I rode this event yesterday (Sunday, September 13). This is a 24.5-mile (39 km) climb of Mt. Baker, an extinct volcano masquerading as a ski resort about an hour's drive east of Bellingham, WA. The climb is supposedly 7%, which means it's easy if you take it slow, and quite a tough climb if you race up. There were about 750 riders in total, of which about 250 were in the competitive category, going for times.
I have never been a climber (my specialty when I was racing was road sprints from the breakaway group), so knowing I would get nowhere near the front of the 50-59 age group, I decided to ride in the single-speed fixed gear category. Being too much the purist, I rode the event in a fixed gear. My one concession to the climb was dropping the gear from my usual 42x16 to 42x17.
Well, the first section of the climb is rolling, so there are some short descents, and I realized I should have used a single speed (i.e., a freewheel with one cog), as I was totally spun out on the early descents. And then I probably should have used an 18 for what would come later. I did manage to stay with one bearded dude on a single-speed mtb until we got to the actual climb, and then the lightweight wiry fellow took off, with my blessing.
I don't know my finishing time (their computer screwed up, so no results are yet available); I just know that when I stopped at the top of climb, in the parking lot at a place called Artist's Point, my computer showed that it had taken me at least 1h52. I would have needed to finish in 1h40 to end up anywhere near the top of the single speed/fixed gears. Those guys can climb!
My one consolation was that I rode on my commuter bike, a steel Benotto track frame (albeit with "coded optionals," such as all-carbon fork, carbon handlebars, carbon seatpost, and Shimano wheels modified with Surly Fixxer to take a track cog). I quite enjoyed passing dudes on their expensive state-of-the-art professional carbon fiber road bikes with mountain gearing. One dude I passed even had a set of all-carbon wheels.
It's not the bike, it's the motor...
Here's a picture of my bike on a pre-ride of the same mountain about a month earlier, hence the absence of the race wheels: