(Note: This is Part II of the story, Part I can be found here.)
I try to distract myself from the miserable conditions by visualizing the climb ahead. Spin, don't mash. Stay under LT, accelerate through the harder sections of the climbs. I notice I have a tailwind on the ride out. The ride home might really be painful. I approach the base of the climb, a left hand fork in the road that in less than a half hour will assure me that my month and a half of racing on the flats haven't hurt me too much. In theory. I've climbed once in almost two months, and it was the previous Saturday. I take a big swig of water and notice that I haven't touched my bottles since I left the house. I never drink enough when it's raining.
I make the turn and set the interval on the CPU at the sign. I've already shifted down into my small ring, a pre-emptive reminder to spin my gears. The first minute of any sustained climb is a shock to my system. I stay under a wattage I know I can maintain for five minutes while my body adapts to the stress. I unzip my jacket and jersey and wish I brought a hat with a brim on it for under my helm.
The road levels for the first of many times, and I feel good. The rain continues to fall steadily, but I'm long past the point of getting any wetter. My wool socks squish in their shoes on every down stroke. I concentrate on the sound, maintaining the rhythm of the noise throughout the climb. I finally crest the first climbing section, into midpoint of the ascent were the road flattens out and actually descends a bit. The fast twitch muscles in my legs cry out in glee as I shift up to the big ring and get out of the saddle. I know I need to push harder on the flat than I would up hill. No rest for the weary.
The road pitches up again and the pavement changes. While chip seal is rough, the water tends to seep into it and travel in the carved grooves of the road. The upper half of the climb has the wonderfully smooth pavement but the water is a sheet across the road, running in tire-covering rivers in some places. I want to run the big ring, powering through this section, but relent. I know the hardest part of the climb is ahead and I'm beginning to tire.
I think of my teammates, using the images of stronger climbers ahead of me to pull me along the long run up to the Horning's Hideout. There's something about this section that saps my body, the top always just out of sight to the left. I've blown up on this section many a time, always pushing too early only to die as the road kicks up in the final hundred meters. I pace myself this time, riding once again below my five minute max. Spin the gears, accelerate the legs, shift up. The pattern continues a few times and I feel the lactic burn in the legs for the first time. I decide to ignore it knowing there is another false flat just over the rise where I can recover some. Hitting the flat I shift into the big ring for the second time, using my momentum to carry me along while the legs flush themselves. My heart rate is running close to my early season max, but I know from recent races I have another few bpm to spare. Regardless of the overall result of the climb, I achieve a mental victory.
Ahead I see steam hanging over the road. The rain has let up some in this section and the radiant warmth of the pavement is making the air thick. I pass a few houses beyond Horning's and ride through an unseen cloud of smoke that smells like pot. At least on the way down it will go by faster.
The last few sections are painful. I know each false summit by heart, but hope I somehow was further up the road than I actually was. I reach the last false summit and switch to my large chain ring for the last dig. The road ticks up and turns to the left at an off camber, it's deceptively steep. I come up out of the saddle and immediately feel my rear wheel spin. Wasted watts. I settle to push the big gear seated, my legs protest but I know the pain will be over in under a minute. The road flattens out, and I can see the finish through the scattered trees off to the left. A final dip and a short climb to the pair of phone poles that have served as the finish line for countless club rides. I try to push through to sprint for the line, but I hear a car behind me following me slowly. I have no idea how long it's been there. I coast through the finish and end the interval on my CPU. I hit it a second time just to be safe. I felt good about my climb, but won't know the true results until I get home.
The car turns into a driveway of the lone house at the top of the ascent. There are no dogs today to greet me. I chuckle thinking of how bad they would smell. The hounds are in their kennels, content to stay under their overhangs and out of the rain. I stop long enough to take a long drink of water and zip up my layers. The descent is cold and dangerous and I'm once again thankful I brought the wind jacket. The ride back isn't as lonely. I have my squishing socks and oddly warm knees to keep me company.
I make it home shortly before 6:30 and smell dinner cooking in the kitchen. Traci laughs at me for the sound I make as I walk from the garage into the laundry room. My knees burn now that I'm in warm air and I get to the shower quickly to scrub the goo off. A short while later the heat just switches off. I can understand why people use the stuff during the winter.
It's not until later after dinner that I pull down the data for my ride. It's a mixed bag of results. I've set a new PR by a 1m50s, but my 20m max wattage and average wattage for the entire climb is almost identical to what I did back in March. The numbers don't add up in my mind. I head out to the garage to find my bike is relatively clean. A quick rub down with some Simple Green and a rag takes care of the grime on the frame and chain. I drop some chain lube and run through the gearing until I'm satisfied with the results and pack it up for the evening.
The next morning I mention to my friend Todd how puzzling the results of my ride were. The potential answer came quickly to him. Maybe it wasn't power, it was the power:weight ratio that made the difference. When I get back to my desk I check my weight log for the 6th of March, 187.5lbs. I weighed in at 183.7lbs the morning of my second climb. The 4lb difference in my weight meant that while the wattage I produced was nearly identical, the ratio was higher and I was able to carry myself faster up the hill. The difference of 4lbs isn't much on the flats, but could it be that over the long steady climb it was the difference in almost two minutes?
While I'm pleased with my progress, there are still a number of questions I have, and little data to make an accurate conclusion. A third test is in the cards, probably in late August or early September.
Eventually I'll compare points on course to see if I rode noticeably faster on some sections than others. With these small nuggets of information I can hopefully arm myself to weather the next storm up Pumpkin Ridge.