Thursday, July 12, 2007

Searching for the cave

Date: July 11
Mileage: 25.1
July mileage: 269.3
Temperature upon departure: 54
Inches of rain today: 0.61"

I didn't have much time to ride today. But my knee felt stronger than usual, my legs felt fresh, and I thought it was about time I go out in search of the pain cave.

When I lived in Homer, the pain cave was not a hard place to find. With a 1,200-foot monster to tackle just to commute home from work, I was practically guaranteed a daily visit. Big climbs in Juneau are further from home, and I haven't been strong enough lately to take them with any sort of gusto. Reaching the pain cave on flats is even harder. Without resistance, riding at sea level, my lungs can outlast my legs almost any day, until I'm pumping deadly levels of lactic acid but still breathing with relative ease.

But today had the perfect combination of fresh legs, strong knee and decently fierce headwinds out on North Douglas Highway. I notched up the shifters, amped up the RPMs, and shot across the slick street. Tiny raindrops pierced like needles as my heart rate went from noticeable to inexorable. Then I mashed. I mashed faster. I mashed until I could mash no faster. And then ...


It is deadly dark in the pain cave, and quiet. The pain cave swallows all the sound of even your most motivating mP3 mix and replaces it with the drip, drip, drip of labored breaths. When I go inside there, I can almost understand what it must be like to shoot into the vacuum of space - to see nothing, to feel nothing, to know nothing. The taste is increasingly metallic, like grinding your own teeth until your jaw snaps - but instead you are spinning and spinning your legs toward oblivion.

If that doesn't sound like a pleasant place, that's because it's not. But there is definitely something rewarding about drilling myself deep into the pain cave. Because eventually, I will see light flickering at the end of the tunnel. The colors outside will have never seemed so bright. Even a solid slate of rain-cloud gray will shimmer with flecks of silver and blue. There's a chance that an occasional trip through the pain cave makes me a better cyclist. I have no idea (my guess is probably not.) But I do know the feeling of seeing the world as a friendlier, warmer, more beautiful place on the other side. That's why I go inside.


  1. I love the pain cave too.... good post and good luck training.

  2. Beautiful prose to describe pain! I'm glad your knee is well and you're able to take yourself to the limits, since that seems to be what you like. I'm also glad it's not me in the pain cave!

  3. You know, if I was going to describe the pain cave, that is exactly how I would have done least, if I was anywhere near the wordsmith you are. And the pain cave definitely makes you a better cyclist. Stronger, wiser, faster, all that jazz.

  4. Race report on a 12 hour race at my place, too, if you're interested.

  5. I was told to stay out of caves, especially pain caves. I follow that advice to the letter.
    It is a lot less painful, too! :^)
    P.S. That picture at the top is scary. It looks like the road to the Pain Cave!

  6. But you like the rain, right?

    I wonder if it's just me that gets really tired of all the moans I read (elsewhere, mostly) about the rain..."Juneau's beautiful once in a while, when it's not raining"..."Unfortunately it's raining again [sigh] or I would [insert activity here]"...
    I personally love the rain.

    However you get out and do things even when it's raining, Jill. That's one of the reasons I admire you.

  7. (Whoops, I meant to post that regarding your previous post, heh.)

  8. Hi again, Jill... This is very late, but thanks so much for the CD of your wonderful pictures. Does your generous permission to use your pics extend to your current postings? I'd love to use the sunset picture from a few days ago at some point -- it is breathtaking -- just let me know yay or nay, and thanks!

    Love your blog - it's one of the highlights of my day.


  9. Whew - the balaclava threw me for a loop. For a second there I thought I might've mistyped and logged onto Jill's Jihad Journal or something.

  10. "Jill's Jihad Journal" I kinda like it.

    I'm actually still just playing around with my masthead. Not sure how much I like the ninja look, so I may change it soon.

    Cyn ... feel free to use it! I'll try to remember to send you that photo because I don't think the link works.

  11. Keep the ninja look! I think it looks great. It shows off your beautiful eyes very well!

    Did that sound like flirting?? Don't tell Geoff!

  12. Jill,

    I just bought the latest Modest Mouse CD. I got curious, since you like them so much:)
    What kind of music do you listen to on hard/long rides?
    I am always looking for some different and new music to give my ears and brains something to do:)


Feedback is always appreciated!