01 June 2010


Vail Pass SkylineI haven't done Ride the Rockies since 2005. I haven't ridden Vail Pass since 2008. Either I didn't learn the mandatory lessons from those rides, or I'm getting old. I forgot some fairly important strategies!

I've been fueling for the flats. I've been riding in non-stop mode. Gotta keep going so I can get to work on time. Or get home before dark.

I learned a huge lesson on Vail Pass over the weekend, one I already should have known well. Elevation and climbing require a different mode of fueling than the flats, and I can stop when I need to when I'm doing Ride the Rockies. I do NOT have to ride straight through each day.

During my first climb of Vail Pass in nearly two years, I was doing fine until I hit a short but steep little hill with what The Lizard said probably is a 15% grade. That grade killed me. It absolutely killed me.

When I came around the bend and saw that hill leering at me, my heart skipped a beat or two. Or three. Hundred. It's a lot longer hill than the 12% grade I have to climb to get home in the evenings when I bike home from work. I was already feeling tired, and I wasn't sure I could get up the hill. Initially, I attacked it the way I try to attack the final two hills on the way home from work. I went full force. I made it only halfway up the hill. I pulled over to suck in air. Thank heavens no other bikes were around in either direction. That would have magnified the utter humiliation.

I was too tired to eat or drink. I slumped over the handlebars and cried. " I can't do Ride the Rockies!" I wailed. "I have only two weeks left, and I can't climb!"

The Lizard had ridden ahead; he's training for the Triple Bypass and the Mount Evans Hillclimb in addition to Ride the Rockies. I didn't have anyone to tell me to keep going, assuring me I could make it, or praising my effort on my first really challenging climb of the season.

Stretch, StretchI took a swig of my Hammer gel and washed it down with a couple of swallows of water. I stared up at the remainder of the hill for what felt like forever. I was approaching the portion of the Vail Trail that skirts the interstate, and I knew the wind was about to get worse and the highway fumes were about to do me in. I decided I was done.

But I couldn't quit in the middle of the hill. So I decided to go to the top, and then I'd turn around.

I had to stop again before I got to the top! I almost couldn't get started up the hill from either stop because it was THAT steep. My thighs were burning, and my lungs were gasping for air that just doesn't exist at about 10,000 feet. I couldn't get the bike to move faster than 3.2 mph. I can walk faster than that! I was demoralized.

I remembered what I'd done on the hill on my way home from work Wednesday night, Day 6. I told myself to stop saying, "I can't" and start saying, "I will." I started up the hill again, chanting "Up, up, up, up!" like the Europeans do during international stage races.

When I finally reached the top of the hill and the highway-paralleling section, I kept going because I was sort of in autopilot. It wasn't because I wanted to. I think I had bonked, and I wasn't thinking clearly. My legs just took over and kept going.

I-I-InterstateThe next time I stopped to rest, I ate some more, and I realized I felt better. I realized I also felt stronger because I didn't wait as long to stop to eat. The wind was really hammering me, but I felt I could keep going for at least a while longer because my energy was replenishing.

A while later, on another steep section, The Lizard appeared at the top. He waved and continued his swift descent. I was still on autopilot, and I knew if I stopped in the middle of another hill, I wouldn't be able to get going again. So I just kept pedaling. I knew The Lizard probably would go back down to that really fatal climb and ascend it again at his top speed and still catch me, so I just kept going. The plan at that point was to turn around when he caught me.

I had to stop again before he returned. When The Lizard finally reached me, we both pulled over. He could see I was gone. He asked if I wanted to keep going. "Not really," I told him.

He said I'd finished the most difficult part and that the wind would be really bad for the next half-mile or so because of the change in contour, and that about did it for me. I had no desire to battle more wind.

The Lizard said I was almost there. In fact, I think he kept saying it. So I started up again, not knowing how far I could go. I had swallowed some more gel, and my strength was beginning to make a faint reappearance. I do not like the highway section of the trail at all, but the further I went, the more I wanted to try to accomplish my original goal… to make it to the pass. Finish the climb.

The steepness begins to melt at Black Lakes, and then we passed a waterfall. I asked The Lizard if I could take a picture of him riding by the waterfall, and he actually agreed. I squatted to get just the right angle, snapped a few photos, and my spirit was recharged! Actually, I think the stretching and just being off the bike helped, too. I ate some more, and I didn't have any more motivation problems the rest of the day. I made it to the top, where we downed our respective yummy bars. I decided I was still hungry and still recovering, so I downed a packet of almond butter, too, and boy, was that ever good. It felt like I was filling my tank.

Of course, it was mostly downhill back to the car, so I knew I wouldn't have to work as hard. Or so I thought.

How can you possibly have a headwind in both directions?!? I have never understood that. There were times when I couldn't get the bike over 11 mph, thanks to the wind. I was forced to pedal hard downhill!

We decided to do Vail Pass again the following day because the weather forecast for that area was better than Independence Pass and Mount Evans. We also wouldn't have to contend with traffic. Well, except for that portion of the trail that goes along the interstate. This also would be a big test for me to see if I'd learned from the previous day's ride.

Don't Go Chasing WaterfallsI stopped to stretch and eat every 15 minutes. I stopped before the killer hill. I didn't stop again for another full 16 minutes! I wondered if I could ride all the way to Copper Mountain and then back up. I haven't done the double climb since before back surgery in 2004.

I didn't tell The Lizard what I wanted to do until I reached the top of Vail Pass. I didn't want to get our hopes up and then back out. I still wasn't sure I could do it when I reached the top, but I could visualize myself doing it better than the day before.

So I tried it. And I did it.

The day before, my average speed at the end of the ride was 6.1 mph. That includes the downhill, which of course, was severely suppressed by wind. The second day, my average speed was 8.9 mph when I got back to the car. The wind wasn't as strong, so it wasn't as mighty a factor, but I also did better going up. The daily mph averages tell quite a story!

I did things right the second day, but it also is true what they say about things like this being 90% mental. Attitude makes all the difference in the world.

1 comment :

  1. Seriously, I don't have the words to express the admiration I have for your efforts.


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