7 Hells … I survived it … sort of

SF Bike Coalition has this traditional ride, aptly named 7 Hells, where they climb 7 of the most notorious hills of San Francisco.  I didn’t realize this till I started doing a google search (http://www.sfbike.org/main/seven-hells-of-san-francisco-ride/).

I met Ramon at Sports Basement at Crissy Fields.  I mis-read his posting, as the plan was to meet at 9:40, then ride over to the start at the panhandle.  We were both running late, so we kind of had a pre-hill warmup, sprinting to get to Golden Gate Park.  I started to get my climbing and breathing skills preparing for the real hills.

We did get to GGP in plenty of time, and was able to rest a good 5-10 minutes before the group came.  And boy, was this a big group.  I don’t have actual numbers, but it had to be in excess of 30-50 people.  This meant a lot of re-groups, which was good and bad … good to be able to rest, bad that there were a little more stops than I would like.

The start of the ride was overcast, and not as hot as I anticipated.  With 90 degree forecast in Santa Clara, I figured it would be pretty sunny here … but thankfully, it was not.  Good way to start 7 Hells.

The first climb was on Warren Street.  The picture does not really show how steep it is.  When you first look at this, you’d think “holy shit!”  But the only way to proceed is just do it.  But I know these are all short climbs, so down to granny gears, and just power up this climb.  Surprisingly, I was able to climb this, with not much difficulty, not worrying how high my heartrate goes (turns out I topped out at 180 bpm … surprisingly, this is not even close to the highest I would do today).  As I was climbing, I noticed one of the guys had a huge cog in the back.  Later, found out he had a 34 tooth cog in the back.  Dang, that’s as large as most compact cranks!

After the summit, we proceed with a screaming downhill, en route to twin peaks.  Normally, I’d think this as one of the major climbs, but apparently, this is not considered one of the hills.  WTF!

Twin peaks gives us a view of San Francisco, but since it was so overcast, there was really much to see here.  It must suck to be a tourist, coming to San Francisco, coming to the famed Twin Peaks, only to see this.  Not much of a view, huh?

Ok, now down the hill, and the next destination is Dalewood.  This is Ramon’s favorite climb of the day, and luckily for me, I’m familiar with this climb, so it’s not such a big surprise to me.  As expected, Ramon is up at the front, but I’m just going to settle in the middle of the pack.  However, during my climb, I had to contend with cars coming up the hill from behind, avoiding cars on the side of the road, and to my surprise, my speed up the climb.  What do I mean by that???  Well, there were some climbers that stopped on the road, and I just could not ride around them (due to cars coming from behind).  Damn, I had to dismount at that point.  I wasn’t tacking this hill either, aiming to just go straight up.  At this point, the hill was most likely at 21%.  It’s really hard to re-mount on a 21% hill.  I lost probably a minute due to this.  Oh well.  Heart rate check … 181 bpm.

Next hell … I mean hill, is 21st Street.  This is a straight up hill.  What do I mean by straight up?  Well, start at the corner of Valencia and 21st Street, and look up towards 21st Street, and all you can see is a hill going just about vertical.  Ok, so it’s a little exaggerated, but you get my point.  It’s like a stair step climb, where it only levels off at an intersection … but it does give a little breather.  This is one of those climbs where I dug deep down, trying to get more power out of me, try to get as much air in, and out as I could.  It’s a bit strange, but during this climb, I wasn’t even thinking about the pain in my legs, but just trying to not stop and keep going.  Made it up to the top, and another hill climb done.  That was tough.  That topped out at ~ 27%.  That’s one of the steepest climbs I’ve ever done.  My HR topped out at 186 bpm … WOW!!!!  I don’t think I’ve ever gotten it up this high.

Ok, 3 down, 4 more to go, but first, a lunch stop.  We head down towards the Embarcadero, and then get food, drinks, and bathroom stop there.  We didn’t really have a good place to store the bikes, so we took turns watching the bike, then heading off for bathroom, water, etc … I didn’t want to eat too much, so I decided just to go with the food I carried with me.  In retrospect, maybe I should have gotten something, as I’ll tell you more about that a little later.

It was a zoo here, but that’s kind of expected.  You have many touring buses coming along here … and we had some ladies there, seeing a group of lycra-clad cyclists, so what happened here?  Well, what do you think … they took a picture with them in a group of cyclists … and I was one of the targets.  I guess they thought I looked hawt?  Okay, so now I’m famous … somewhere.  Who knows, maybe I’ll end up on the Internet.  Oh wait, I already am, to some extent :p

Anyhow, the next climb up was to Telegraph Hill, up to Coit Tower.  On the way over, we had a little optional detour, to do a gratuitous climb up Filbert.  I thought about that for a minute … and …. no.  I’ll skip it.  Of course, Ramon couldn’t pass by this challenge.  He went straight up it.  About half of the riders went for this … pretty good percentage if you ask me.  I here it tops out at 28% .. well, I think I’ll conserve myself for the climbs ahead.

The clouds have burned off at this point (as you can see in the shot of Filbert).  However, I didn’t stop for a view, as we were all huddled around the tower.  It was crazy crowded here (it was around 1 pm at this point).  We had a lot of tourist looking at us like we were a spectacle or something.  I guess to some tourists, and natives, in fact, we were.  I got a kick out of tourists taking action shots of us, as we were either climbing a hill, or descending a hill.  It felt great!

Anyhow, back down the hill, getting prepared for our next hell destination … Jones.

Jones is another tough one, very similar to 21st Street.  It’s also the same type of climb, where it just goes straight up.  Now switchbacks, just bucker down, get as much power as you can, and just get to the top.  At this point, I started to feel a little queezy in my stomach.  I don’t know what it was … I wasn’t hungry or anything, but I could start feeling like I have indigestion or something … but I figure I’ll charge through this one.

Now, we have completed 4/7, and this is the 5th one.  Fatigue is starting to settle in, but I have enough in the tank for this.

This was just punching me in the face, the more I climb this.  I powered up the first part of it pretty good, and thought I was done with the climb when I got to the stop sign … think again.  I had one more section to do.  I had to keep thinking, don’t stop.  Keep going … I felt like stopping, but I had to go.  I started tacking on this climb, but then I decided to give one final charge, and go straight up.  Pain was settling in, and then, I decided to belt out some primal yells as I am climbing.  This seemed to give me that extra adrenaline, till I finally made it up to the top.  I looked, and this was only 25%!  I guess this was a bit harder than 21st Street, only because of the fatigue factor settling in.

Okay, next climb … California Avenue, right in the heart of downtown SF.  I think this was actually passing by Pete’s old apartments, but not sure.  These are hills Pete affectionately refers to as “ski jump”, but we’re doing it in the reverse direction.  At this point, my stomach was still suffering through this, so I am not putting very much effort into it.  I just got enough mustard to make it through to the top.  We had now completed 6 of the 7 climbs.  The last one was to be the toughest, Divisadero, which is supposed to top out at 38%.  However, with my stomach, I gotta bail on that one.  Lucky for me, Divisadero is very close to Sports Basement where I parked, so it was easy just to make a slight detour to the car, and the bathroom.

Despite the last setback, it was an excellent ride.  One of these days, I’ll have to come back and do Divisadero with the rest of the Wrecking Crew.

Totals:  32.4 miles, 3493 feet of climbing.  Even with all of this, my average heartbeat was still a scant 140 bpm.  Must not be working hard enough, eh?

Here’s the online version of this on Strava … http://www.strava.com/rides/138253

2 thoughts on “7 Hells … I survived it … sort of

  1. Robert Prinz

    Hi, I was on the ride yesterday, and was probably one of the people holding you up on Dalewood, sorry. Thanks for the route info, as my computer doesn’t track elevation.

    The 38% grade climb was not on Divisadero, but on a separate, side street (Broderick?) that a couple of the riders tackled after the end of the official route. The Divisadero climb is from Lombard to Broadway with 5 blocks at about 25% grade, but made much more difficult yesterday by the large volume of car traffic squeezing past us. If you try the climb by yourself I would recommend heading out in the early hours of the morning to avoid all the automobiles.

  2. sevencyclist Post author

    No worries, Robert. It’s all part of the territory. My arms were so tired at that point, I couldn’t do something as silly as move to the left.


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