Sometime hills are the best way, the only way to return to where you began. Throughout history hills have been there, pinnacles from which we see the world more clearly, personally, biblically, politically, metaphorically, they teach us how to humble ourselves and we are once again reminded that climbing always gets us out of the valley we're in.
Maybe it's that hills force us to pump some extra blood between heart and head and with it a few extra bubble of oxygen to clear the coconut? I can't be certain, just know that while I don't always feel great going up, once up there things do get better.
After riding myself into a mental valley at Cascade Cycling Classic, I took a few days and then refound my joy, on a hill, a stretch of 7-9% that doesn't care where you came from. I also have refocused my goals on a hill, the Wy East Rd climb; a snaking one-lane passage up through the forests of Mt Hood, between 4 and 6,000 feet, this year's Oregon State Hillclimb (TT) Championship, to get back to where I began - a love for riding up... up... up.
The closest thing I have to practice on, without driving an hour to Mt. Hood, is 15miles from my porch, Rocky Point Road. A lovely little 1,300' climb over 3.15 miles with pitches in the double digits.
The roll out was easy between 32-35kmh west on Hwy 30. Morning traffic going out is pretty light and the shoulders wide enough to not make the delivery trucks much an issue. It's the perfect half hour warm up my legs need.
The climb starts a 1/4 mile after the Dept of Transportation Weigh Station well marked across the highway. Gear down and get ready - Rocky comes at you right out of the gate!
Some climbs invite you in, then slap you around a bit, give you a few flat bits to catch your breath and then let you slip over the top, Rocky Point will have none of that. Coming off Hwy 30 you turn left and immediately a long ramp of 9-11% glares at you, then disappears into the trees 600m in the distance - if you haven't unclipped to reconsider start flicking that rear derailleur and take a few deep breaths. It's right here where you decide are you here to climb or creep? Over the years I have done both.
Regardless your decision the calves are always my first to complain; they have just come off the big-ring on Hwy 30 and don't like the instant high rev spinning. My breathing is next and the lungs consort with the calves in a debate of a 'reasonable speed'. Today is all about the August 16th Championship and I politely ignore them both.
At the end of that launch ramp the road begins a snaking slither through the big leaf maples. Its easy to imagine a serpent creating this road - on its way downhill of course! Any creature, even with a reduced reptilian brain would have chosen a gentler gradient and more switchbacks. Not this one. Rocky bends gently left then gently right, repeating it at 8-9% for the next several hundred meters. I settle in to a climbing rhythm and keep looking up the road - hearing Paul Sherwin say, "it's never a good sign when the non-climbers start looking at their gears." I'm a climber damn it! I fix my focus straight up the road.
The 1 mile marker is just ahead, I know it too well, I play this 'I will not look at the computer' game with myself until I cross the marker - 5:39 - damn it! I'm way off - I need to be down around five. Once again I hear Mr Sherwin doing play-by-play in my head, "he always come good on his rendezvous" , ya, but that's Armstrong, and I'm no Pro. Clearly. I'm just a 53 year whacko who thinks he can climb. Ya know, compared to most of the guys I ride with I can - they would love to see this - sweat streaming in an uninterrupted rivulet from my chin, constantly rising up out of the saddle to keep the momentum going, and when all else fails looking down at my sock (NOT my gears), my Jens Voigt 'Vorrom, vroom, vroom" socks, remind myself I am having fun and ask 'what would Jens do?' - attack - so I hesitate, then tell myself don't hesitate, again out of the saddle and up the revs.
Rocky relents a bit through these trees, over a mile and a half into the climb, my computer flickers 8%, then 9, then 8 again; I keep reminding myself to reach with my knees. A thing I read somewhere, if you are struggling to keep the 'spin' on a climb pretend you are reaching for the handlebars with your knees. C'mon knees - reach, reach.
Ahead the road curves left and then right, the gradient actually ducks under 6%, but it's a lie, around that right is The Wall. I know it; the curse of an intimate affair with this curvaceous slope. It's a beautiful little 100 meters of, as my friend Todd calls it, "witch-slapping nasty". If you were racing this is where you would attack. If you had Contador's legs you would dance away; you'd be inclined on its 15% to take flight for the top. If not, this is where you vainly flick the right shifter to the sound of silence. Sorry sunshine, get out of the saddle and push on the pedals. If your spin has spun, then choke on your pride and 'Paperboy' it. Today I keep the knees reaching and lock my stare on the crest of The Wall. Over the top it's almost flat - 7+%.
The metronome in my head pushes up the tempo... 'reach, reach, reach'... 5:39, 5:39, 5:39... time to make up.
The 2 mile marker pokes out of the shrubbery on the right and 11:23 ticks past... 'reach, reach, reach'...
Outta the saddle, drop a gear, push it from here, most of its shy of 7%, then 6, 5, outta the saddle again. No more shade. Push. There's a motivational monologue raging in my head. I don't feel my calves, my lungs, my anything. Past the 3 mile marker - crap, pushing so hard I forgot to look. Sweat runs into my right eye - live with it - push.
A hundred meters...
One last outta the saddle