills Have Eyes family, but I explained that I had ridden over to the parking lot attendant who assured me that was the trail.
We carefully began to descend the trail, riding around the over grown grass and shrubbery growing from the cracks and listen for banjo music …
We had to dismount to get over the section that was washed out.
About half way down it started looking more like a path and less like a murder ditch and finally on the other side we were able to ride over the low water crossing and start our climb all the way up 620 back to Four Points. At this point, I lost my new friends and was on my own again.
This brought me back to the official rest stop now at mile 88, where I had another pop-tart and some more Coke. So now all I had to do was the short steep hill on the other side of River Place then Big View, then get back to 2222 to climb Jester and I was “done.”
Since I had been practicing on Big View and River Place, I was not very concerned about these hills even though they are steep. I knew I could do them, even if they do hurt. What I was worried about was Jester. It’s just a 1/2 mile with a 12% grade, but I had some serious doubts as to whether I would be able to get up Jester at mile 99.
So there I was. At the foot of the last big hill. Look up. Deep breath. This is it. I can do this. I’m good enough. I’m strong enough. And gosh darnit, I’m gonna finish this thing!
I pretty much immediately got into my highest gear and, yeah, it took me over 7 minutes at 4.3mph, but I did it!
I used the last 10 miles down 360 back to the parking lot as recovery, where celebrated with a Pabst Blue Ribbon.
So, my second Hugel is in the books: 113.1 miles, 8:19:22 at 13.6 mph with 10,712 feet of climbing. It seemed much tougher than my first (maybe due to my forgetting to eat, maybe it was those extra 3+ miles), and the recovery is taking a bit longer, but I got my T-shirt and my beer (and my 4200 calorie deficit).