"Long ride w/ small climb."
Every night the whiteboard in the kitchen gets updated with the next days schedule, route, and a small sketch of the forecasted weather. For the second day in a row there is a big smiling sunshine in the upper right corner.
The crew gets up a bit earlier today, as our schedule departure from TCH is an hour earlier than the previous two days. Today is the day we tackle the "small climb" called Mount Lemon.
I've tired to get some advanced scouting info on this climb. I know its long.. really long. Something like 21 miles long, or 29 miles, depending on who you ask and where starting / stopping point is. It just goes on and on and on and on and up and up and up. Very rarely does it get over a 7 to 8% grade, and when it does its for a very short distance. It's miles of climb on a wide smooth road gaining over a mile in elevation. And we are climbing it today.
I've often said I'm not a huge fan of climbing. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it a few times in the past on this blog. But there is something different about this climb. It just has the feeling about it that it will grind down even the strongest of climbers, through the sheer length of the ordeal. I'm looking forward to it oddly enough.
The group rides out of TCH and towards the foot of the climb. We are meeting our friends today at the base. The snowbirds Sal and Heidi, and Mike Kender, all friends and teammates are staying across town. We roll into the final stop before the climb and they arrive minutes later. Warm greetings in warm sunshine. A full crew of gleaming silver, black and red PV kits and team Velo Vie bikes. It almost looks pro.
As a few final water bottles are topped off and photos are snapped before the climb, I look around for Traci. I don't see here anywhere and have a moment of panic. I ask out loud if anyone has seen her and was told she took off up the mountain. I know she's determined to get to the top and needs to ride her own pace.
The group rolls out, the shiny pod of white PV jerseys rides in a clump as we pass the "Mile 0" marker and the road slowly starts to point up. As we ride along, I can see the first switch back rise hundreds of feet above us to the right. A small figure on a bike can be seen spinning away up the road. I know its Traci as her infamous red bibs stand out against the brown desert landscape. I want to take a photo of the sight but know my camera phone won't pick out the small details at this distance.
The pack slowly starts to separate out. We all have to ride within our self on this one. Mike and I end up riding together. He's a much strong climber than I normally, but on this day he's fighting a cold and is under the weather. We enjoy each others company, and the stunning view of the valley.
It takes a good 10 to 15 minute to catch Traci. She's moving along at a good steady pace, breathing hard, but not labored. I tell her I love her and to stay strong. She wishes me the same as I spin away up the hill up towards Mike.
About mile 6 Mike starts to slow a bit, his cold and the elevation are bugging him. We are both riding in our zones now. That almost mechanical state where the body is working hard, but working for the long run. I slowly ride away from him.
After a quick stop at the support van around mile 7 to snag some more sunblock, I run into Russell who's coming downhill to check on people. He doubles back and rides up next to me all smiles. The others aren't too far up the road, but the majority of the climb is still ahead and I keep my pace steady. We ride along idly chatting and taking in the scenery. I sniff the air and smell skunk.
"Javelina?" I ask. They are often known as skunk-pigs because, well... the smell.
"Javelina!" Russell says with a crazy accent. We don't see them anywhere though.
Another mile up the road, Owen is stopped with the van. Sal and a few others are there having a snack and refilling bottles. Russell pulls off as I decide to keep heading up hill. A short distance later I see Paul at an overlook with a few others. I let them know the others aren't far down hill and continue to ride along.
I look over my shoulder and see they continue to wait. I want to stay warm and moving.
Mile 10 rolls by and we start heading into the forested area. The temperature drops noticeably, and I'm frequently zipping and unzipping my jersey to regulate my temp as I climb in and out of the shadows, wind, and sun.
I continue to climb, the occasional light grade or dip in the road allowing me to turn the big ring over and stretch my back and legs. I frequently look behind me waiting for that pack of climbers I know lurks below me to come into sight. The road is quiet save the occasional car that passes and the rhythmic sounds of my bike and breathing.
Mile 14 ticks by and I realize I'm over half way up this climb. Owen once again comes by and asks if I need anything. I'm running a bit low on water so we meet up at the next lookout point where I stop for a minute to tank up. Only Deanna is ahead of me, about 5 minutes up the road. I'd love to catch her, but know that isn't likely. My only goal now is to delay the catch from behind as long as I can.
I set out once again, working hard to keep the speed and wattage constant and my heart-rate at or below 160BPM. Mile 16 and Owen comes by once again. I ask for my vest, its getting chilly and I've been riding past snow for the last few miles. I find out we are going just beyond Palisades. A information sign coincidentally shows up and I see that's only 6 miles ahead. About 40 more minutes at my current pace. I get an update on Traci. She's riding with Tina and moving along steadily.
17 and 18 roll by and the occasional steeper sections pop up a bit more frequently. I actually get confused for a moment as I thought the previous mile post said 18 when I approached the one that actually said 18. Crap.
Owen swings by for the last time as he's getting ready to stage at the top. He says I look strong and I tell him I'm feeling pretty good. I hold up three fingers and ask about the mileage. He nods and drives up around the next bend.
I try to increase my pace a bit, wanting to finish strong. Unfortunately I'm someplace between 7000 and 8000 feet above sea level and have been climbing for the better part of two hours. The body complains and the heart rate climbs quickly. I settle back into the pace my body has run faithfully at and promise only to push it if I see the climbers approaching behind me. I may get caught, but if I do, I'll have something in the tank to hit them with!
19 rolls by, then 20. I pass the 8000 ft elevation sign and see notifications of the Palisades campground ahead. I nervously look over my shoulder for the climbers that aren't there. I keep expecting the hungry pack lurking just out of sight waiting to pounce like a pack of hungry wolves. Or maybe a herd of Javelina? I'm sure we probably smell pretty bad by now.
I roll through the turnoffs for the campground, keeping an eye out for the support van and Owen. About a quarter mile later I come around a corner and see the crown of the road. Owen and Deanna are there cheering, and I've got a big dumb dazed grin on my face.
20.8 miles in 2hr8m. I averaged about 240w for the duration of the climb, and about 10.5 mph. Burning close to 1500 calories during that time. I'm the first PV guy to summit today, and I'm feeling pretty good about that, even though I know in the back of my head the other stopped a bunch. Have to take those little victories where you can!
I get some fuel, check my blood sugar, and put on my warm clothes. About 15 minutes later Deanna and I start rolling down hill together. As we pass the Palisades we see the first of the rest of the group and cheer them on. In groups of one and two they come into view, and I keep hoping to see those bright red shorts come into view. About 5 minutes after I start the descent, and 2.5 miles down I round a corner and see my beautiful wife.
I slow and double back to ride with her for a few moments. She's laboring, but determined to get to the top. "How much farther is it?" she asks. I lie and say another mile and a half. She lets me know she's going to ride down with the van. I tell her I'm proud of her and that I love her and turn my bike back down hill.
I ride hard for the next few minutes and catch up to Deanna. We spend the next 40 minutes or so going down hill, taking our time. I'm freezing by the time I hit the base and my neck and arms are screaming.
We roll into the coffee shop regroup point and grab a snack. A short time later more people roll in in small groups. There are smiles all around. Mount Lemon has been squeezed.
We've got about 20 miles to ride back home and the pace is easy. We end up with a bit over 80 miles and 5 hours of saddle time on this day. An ice bath, massage, and big dinner cap of the evening.
I'm pretty sure I said more than once that I liked the climb more than the descent that evening. There isn't anything like that that I've done before. I wrote last year about redefining epic, and I certainly feel this ride qualified.