Saturday, January 19, 2008

El Diablo de Tortilla

Well, Super Master Rando Ninja was on the prowl again this morning fully decked out as you see above (a picture taken on the brevets last winter) with the exception of his super efficient energy absorption dome cover and his forehead light. Frankly it was cold and the wind blowing out of the NE was not helping matters any. As a matter of fact, in addition to the days mega climbing, there would be heavy winds as well. I believe a few years back a Randonneur declared that a ride might perhaps be an "Epic" ride and that that ride would be the measure of tough rides for some riders for years to come. Well, at times the winds reminded me a lot of the climbs before Arivaca that year when the gusts were blowing through at 40-50 mph. Granted, the gusts today weren't that bad but they did remind me of that.
The morning started with me getting up at 4 am to help my daughter use a breathing appratus to ease her Broncitis that the doctor tells us to do every 4 hours. My wife took the midnight shift and I got the 4 am one figuring I needed to get going early on my ride anyway as I had a busy day ahead and would need to be back by 10. So, when one needs to get a 5 hour ride in, but needs to be back by ten, a five AM start is critical, not to mention good training for 300 and 400k rides which start early in the morning as well.
Fair readers, it was cold. I had an unusual desire to go back to bed, but tricking myself out the door I thought, "If I don't feel better after 10 miles I will come back and go to sleep". Well, 10 miles stretched into 5 hour 62 mile day. "5 hours to go 62 miles" you may ask? "Paul, that averages out to 12.5 mph! You slowpoke!". Well, you are probably not taking into account El Diablo de Tortilla and his ugly stepsister, La Diabla de Canon.
Starting off I found the Aero bars to get me an extra mph even though I was going 12-13 mph. That meant a good headwind. Usually I don't tuck down for anything less than 15 mph or so as it just doesn't make sense. My headlight shone bright into the night and my taillights were working fine. I did see another cyclist on the first stretch which was funny as there weren't that many people out and to see a cyclists was just bizarre. I mean, didn't he know it was cold and dark out here?
Heading up the Apache trail I saw Venus high up in the sky, then it went behind the superstitions and out again. It was beautiful to be out in the darkness climbing up into the Superstition Mtns. Arriving at the top of the first major climb I looked down and saw the lights of Apache Jct far below off in the distance. Then a giant gust of wind hit me and blew me across the road. So, back on task I steeled myself for the large descent before me. It was cold and would be far colder before I got to the bottom but I managed to get through it. I must say I descended a little slower than I usually do as my hands were really cold and not as responsive and then the crosswinds out of the canyons were very erratic.
Somewhere between Canyon Lake (which is starting to look like a lake again now that it is filling up) and Tortilla flat, dawn started to appear. The climb to Tortilla flat was a bit of a drain on the legs and I started to question my plan to ride beyond Tortilla flat. Descending into Tortilla flat I recovered enough that I thought I would give the hill a try. I saw a man walking along the boardwalk in the twighlight but otherwise the Old Western 2 building town was deserted (the guy probably was getting the restaurant ready). Just past the town the creek was flowing over the road so I slowed way down as I didn't need to get wet on this brightening but still cold morning. I made quick work of the 200ft hill just outside of town and was soon staring up at El Diablo de Tortilla. Well, that is what I have decided to call this hill as it is always a devil of a hill and of course it is just outside Tortilla flat so it is the Devil of Tortilla! The headwind howling down the hill did not make climbing it any easier and my heartrate was trying to jump out of zone 3 a lot. Just to let you know how steep this hill is, coming down I stayed at 40-42 mph sitting bolt upright to create an air brake, and also feathering my brakes so this is a big mama devil of a hill. It keeps on like that for 4 and a half quad burning miles. I confess I did take a bit of a breather at one point and crisscrossed the road to lessen the burn for a few seconds. I kept telling myself I would consider turning around after the next turn and several times of that later I was at the top and then over to the end of the pavement sign to "dip" my front tire in the dirt in solemn ceremony showing El Diablo de Tortialla that I had kicked his windy sustained 9%
grade booty.
Going back down I had the song "Fly on the Windscreen" stuck in my head (it's a nice cheery little ditty from Depeche Mode about the randomness of Death and how it could be waiting to take you out at anytime, and I haven't heard it in years). Nice song to have in your head as you whale down the mountain at 40+ mph. I could have shot over 50 easy but personally much over 40 starts to give me medical problems like an agitated and nervous state, incontinence, followed by cries for Mommy and Screams of terror, so 40 is it pretty much it for me. As I said before I was doing everything short of hard braking to reduce speed but this hill is one nasty piece of work. That's why roadies from all over the valley come back here to climb it.
If I were to say that El Diablo had not taken it's toll on my legs I would be lying. They were not jello, but I could feel a good healthy climb in them. The smell in Tortilla flat was blowing away from the road this morning so I was not called to by the Steak and Eggs this morning. I really didn't have time anyway and besides, the restaurant was not yet open (the problem with riding too early I am afraid). After popping up and over the "paltry" little 400ft hill south of Tortilla Flat, I started to see other roadies making their way to El Diablo. I had my side of the road all to myself as I had had the road all morning (one benefit of getting out early) . The first few I saw had a bit of that super ninja look about them but behind them everyone seemed to have made due with arm warmers and leg warmers. Of course, they probably left when the sun was peaking through too so they probably were fine with what they had.
Fair readers, El Diablo's wicked Stepsister is mostly wicked because she comes after El Diablo. The funny thing about this ride is that once you have climbed the 1000+ feet out of Mesa to descend into Canyon Lake, and after you have knocked off the 400 foot hill to Tortilla Flat along with El Diablo, there waiting for you at the end of it all is what I call El Diabla de Canyon. Yes, there waiting for you after you have climbed well over 3000 feet, is El Diabla. She is not as bad as El Diablo in that she has brief respites of less steep sections to let you recover and of course is your last major climb of the day, but on tired legs, she can be an evil mistress indeed!
I can't say that I didn't suffer, but neither did I throw my bike over the cliff in a fit of exhausted rage. The thing about these long hills is mostly to just set a sustainable pace and check the mind out or enjoy the scenery. I don't think racers do this but I find it helps the hills to melt away until at last you are at the top being blown along by a deceptive tailwind that will of course ditch you like a gorgeous supermodel after the money is gone. Yes, that nice headwind which burned so many extra calories and chilled my bones nicely decided now was the time to go away. So, although the rest of the ride was mainly downhill, it was not as fast as I hoped it would be. Although when all was said and done I rolled into my driveway even with the nasty headwinds, the extra clothes (jacket, tights, long sleeve jersey, balaclava, winter gloves), I had shaved 2 minutes off of my time after Thanksgiving last year. So, I am in better shape a month and a half later and find my higher handlebars do indeed help, although I did have a bit of a sore back at the end all told. Topo Usa says I climbed 5700 feet. Even subtracting a bit for Topo USA exageration that is a fine amount of climbing for a 100k ride I think.

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