I first heard about Austin’s Tour das Hugel from friends in 2015. Joyce said that she heard it was incredibly difficult. Mike said that he only rode a portion of the route and that he had horrible leg cramps afterward. I’d been to Austin many times but I didn’t remember seeing any hills or even noticing any significant change in elevation. How could it be that bad? Ohhhhhh, I get it . . . these friends are from Houston, Texas, the flattest place on Earth. They’ve never seen real mountains before.
Tour das Hugel (German for Tour of the Hills) is not a formal mass-start event that you have to register for and there are no waivers to sign. My friend Kiet apparently rides it each year and had determined that you can get the most bang-for-your-hill climbing-buck by doing a shortened 74 mile version (AKA the second loop). The second loop has the same difficult climbs as the full monty 110 mile version. It’s just less filling and your legs still hurt afterwards.
I sort of waited until the last minute to commit to the ride. I had to be sure my wife was willing to go on another overnight cycling adventure with me. Turns out she was game and even our Sofie wanted to go. We would drive to Austin on Friday afternoon and drive home on Saturday. I booked the room on Thursday. Did I say that I waited until the last minute to commit? Yes I did but I did not, however, wait until the last minute to get my bike prepared. Kiet had advised me a couple of weeks before that compact chainrings were de rigueur and with an 11-28 cassette, I should be able to climb over anything. I had already procured the chainrings and the cassette without knowing with certainty that I would do the ride. I just knew that I would use them at some point. If not 2016, then 2017! I’m just glad that when I bought my crankset, I decided to go with 52-36, medium compact, chainrings. This range works fine for Houston rides and the Praxis Works crankset has the necessary 110 bcd (bold circle diameter) to allow the new rings to bolt right on.
I met Kiet and his other friends from Houston at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, in downtown Austin. The plan was to have coffee and pastries while those doing the full-Hugel completed the first loop. The end of the first loop is also the start of the second loop. We would time our departure to coincide with the first loopers starting the second loop. Until then, I had a very chill time sipping coffee and eating a cinnamon roll while browsing the shop looking at some of the historically significant bikes ridden by Lance Armstrong during his career. It was eventually departure time so we made our way a few miles to the starting point.
I soon discovered that Austin does have hills–very high ones at that and some of them are fricking steep. And fantastic views as well. It was a gorgeous day for riding and occasionally, we’d get to the top of a climb and look back to see beautiful views of the Colorado River running towards downtown Austin.
As I mentioned, we did a shortened version of about 74 miles and about 7,000 feet of climbing compared to the 110 miles and 11,000 feet of hills in the full route. But I soon discovered that it’s not the cumulative elevation that makes this ride exceptional; it’s the steepness of the climbs. The grade of several of these roads reached 20%. It took everything I had to turn the pedals over. “If only I had one more gear,” I kept thinking to myself. I had to alternate between sitting in the saddle and standing to grind up the hill. I’d stand just before feeling that I was losing forward momentum and at risk of falling over. I forgot my heart rate strap but I’m pretty sure I was close to or over my maximum several times.
One’s mind can wander during times of focused exertion and I used these moments to think of titles for this blog. I wanted a cycling-esque name. I thought of the bike. I thought of its parts. Hmmmmm, sprockets came to mind. What are they? Sprockets are the individual metal disks with protrusions that engage the chain. Sprocketman! I thought that sounded kind of cool but too mechanic-ky and I’m no mechanic. But here I was, riding in a cycling event with a German name thinking about sprockets. It was easy to make the leap to the Mike Myers Sprockets skits that were on Saturday Night Live in the late 80s and 90s. I remembered many of the skits and started to think of memes involving Dieter and Tour das Hugel. Anyway, I think a little humor can go a long way to helping you ignore pain.