29 March 2011

First Climb of 2011

drinks on ice
The ice and snow are mostly gone, and my new derailleur is in place! Only I guess it's not "new" anymore. It has a tough 45 miles on it after Saturday!

We went up Deer Creek Canyon. I also did Deer Creek Park because it's steep; I thought a primer climb of that little road might make the canyon seem easier. (These photos are from Independence Pass a couple of years ago, not Deer Creek Canyon last weekend.)

I hadn't done the Park in several years. Last time I did it, I wasn't as strong as I am now. I had to stop twice on the way up back then. I remembered it being about 5 miles longer back then than it was Saturday! (It's about .2 of a mile. It seemed so, so much longer and harder back in about 2007 or 2008, when my back hurt much more all the time than it does now.)

The Lizard told me the new derailleur would really make a difference. I thought it would just shift smoother. I am stunned by how much the silky shifting improves my ride! I don't have to lean into squeezing the shifters with all my weight and then hold the lever to make sure things clicks into place anymore. Just one little flick of two fingers, and keep pedaling. I had forgotten how good a brand new road bike feels, and that's exactly how my bike feels! I bought this bike in 2004. The derailleur I lost last summer was original equipment. I got a lot of miles and years out of that thing!

The Lizard also said I had more stretch in my old chain than he's ever seen. That's why the chain was skipping, not so much because of the mountain bike derailleur that was installed last summer so I could finish Ride the Rockies. I have no idea what causes a chain to stretch out, other than use and age, but apparently a stretched-out chain affects performance as much as an inappropriate derailleur. I also have a shiny new chain and cassette now, and boy, do they ever purr!

Lizard on iceI had not been up Deer Creek Canyon since August. I have not climbed at all since September. I thought I'd lost all my climbing ability because I haven't done the stairs much since August either, and the last time I did them, in February, I couldn't go all the way up without stopping. I had to stop every 20 floors to breathe, and even 20 flights at a time seemed an airless vacuum.

I had never been all the way to the top of Deer Creek Canyon on my bike. Last year, up until my friend Shonna went Code Blue in August, I was trying to increase my climbs by at least a mile each ride. I got to within a couple of miles of the summit on my last ride, but I couldn't make it to the top. I spent as much time as possible with Shonna instead of my bike after we nearly lost her in August. No regrets.

Now I can't say I've never made it to the top of Deer Creek Canyon on my bike anymore! I made it to the top on my first climb of the year! I had to stop only three times on the way up, and one of those was to shed my ear warmers and fleece gloves. I'd realized about three miles up the canyon I'd accidentally forgotten my pack, which contained extra layers for the descent, which I was certain would be frigid. Climbing makes me sweat, even in 40 degrees, so removing some of my protective barriers was warranted, but the main reason I did it was to get used to the temperature and wind chill. I knew the descent would be downright cold without my extra layers, which were in the backpack hanging on the doorknob back at home. Thank heavens I had food in my jersey pockets and water and a no-sugar-added mixture of orange juice and cranberry juice in my bottles, which I had remembered to put on the bike.

Snowcatcher on iceAs I reached the switchbacks, the steepest part of the climb, I realized I could make it to the top because I was having a phenomenal day. I felt good. I'd set a goal last September to make it up Pikes Peak this August in the allotted amount of time, and that means I need to train more precisely than ever. I need to keep going an extra mile or two on every training ride this year to condition myself to keep going when I want to quit.

The Deer Creek Canyon switchbacks did get to me Saturday. That's where my second two stops came in. Even worse, The Lizard came into view on his descent, and I thought he'd be climbing up a second time with me, which always kicks my adrenaline up a few extra notches. Unfortunately, he wasn't having a good day. His legs were cramping. He said he would go down and wait for me. My heart sank. Deep down inside, I knew I could make it, even if I was alone, so onward I pressed.

When I reached the highest point where I'd turned back last year, I looked at my odometer. I had climbed almost 22 miles. I didn't know how much further I had to go, but I knew there was one more steep section because The Lizard warns me each time we go up. The Pikes Peak climb is 24.5 miles. The 100-mile Deer Creek Challenge is rated as one of the three most difficult climbs in the country. I will never be able to do that 100-mile course, but Saturday's climb is still significant.

Brrrrrrrr!Pikes Peak has nearly double the amount of climbing of a single ride up Deer Creek Canyon, and the highest elevation of Pikes Peak is nearly 6,000 feet higher than Pleasant Park. Nevertheless, Deer Creek Canyon is excellent training ground. If I can master climbing 23 miles, I thought, I CAN do Pikes Peak. I'll be practicing on Mount Evans quite a few times this year, and that DOES reach 14,000 feet. Deer Creek Canyon is perfect training until Mount Evans is rideable later this spring or early summer.

After I finished the next steep section, I hoped it was the one The Lizard had warned me about. If it was, I had it. I knew I had it. I would make it to the top, and nothing would stop me.

Sure enough, after a long section of easy climbing, Pleasant Park came into view. I'd made it. I'd made it!!!

I was wearing three layers on top, two layers on the bottom, and two pairs of socks. The layers closest to my skin were wet, so I couldn't stop for long because I needed to maintain what warmth I still had for the descent. The wind had picked up, and cloud cover had moved in. It was going to be a chilly 3,310-foot descent.

Triumphant LizardI quickly put my ear warmers back onto my helmet straps and then pulled my fleece gloves back on. Oh, how I wished I had my mountaineering gloves and balaclava that were in my pack back home. I used the music-playing iPhone (with mini speakers, never on headphones on the bike, ever) to snap a photo of my bike at Pleasant Park, swallowed two small mouthfuls of Hammer gel and two sips of water, then quickly began the descent.

I'd stopped three times on the way up. I stopped nine times on the way down to warm my hands!

The Lizard met me at the switchbacks. He was feeling better and had climbed back up again. Every time I stopped all the rest of the way down, he rubbed my gloved hands to warm them up. He also let me have his light Triple Bypass jacket because I was really cold.

Back at home, I downed two cups of sugar-free hot chocolate before laying down in bed. The Lizard pulled me back up and told me I had to eat. What you put into your body in the first 30 minutes after a tough workout determines whether you will have a two-hour recovery or a two-day recovery. I knew The Lizard was right. I knew I needed to eat. But I was tired. I wasn't hungry. Just cold and tired. Oh, and stiff.

After a bowl of hot, cheese-drenched pasta with chicken, I did feel better. If I hadn't eaten, I probably wouldn't have felt like doing much of anything the next day. I would have been run down, and I probably would feel tired and achy, possibly even for a couple of days.

Every success I have builds my confidence. That's half the Pikes Peak battle. I can't go into the ride scared and worried I might not make it. I have to go into it knowing I CAN do it.

I am not fast. I am not powerful.

But I CAN make it to the top.

happy cyclists on ice


  1. Well done! It´s nice to see so happy faces :).

    In our yard we have about same snow view as those photos...I am totally fed up with the snow this winter. Grrrrrrr.

  2. Hi,
    I have been following your blog for some time now, but did not know how to sign in. I had to jump through some hoops but needed to tell you how amazing I think you are. I do not know how you find the time to do all you do. You are certainly an inspiration to the rest of us.
    Thanks for the snowflake patterns, I have made several and plan to make more next winter.
    Keep up the good work and definitely keep climbing that mountain (of life).

  3. What a thrill and sense of accomplishment to have arrived at your destination. FUN!

  4. Don't stop what you're doing, it keeps me dreaming...of the day I'll get off my fat rear and get busy, LOL!

    You done good! I'm very proud of you! Cheers! :)

  5. Double fist-pump! You are made of tough stuff, woman. What an awesome hill climb to launch your season- and I have a feeling it's gonna be a terrific season.

    That last shot of you two is just priceless. There's an entire book lurking behind your smiles.

  6. I love your description of how it felt to reach the top. You're awesome! And the pictures with all that snow ... BRRRR! Did I say you're awesome???

  7. congrats on the climb and two thumbs up for the lizard getting you to take care of yourself after the climb.

  8. Great read! I love reading about your adventures! You and The Lizard!

  9. Way to go! I love the story of the climb. Perseverance is an amazing trait, and you definitely have it!

    I'm glad that your back is doing so much better than the last time that you did the climb. Progress!

    I think that you're going to be ready for Pikes Peak this year!


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