Monday, November 7, 2011

The SLOW Sign

I didn't need a sign, or instruction. Or was this sign just mocking me? SLOW. Somehow that struck me as funny. It said SLOW. Was it because I had just caught a glimpse of the road ramping up about a half mile further ahead? I already knew what was coming and I already knew it was going to hurt and I already knew it was going to be slow. Did they have to put a sign right there? The SLOW sign.

SLOW. Any time I hit a grade that ramps up past the single digits I can think about it in any number of positive and self-affirming ways or use any cheesy metaphors I want but the bottom line is: I am going to be slow. I am turning out the weakness. I am finding out who I am. I am listening for hope.  I am reaching into my suitcase full of courage or something like that. How ever I want to spin it for myself, I know I am going to suffer and I know I am going to be slow. I didn't need a sign to tell me this but there it was. The SLOW sign.

This is what I would call the second climb of the three proper climbs for this Tri-States Gran Fondo and I wished I had brought a suitcase full of courage or a Barney bag or something. Here in a moment I was going to find out just who I was and turn out some weakness and find all the hope I ever needed and discover whatever I had in that suitcase whether I liked it or not.

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.

As I think about these three climbs and how they account for about 26% of the miles in this Gran Fondo and that these 26% of the miles account for about 72% of the climbing, I also start to catch my breath and ease off the pedals a bit as the grade slacks some before the final big grinder on this climb number two. I'm about a half mile past the SLOW sign and I've been watching the fluorescent green swatch of reflective wind and waterproof cloth on the shoe covers of the rider that's been about a half a mile in front of me for the last three miles or so and the hypnotic motion has lulled me into not really paying attention to the fact that he's been catching the rider in front of him as I've been slowly reeling him in as well.

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???"

I look up again trying to spot the top of this hill as my heart is pounding in my throat so loudly that I can barely hear my legs screaming at me in pain. All that effort and suffering I pulled out of my suitcase and he stopped to take a picture! I burned a match and he stopped to take a picture! I look down at the valley floor to the road where this battle started almost four miles ago and try to catch my breath again as I ease up wishing that Jens was here to tell my legs to shut up. I can't see the SLOW sign. I can't believe he stopped!

I've got about a mile and a half or so to go to get to Veyo Pies and enjoy my deep dish chocolate chip cookie and get some more water and take a turn in the honey bucket, but first I've got to get up this last little bit of this climb number two out of three proper climbs on this Tri-States Gran Fondo. Just a little bit more of climb number two here at around mile 51. Just a little bit more pain. Just a little more suffering. I am turning out the weakness. I am finding out who I am. I am listening for hope. I can't believe he stopped! I can't see the SLOW sign, but I am going slow again.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post, man! you are a good writer. I am enjoying your blog!