02 June 2015

The Art of Climb

Deer Creek Canyon
Deer in dry, cold Deer Creek Canyon in March

My cycling goal for May was to climb Deer Creek Canyon twice in a day. My goal was to have 200 miles per week by May.

Non-stop rain has not made that easy. However, I did make it to the top of Deer Creek Canyon for the first time this year ahead of schedule.

I'd wanted to climb two miles higher each time I went up the canyon until I could get to the top. Surprisingly, I jumped from 17 miles to 23 miles (the top) the first Saturday in April after a three-week snow-forced cycling break back in March.

The Lizard took off at his normal pace. I climbed slow and steady. I stopped to eat frequently. And breathe. And stretch.

My goal that week should have been 19 miles. When we first started out, I thought I could make it all the way to the top. I was feeling pretty strong at the beginning. I did okay until Mile 17. Beyond that, oh, was it ever hard!

I kept wondering why the climb was so hard. I thought the steepest grade was another mile and a half away. I never dropped down into my granny gear because I thought I had another mile and a half of climb to reach that. Before I got to Mile 18, I almost turned around because I was so tired and out of breath. I allowed myself to stop as often as needed to keep going. I really had to force that 18th mile.

At first, I was stopping every quarter of a mile. But then I couldn't make it a quarter of a mile, so I said, "Okay, just make it to the next curve." I couldn't make it to the next curve. So I said, "Okay, just make it to the next sign." Then, I asked out loud if the shadow of the sign touching my wheel was far enough. It felt like I was moving only a few feet or even a few inches each time.

I rounded the next curve, and I realized I'd just finished the steepest part of the climb. THAT's why it was so hard. Knowing I'd just survived the most difficult portion of the climb energized me. I decided I could make it to Mile 19. I was able to keep going, stopping only every quarter mile.

That's where The Lizard caught me on his way down. I was so tempted to turn around. I was close to 20 miles, so I told him I was going to keep going another third of a mile. I told him I was quite done and very tired.

velvety green
Deer near wet, lush Deer Creek Canyon in May

I stopped just beyond 20 miles with every intention of turning around. I leaned over my handlebars to stretch and rest, and The Lizard massaged my arthritic hips. It felt wonderful.

"Jukebox Hero" was playing on my little stereo. Just as The Lizard finished massaging me, Lou Gramm sang, "Someday he's gonna make it to the top."

I thought, "Not someday. Today."

I asked The Lizard if there were cookies at the top. Volunteers typically stock a rest area at the top of the climb with bottled water, bottled Gatorade and fresh, homemade cookies, but only during the warmer months. I didn't really want a cookie; I wanted an egg or a protein drink. But I thought a cookie might give me motivation to keep going.

The Lizard said cookies were indeed at the top. I told him I would keep going. From that point on, he kept encouraging me: "You're almost there! You're doing great! You're stronger than you were last spring! I know you can do it!"

I stopped for pictures of a run-down house I pass each time I do make it to the top of the canyon. I've always wanted to stop and shoot the skeleton shack because the way it looks is sort of what it feels like to me to climb to the top of the canyon. I've never stopped because I wouldn't have been able to keep going. This time, I stopped, and I was able to get back on my bike and finish the climb. Now I finally can show how it feels to be so depleted!

The Way I Feel at the Top of Deer Creek Canyon

I've been pretty worried this year I might not be ready for Ride the Rockies because weather has kept us off our bikes. I'm turning into a wimp. I have had real difficulty this year getting back into three or four layers once I had my first shorts and short-sleeved ride of the year, in search of pink blossoms early in April. (The blossoms weren't ready yet, and we got snow again the next week.) We ended up riding 56 miles that day, my longest ride of the year until Santa Fe in mid-May.

not quite yet

Warm enough for shorts!


Denver Animal Shelter

We'd signed up for the century route in Santa Fe long before we knew what the spring weather would bring. As we headed south, I worried I would not be able to pull off 100 miles with so few miles in the saddle so far.

The trip back to my home state was adrenalizing like driving to Castle Rock in Colorado for Elephant Rock or driving to the Ride the Rockies start line; so many other cars on the highway going the same direction were equipped with obviously beloved road bikes. More than 2,000 riders were heading to the very same place as us for the very same reason!

It snowed in Santa Fe the day we arrived. Oh man! One of the reasons we wanted to ride in New Mexico is because the weather would be much warmer than it is in Colorado!

Santa Fe Sunrise

In spite of a very chilly start, the temperature warmed up within about 15 minutes of crossing the start line, and I had a whale of a first 40 or so miles. I felt so good, I thought I could do the whole century!

I didn't stop to take any pictures along the way because I thought if I stopped too much, I'd never finish the whole route. I carried the camera with me, but not once did I stop for a photo, even though the landscape sometimes deserved more attention than I was giving it.

Although I am from New Mexico, I was not familiar with the century route. I knew from the elevation profile where the big climbs would be, particularly Heartbreak Hill, a 16% grade. Until Heartbreak Hill, I thought the Santa Fe Century was easier than Elephant Rock in Colorado, another season-opener for which I signed up for the full 100 miles this year. Heartbreak Hill sort of put Elephant Rock climbs to shame. Elephant Rock is more difficult overall, but I don't think any of the Elephant Rock climbs are as steep as Heartbreak Hill. Thank heavens!

When Heartbreak Hill first came into view, I thought I could do the whole thing without stopping because it was only about half a mile up. I made it a third of the way up before I had to stop. Many cyclists were walking their bikes up. I intended to pedal all the way to the top. After I rested for a minute. But the grade was so steep, I couldn't get the bike going again!

I hung my head and began walking my bike, which was just as difficult as riding, in my opinion. I watched some of the riders who were making it all the way to the top, thanks to zigzagging back and forth across the mostly carless road. At about two-thirds of the way up the hill, I thought I could get the bike going if I copied what those slaloming riders were doing.

I got on my bike, and I pedaled toward the opposite side of the road instead of trying to go straight up, and then I wove back to the other side, back and forth, back and forth, and by golly, I made it to the top!!! I learned something new in the process!

The next 15 miles were a breeze, literally. The tailwind carried me speedily across the flat, high plains. And then with another left turn, bang, I was in a crosswind. I tried to position my body like a sail, a technique I've read about in RBR magazine. One more left turn and oh, my gosh. I had difficulty keeping my speed at 6 miles per hour in the headwind I'd have to fight all the way back to Santa Fe.

From that point on, I kept chanting my motivational wind mantra out loud to myself.

"Wind makes us strong! Wind makes us strong! Wind makes it hard! Um... Oops. Wind makes us strong! Wind makes us strong!"

Each rest stop, I told myself I could make it to the next rest stop. Each rest stop, it was more difficult to convince myself I could make it to the next rest stop. At mile 80, I realized I didn't have another two or three hours left in me. I was devastated at first; I'd really wanted to be able to tell all my co-workers I'd done my third century ever. But when the reality of arthritis took its toll, I realized 80 miles in a day after a longest ride of only 56 miles more than a month earlier was pretty darned good and nothing to be ashamed of, particularly after successfully climbing the top portion of Heartbreak Hill on my bike instead of walking.

My bike and I took a SAG (support and gear) wagon into Santa Fe with a woman from Philadelphia who was riding with her entire family until she couldn't go any further and, at the next rest stop, another woman who had just ridden 94 miles for the first time in her entire life after never having done more than 30 miles in a day. (She said she got the century out of her system, and her saddle was so sore, she'd never try that again. The Lizard and I both wonder if she'll be like me and ready to try again next year for the next Santa Fe Century.)

How Far I Really Got
I marked how far I really got on the first Cyclemeter printout

That's more like it!
the updated Cyclemeter route

80 miles!

My phone lost signal before I reached where I stopped, so it appeared Cyclemeter didn't record my entire ride. My odometer on my bike, the old-fashioned way of keeping track of miles, did! Then suddenly, a week after the ride, Cyclemeter unexpectedly sent me the full ride route the next time I turned it on to record a ride. Bizarre!

The day after the Santa Fe Century, The Lizard took me back along the first portion of the route before we headed home so I could snap photos of the scenery I didn't take the time to shoot during the actual ride.


something fishy this way rides

I want one of these!

What a name!

Sa Bull F

Clay Horse

I get one more chance to try for a century before two very long, big climb Ride the Rockies days. I don't know if I'll make it a full hundred miles for Elephant Rock (or during either of this year's Ride the Rockies centuries), but I'm going to give it my very best shot.

Proof of my second century ever, 12 June 2013, during Ride the Rockies


  1. Maybe if they have lots of cookies you'll make it with ease lol we have to push ourselves and keep on trying, then we go from wimpy to only a bit wimpy haha

    1. Elephant Rock is known for its green bananas, and Ride the Rockies has pretzels, animal crackers and grapes. I'll have to carry what food I want to eat for the upcoming rides, Pat, but the MS-150 offers all kinds of food for all kinds of dietary needs. So that one will be a lot easier to finish!

  2. I just rolled in from Deer Creek. That climb is always tough. I thought you did great in Santa Fe. It was a little bit of everything day. You always do well at Elephant Rock! The two long days during Ride the Rockies are through beautiful mountain areas and the miles will whip by fast.

    The shot of the bucks bedded down is awesome.

    1. Thanks, Lizard! It's always so fun exploring the world with you and our cameras! And our bikes...


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