Monday, November 7, 2011
The SLOW Sign
Right here at mile 47 I knew that I was going to climb almost 800 feet in about six miles, which was about the same that I had climbed over the last twelve miles of ramps and rollers, and unfortunately that wasn't going to be the hard part. The hard part was going to be the two steep sections during these next six miles. The hard part was going to be the grades that would reach 16% and the average grade during these two steep sections that would hit 10%. Yes, I was going to find something in my suitcase and I didn't need the SLOW sign to announce it ahead of time.
Beyond the SLOW sign, the autumn colors are beautiful as the trees in the valley are announcing the late arrival of fall at the Eagle Mountain Ranch. Once across the bridge, the road tips up and I need the small ring and top of my cassette right away as I pedal slowly up and away from the horses munching grass by their white fence as they watch me with amusement from the valley floor. I've heard that climbing on a bicycle is more mental than physical and right now I find myself wishing that my legs were as strong as my mind as I alternate grinding out a steady painful tempo while seated and standing as I try to drop the hammer on the burning in my quads.
Up I go as the green grass and cottonwoods give way to the sagebrush, rocks and juniper and I'm struggling to find that magical climbing sweet spot of working hard enough without blowing myself up as I try to put this second of the three proper climbs for this big ride, this Gran Fondo, into perspective. Depending on who you get your information from there's between 7000 and 7500 feet of climbing over about 112 miles. Some of these climbing feet are little rollers and ramps and some of these climbing feet are large rollers and ramps, but almost 5000 of these climbing feet are basically three solid climbs in the small ring and this one is climb number two.
Climb number one ended at roughly mile 27 after slogging up 2779 feet of elevation gain over the course of 16 miles. This climb, climb number two, is not long at only just over six miles and is not tall at just around 800 feet, but this climb has the steeps. And the steeps have the pain-o-meter in my legs pegged as I think about whether or not I am going to have enough left over for climb number three still to come at mile 78. Climb number three is 1440 feet over 7.5 miles at a very steady 6-7% average grade and there's going to be a nice stiff headwind all the way there and all the way up and all the way back down the other side to the finish.
I eyeball the hill trying to find the summit a few miles up the road and I eyeball the fluorescent shoe covers bobbing up and down about a half mile in front of me and my logarithmic calculations conspire against the SLOW sign and suddenly it is game on. I decide that I might be slow, but I am going to open up my suitcase full of courage and I am going to catch that rider in front of me with the fluorescent green hypnotic up and down shoe covers. I am going to burn a match. I am going to push a little harder and I am going to catch this guy.
I shift down two cogs as I stand smoothly rocking my bike under me as I gain speed going up this slack section of steep climb number two. A couple of miles roll by and I can't listen for hope anymore because my pulse is pounding so loudly in my ears and my lungs are burning and my legs are wondering who I am but I am going to catch this guy. By the time we get to the really steep part that switchbacks up and out of the valley onto the ridge above, I've captured back about three quarters of the distance I need to close.
My legs are on fire but I am going to catch this guy and knowing that helps me find that little tiny bit of something extra in my suitcase as I take a hard right and stand a bit to pump the pedals and rock the bike smoothly up the hill. I stand and pedal as long as I can stand and pedal until the pain in the top of my thighs demands that I just drop my legs on the pedals to the bottom of each pedal stroke and I do that until I can't stand and drop my legs anymore and the burning in my quads demands that I sit. So I sit and grind and grind and grind using every gear I have as I push and push and push and push and push until the pain in the back of my thighs demands that I stand again and get up this hill.
As the sweat and snot drips from my nose and splatters on my top tube I take a measure of the distance I need to close again. I am almost there. I have almost got him! I feel like I'm breathing glass shards and my legs are melting in the furnace of pain but I am going to catch this guy. I watch his fluorescent green hypnotic pedal strokes up down up down as he alternates sitting and standing and sitting again and I know he knows.
He knows I'm there. He knows I'm turning out the weakness. He knows I'm finding out who I am. He knows I'm going to catch him. I glance up the hill trying to find the summit to measure against the effort to balance against the distance I still need to close as I stand again because my legs are telling me I must and my wheel slips in some gravel and dirt as it tries to find some traction to spend my effort on.
I've got this guy! My legs are screaming so loudly with pain that I can't hear any hope and I know that I am going to catch him right here on this hill. I try to calm my breathing. I am going to catch this guy. I am at that point that I know I am going to pass him as my pulse is thumping loudly in my ears and I know he knows too.
My upper body is rocking slightly as I pull up on the bars to try to give my fading pedal strokes more leverage. My legs are smoldering coals and my heart is pounding in spasms and the sweat and snot is dripping off my nose and chin and splattering on my top tube and thighs. I stand up to give it one last push to reel him in as I shift down a cog and hope I have the breath to say "how's it going?" as I glide smoothly past.
Right when I do all that, I suddenly know that the guy in front of him is his riding buddy. I haven't quite caught him yet, but I'm almost right there as I hear him gasp to his riding buddy "hey! I want to stop and take a picture here" as those hypnotic fluorescent green pedal strokes come screeching to a stop and unclip. When I glide past, I do manage a horse, winded "how's it going?" when what I really want to say is "are you kidding? I was just about to drop you on this climb number two of almost 800 feet over roughly six miles with ramps as steep as 16% and 10% average grades! Why are you stopping???"
Posted by Steve Wilson