Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Climbing priorities

Date: July 17
Mileage: 35.5
July mileage: 447.3
Temperature upon departure: 62
Inches of rain yesterday and today: 1.09"

My aim for the past two weeks has been to trust my knee and attempt more strenuous, lung-burning workouts. Today my plan was to climb up to Eaglecrest Ski Resort at the tail-end of a 35-mile ride. I shed my usual "As Fast As I Can" goal for something more tangible - keeping the odometer above 7.5 mph at all times. Sounds slow, right? It was an all-out, red-zone effort on some of the pitches.

But what struck me most about the ride was how anticlimactic the descent was. I was coasting at 40 mph, on constant lookout for gravel patches, porcupine and deer, with instant death lurking around every corner ... and I was feeling involuntarily relaxed, and a bit dazed, like one might before laying down for a nap. In short, I was coming down.

When I was 7 years old, bicycling was all about the descents. One of my best friends lived at the bottom of a steep cul-de-sac. I remember cresting by the stop sign on my yellow banana-seat Huffy and staring wide-eyed into that abyss, lined with minvans and lurking cats. It was a moment of pure fear, like I always felt on a roller coaster when it hesitated at the crest of its first big drop. I'd watch my front wheel dip into the hole, scream as gravity yanked me into involuntary acceleration, and lift my legs skyward as the pedals spun wildly out of control, praying I could get my feet back on them in time to back-pedal to a screeching stop.

My friend and I perfected that hill one summer, enduring the inevitable climb with the trudging sense of duty that only kids can muster. I remember in the hot August sun, there was absolutely nothing rewarding about that sweaty, hunched-over-the-handlebars, pedal-mashing ascent. Our reward waited patiently for us to catch our breath in a dust cloud at the bottom of the hill.

Now 20 years have passed, and somehow, downhill doesn't capture my imagination the way it used to. It has its benefits - fun coasting, quick shots of adrenaline, easy distance. But these days, my rewards meet me at the top of the climb, just as I'm beginning to chase imaginary shadows, and dripping full streams of sweat, and pumping so many endorphins I can almost taste them. The cold wind meets my drenched body and I turned to face it, filled with a kind of satisfaction that borders on joy.

Maybe it is possible to relive those simple childhood pleasures. Even though my methods have changed, the reward remains the same.


  1. Just googling around blog sites and came accross yours. I mountain bike occasionally - not enough though, as I really do enjoy it. Your stories are inspiration enough to get me on the saddle more often. A couple of years ago I read James Michener's Alaska and was quite fascinated by it. Maybe it's because I was born and have lived in Africa all my life that I found reading all about a snowy wildnerness intruiging. Looking at your winter blogs with all that snow absolutely amazes me that you get out and cycle in it! I've got no excuse moaning now in the middle of our African "winter", that it's too cold to cycle!

  2. Heh. If you're not proficient with rollerblades, especially the brakes, you can get that feeling back right quick. But you really, really have to be willing to risk everything, because if you allow the slightest wobble, you're hosed...

    (Bulldog Hill. I had just turned 30. Shed a quarter century on the way down and felt once again what it was like to be five years old and scared silly.)

  3. Some folks are meant to climb. I think you're one of them. ;)

  4. Since I took up cycling I've been fascinated with climbing mountains - even though I'm a clydesdale.

    We have a place called Hurricane Ridge. It's 18 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain. I've cycled it the last 6 years. It's become a good friend to me.

    There's just something magical about mountains.

  5. I like you, love to climb. Not the endless L'Alpe d'Huez, beyond category type, but a ride with some varying ups and downs.
    It adds spice to the ride, forces you to push yourself, and eventualy, makes the trip worthwhile.
    Keep Climbing! :^)

  6. I always love to see the photos you post each day. They remind me of the time I spent in Alaska last summer, always in awe of how fantastically gorgeous it was!! Thanks for sharing these regularly. I have to say that the first one in today's post is one of my favorites =)

  7. The only reason I climb hills is so I can fly on the other side. For this fat guy on a bike, it is always about the next descent! Fastest so far is 52 mph within a half mile.

  8. You have a gift for virtually taking us on your rides, almost to the point of having us collapse in gasping, sweat-drenched heaps by the end of the column. At least, that's how it affects me.

    Also, I'm a former Alaskan. My Tlingit grandmother was born in Sitka, and I have relatives in Juneau. One of them, Sandy Halverson, runs a 24 Hour photo shop there.

    I live in northern CA now. A mutual friend here introduced me to your web log. I'm glad she did. Not only do I enjoy glimpses of Alaska through your eyes, but I don't have to exercise on my own bike after you've taken me for a virtual workout. I'm one lazy injun.

    Mike Browne
    Sacramento, CA

  9. Love the top pic as well, the composition is great. I think I also enjoy the burning and nauseous feeling of the climb over the gratifying pull of gravity. Sounds like beautiful pain is your addiction. I am so there.


  10. Recapturing the joy? Two words: technical singletrack. (Or: Crested Butte.)

  11. I'm exactly the same! I used to love the downhills as a kid, but now I like to have all my bones in one piece. Although, I have hit 60 mph on the road bike lately --downhill, of course.


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