The name “Torture 10,000” for the hilly century ride in the Portland area of Oregon is quite a misnomer. Not because the ride is unbefitting of a name containing the word “torture”, but because the century route has not 10,000, but actually over 13,100 feet of climbing,
Nevertheless, as an afficionado of climbing and being in the Portland area anyhow, this seemed like a must-do ride. Refreshingly, the ride was a bargain compared to California centuries—just $25 for day of registration for non-Portland Bicycle Club members, and less for early registrants and members. I camped out at Viento State Park the night before and woke up at 5:00am to drive to the start at Mt. Hood Community College and get rollin’ by 6:50am.
The first thing I noticed from the queue sheet was that these first 24 miles already would accumulate almost 5200′ of climbing, with a 3000′, 14-mile climb being that of Larch Mountain Rd. Oh boy. With this in mind, I rode the first 10 miles before Larch conservatively, and was pretty amazed that many other riders chose not to.
From the get go the scenery was lush, with verdant trees all around and few cars traveling the roads at these early Saturday morning hours. Indeed, going up Larch itself—which dead-ended at a parking lot—I can’t remember seeing a single car during the climb.
I did see many other cyclists, however. For one thing, I quickly caught up to and passed all of the riders who had passed me going out to Larch, seemingly vindicating the “start out conservatively” strategy. During the entire climb, 4 cyclists passed me up, but I also passed about 50-60. The entire climb took over an hour, maybe by 10 minutes or so. Considering my lack of any sort of structured training on the bike this year, I was satisfied with my climbing. It remained to be seen how my legs would hold up during the rest of the ride.
The great thing about such a long, sustained climb was that after a quick rest stop at the top, going back down it meant a long, sustained descent! The roads were good with merely sweeping curves, and somewhere here, my maximum speed of 43 mph for the day was attained. On the other side of the road were a long, strung-out line of cyclists still ascending Larch. Truly a beautiful, almost mystical descent, glossing over a ribbon of concrete winding through a tunnel of evergreen trees.
But while the descent was long, of course it had to come to an end sometime. In this case, abruptly. Turning left onto SE Gordon Creek Rd. meant a complete reversal of vertical direction. While thinking to myself, “wow… steep”, a rider, as if reading my mind, cried out, “Is this steep enough?”
It seemed like the rest of the leg would be like this… some short, steep ascents followed by brief reprieves, yo-yo-ing between 467 feet and 1000 feet in elevation. Finally, as we approached Highway 26, the elevation gain stopped, if only until Rest Stop #2 in a small town called Sandy.
A quick note about the rest stops in this ride. In contrast to most organized rides I have done, they featured primarily wholesome, unprocessed foods, and were refreshingly devoid of the oversweet, cardboard-textured overengineered crap refered to as “energy bars”. (Even the energy bars that were available—Odwalla food bars—tended to be more natural, or so Odwalla claims.) Instead, there was a plethora of fresh fruit, including sweet strawberries, juicy cantelope and honeydew melon, and bananas. In addition, there were a variety of bagels already cut into fourths along with strawberry jam and tupperware filled with hazelnut butter (as oppposed to peanut butter). The hazelnut butter was absolutely wonderful! There was nutella too as a spread.
After the stop we were met with—no surprise—yet more climbing. Actually, the terrain was more rolling than anything, with significant-but-short climbs followed by an equally short descent. I was still feeling good with over half of the ride over.
After Mile 61, there was a rather steep and long descent down Kitzmiller Road. This one had a number of switchbacks, and a few of them had no speed warning signs like “15 mph” (which some of these U-turn-like corners were!) Thus, I was on the brakes a good part of the time, and enjoying the free ride for the most part when a thought came to my mind—particularly, “man, we are going to have to come back up this later in the day!”
I tried to push that thought to the side and momentarily reflect upon happier things. Like how my first hilly century was with Ken in the Eldorado Century 11 years ago, which had 7500′ of climbing and hence was “extremely hilly” (never mind that this ride had 75% more!) I also wondered about how Sharon was doing in the half-ironman Barb’s Race triathlon in Napa Valley, which was simultaneously going on. Finally, I thought about Lisa Z., who was asked to do some modeling on the beach earlier that morning, and photos of which I am really looking forward to. ; )
These thoughts stayed with me as I rolled into Rest Stop #3, where more delicious fresh food awaited.
Another rest stop followed by more climbing. The scenery had changed from the dense forestry of, for example, Larch Mountain to roadsides that were still green and lush, but was more open and provided less coverage.
Going up SE George Rd. and then SE Clausen Rd. amounts to about 1300 feet of continuous climbing. A handful of cyclists were in front of me in the distance, with a recumbent in front of them. Particularly amazing to me was that this recumbent was actually dropping all of the “upright” riders right behind! Inspired, I cranked it up a notch, first passing the uprights, and finally (after maybe 15 minutes), catching up to the mysterious ‘bent itself.
“You reeled me in!” exclaimed the recumbent rider, who apparently had a helmet mirror.
“I have to say,” I replied, “I am REALLY impressed with your climbing. I have a Reynolds Wishbone recumbent, and I can’t climb nearly as well as you have.”
“And that’s supposed to be a good climbing bike,” he pointed out.
“Yes… and yet I still prefer to do these sort of rides on my regular bike,” I said.
“Your leg muscles are probably still more conditioned for it,” he replied. That’s what quite a few recumbent riders say, though I have yet to meet anyone who claims they can actually climb better on a recumbent than a regular bike…
Regardless, we talked for a little bit more. Apparently, the recumbent was a Challenge recumbent built in Holland, and according to the rider, “only weighs 23 lbs.” (In comparison, my Reynolds weighs just under 26, which is already considered pretty light for a ‘bent.) Also, it “has rotor cranks” (not sure what this means yet), and at one point, the rider exclaimed, “gosh I love these 1-to-1 gears!” (Maybe has a 28-tooth granny in front and 28-tooth cog in the back?)
Anyhow, after briefly talking, I said, “well, I’m sure you will catch me on the descents, so see you later.” I then took off, but never could put any serious distance on the ‘bent even though, at least subconsciously, I’m sure I was trying. After all, a recumbent bike should not be able to climb as well as an upright! It seemed like I could put get ahead by maybe 200 feet on the recumbent, but as we approached the top of Eagle Fern Rd. and the road started to level off in places, the ‘bent would catch right back up. Finally, as we got to the top, I crested it first, but only about 200 feet beyond, the ‘bent flew by me, never to be caught again (until I would see it at the next rest stop).
By the next rest stop, I was tired. I had extra hazelnut-butter-on-bagels here while wishing that there was some Coke or Pepsi lying around (this would be about the only thing I would add to the rest stops… and maybe some sandwich bags.)
Unfortunately, there was still Kitzmiller—the long, steep descent from two legs before—to ascend. And my legs, now with 80 miles in them (and hammering a good part of that) were—to use a term another rider used at a previous rest stop—“grenaded.”
Riders were now regularly passing me. All I could do was try to limit the damage, just getting to the finish. Just 25 miles, I thought at the Mile 79 Rest Stop (Rest Stop #4). Yet that seemed like quite a bit…
Things continued to go downhill. Unfortunately, only figuratively, though. After ascending Kitzmiller (800′ up), there were still PLENTY of rollers. And if this wasn’t enough, with just 2 miles to go to Rest Stop #5… I missed a turn!
Actually, several other riders did too, and I was following them. The route had been so well marked up to that point that it was easy to get complacent and NOT consult the route sheet, and this is exactly what had happened. The problem was compounded when we continued seeing arrows making us think we were going the right way, when in fact we were now mistakingly retracing the same roads as in the morning.
Too bad, because I only realized this a few miles later after adding on more climbing via the rolling roads. After consulting the map, I turned around… only to miss the turn again. Finally, I found it, and proceeded on the final two miles to Rest Stop #5.
I got to the rest stop and another rider remarked he saw me miss the turn. “It was really confusing,” he said, “enough that I pulled off the road, checked my map, and then asked one of the locals working in his yard, ‘Which way is Sandy!’ He pointed me out in the right direction. LOTS of riders missed that turn; someone in a SAG vehicle said a sign pointing it out was blown away or something.”
After inhaling yet more fresh fruit and bagels-and-hazelnut, I was on my way, really glad that there was just 14 miles to go.
But I couldn’t take off immediately. This is because when I got back to my bike, the front tire was flat! At least this happened at a rest stop and not on the road, which allowed me to save a CO2 cartridge and use a real floor pump.
Back on the road, my legs were still really tired, but at least the roads leveled off somewhat. “Mostly downhill with just one short hill at the very end,” I was told at the rest stop. During one of these downhills, a young woman (in this predominantly male event) in her aerobars passed me, which awoke me from my lethargic state. From that point on I resolved I would try my best to catch up. I never did, but at least she stayed in my sights all the way to the end, the proverbial carrot being chased by a rabbit.
Upon seeing Mt. Hood Community College I breathed a sigh of relief. Torture is over!
At the finish was a lot of ice cream, sodas, and Odwalla bars and Kettle Chips. I couldn’t stick around long due to trying to make a friend’s BBQ in Portland right afterwards, but inhaled some of the Kettle Chips.
Looking back, the Torture 10,000 was a fantastic ride. Aside from the obvious challenge of it (hardest century I have ridden to date), it traveled through some wonderfully green scenery with some great views, with few cars, just a few hundred cyclists, and generally very good weather. Aside from the turn I missed the course was very well marked, and the food provided was right on (aside from the lack of Coke). Even the frequency of stops was good—less frequent (every 25 miles or so) during the first half, and much more frequent (every ~14 miles) in the second.
It was very apparently much thought and organization had gone into this ride. I highly recommend the ride to anyone who loves climbing, even if the ride is truly worthy of the name “torture.”
A route sheet and map is here (PDF, 884 kB).
- 104 miles (111 ridden due to getting lost)
- 6:50 start, 16:00 finish -> 9.2 hours
- Average speed: 13.8 mph rolling, 12.1 mph overall
- Max speed: 43 mph
- Climbing: 13,132 feet
(1 = needs improvement, 5 = best)
- Scenery: 4
- Support/Organization: 4
- Food: 4. Main improvement would be the addition of Coke/Pepsi and sandwich bags at the rest stops.
- Weather: 4. Would have got a 5 if it did not start getting much warmer in the afternoon.
- Relative Difficulty: 5
- Overall Rating: 4