Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Growing Stronger in the Hills

There are 3 climbs in Sonoma County that I have not finished. And by finish, I mean making it up and over the summit without stopping. They are all hard, steep and famous here in our local cycling community. I am talking about Pine Flat, St Helena Rd, and Sweetwater. Of these 3 summits, Sweetwater is the only climb I have actually tried, and not succeeded, on 2 occasions.

I will always remember my first attempt up Sweetwater. I had been on vacation for 2 weeks and off the bike for 3. At this point I had only been riding for about a year or so. Tim and I head out and he asked me how I was feeling. I was actually feeling pretty good considering my long break. The next thing I know we are making the turn to climb Sweetwater.

I immediately went from feeling pretty good to being under pressure. We were riding up the strong side and I started to struggle quickly. Still, I kept climbing. As I climbed, I watched my heart rate climb just as fast. Finally, when my heart rate hit 196 I simply stepped off the bike and took a break about 200 yards from the top. My second attempt also saw me crack just before the summit.

This Saturday I set out to change that. Jeff put together a ride over Sweetwater and I was going for it. Three of us head out at a fairly brisk pace and in no time we make the left-hand turn onto the climb. The climb itself is not that long. It's the steepness in the final mile that is deadly. You start out climbing and then descend down to a gorgeous creek and follow that into a Redwood forest. Then you really climb. The final ascent is just over 1-mile with a gradient that stays well over 10%, probably averages 15%, and my cyclometer measured a maximum grade of 20%.

On Saturday I was climbing strong and knew my chances of reaching the summit, sans stopping, were very good. The lead rider came back to us and I stopped as I reached the top to pull up my arm warmers for the descent. We descend for about 100 yards and start climbing again. What the hell? We had actually stopped at a false summit. No worries. I settle back into to my climbing mode and made it to the top.

As I finished the ride, I was thinking about the climb and realising that technically I still had not reached the top without stopping. That's okay. I'll make sure I don't stop until the real summit when I climb Sweetwater again on Sunday.

That's right! I was trying the exact same route with a different group on Sunday. On Sunday I was also climbing well, although I was feeling Saturday's efforts, and was able to finish the climb non-stop. After the climb, I decided this was a gut check ride and continued to push myself very hard. In the end, as I was coasting back to the coffee shop, I was feeling more cracked then I have for a very long time.

For me, there are few things that tell me how much better I am riding these days then re-climbing hills where I have previously struggled. So you can imagine how I felt about climbing Sweetwater not once, but twice in the same weekend.

Watch out Pine Flat! You could be next.


0 Comment(s):