November 26, 2011

Extra Helping of Hicks

As if it were not enough to climb Hicks once in the past month (or past year, for that matter) ... what was I doing out there today?

Let me tell you, there is nothing like an extra helping of Hicks to compensate for an extra helping of Thanksgiving dinner.

We warmed up on Harwood—which is, technically, steeper (for short stretches)—before making our way to Hicks. The recent rains had induced a small landslide, mostly plowed off the road and studded with orange cones.

When the group at the top showed signs of restlessness to descend, I took my cue. Following some idle talk of descending speeds, I wanted no one trailing me. On separate occasions, two guys have crashed in my wake. Maybe they were not trying to stay with me. Or maybe they were. A little head start gets me out of sight, and I prefer it that way.

One block from the end of our group ride, my heart rate suddenly spiked: I turned a corner to find a wrong-way cyclist headed straight at me. [On a mountain bike, wearing no helmet, of course.] I braked, I shouted, I swerved toward the curb. Perhaps predictably, so did he. Preparing for impact, I jerked my bike to the left and missed his rear wheel by a couple of inches. You're on the wrong side of the road, I called out. Did he even understand? [Doubtful.]

For the day, 29 miles and 2,110 feet of climbing. Hicks hurts.

November 24, 2011

Cloud Computing

For the 10 days leading up to today, the forecast was dire. Would the Thanksgiving Day Low-Key Mt. Hamilton Hillclimb be canceled for the first time in history?

Fair weather or foul, I was prepared to volunteer for this one. At my current pace, the volunteer crew would be lucky to make it home in time for dessert.

I would bet that I was not the only one hoping for rain this morning. The roads in my neighborhood were dry when the call was made at 6 a.m.: The climb is ON!

The roads at the base of Mt. Hamilton were not dry, but the clouds teased us with glimpses of blue sky (once or twice). More than 100 riders signed in. Crazy people.

I was so glad not to be suffering on the bike today. I cannot imagine spending more than two hours riding up the hill in a cold drizzle, and that is what it would have taken to get me to the top. (Two hours and forty minutes for the next-to-last finisher in my photo above.)

Instead, I spent more than two hours standing inside the cloud at the top, collecting finishing times. A cold drizzle, in other words. Crazy person.

My fellow Low-Keyers, I salute you!

November 19, 2011

Up to You

There were some new faces at today's Low-Key Hillclimb. When I reached the top of Kings Mountain, I caught a snippet of conversation.
I wouldn't call that low-key!
I smiled. It's as low-key as you want it to be.

The road was wet, the air was cold, the trees were dripping. Along the way, the sun cast a spotlight on some moss-covered boulders; no time for a photo. When I heard a toddler's voice behind me, I knew that I was about to be passed by the racer towing his daughter in a Burley trailer.

The women started the climb together; I took my place at the back and watched them pull away. As the pack thinned, I passed one rider; she did not give chase. The gap between us began to stretch, and before long she had dropped out of sight. When she arrived at the top, I congratulated her with a high-five. That was hard, she said.

Yes, it was. A relatively short climb, I vowed to push harder this week. For more than 45 minutes, I sustained an average heart rate of 174 beats per minute, peaking at 179. Still, not as hard as I pushed the last time we tackled this climb, and the result speaks for itself.

Next year, I should train for the series. Or, give it up?

November 12, 2011

Nine, Plus Five

Would I be faster? The weather was dreary and cold; it seemed certain that we would ride into the cloud. Had I vanquished the virus that attacked my body this week? I felt less tired, but still drained. I am five years older and two pounds heavier.

I was most eager to tackle Highway 9 this year. In 2006, this was my first Low-Key Hillclimb. Back then, I wondered: Did they really mean that anyone could participate?

My leg started hurting before I reached the top. Over thousands of miles of cycling, my legs have cramped on exactly one occasion. Did I pull a muscle? I was going hard up the hill, but I had not done anything unusual. Both legs were sore. Really sore.

My chiropractor's words bubbled up into my consciousness.
You are much improved, I was able to start working on your muscles.
Evidently I was not using those long-dormant adductors before he released them. Evidently a relatively short hillclimb of modest grade will tax them.

I had been excited to reach the half-way point in less than 26 minutes. Although I lost sight of the riders ahead, surely I was climbing for a new personal best.

It was convenient to forget that the first two miles of the climb are mellow; at the half-way point, you have ascended roughly 835 feet. There are some 1280 feet up ahead, and that makes all the difference.

Slower by four minutes, I was nonetheless proud of the pink stripe left by the finish-line chalk on my front tire.