Tuesday, July 15, 2008

For the strength of the hills

Mt. Timpanogas (not my picture, My camera was broken I discovered on the ride)

Well, visiting my sister in Utah and needing to do some hill training I packed my bike into the back of the van when we left Mesa. I had my sights set on two rides, both pretty stiff climbs. One I did this morning. Not being able to sleep I was up at 3, Well, being in a state that uses Daylight Savings time that would be a more sane 4 am. So, in the darkness, I raided my sister's pantry taking two trailmix bars and snarfing a handful of Craisins I figured I could supplement my energy stores at the first gas station. Assembling my bike after taking it out of the van I discovered that my headlight was flaking out on me. I wouldn't get it fully fixed until I stuffed some roadside foliage into the battery case to keep the batteries from shifting on the bumps.

There were two weak links in my plan this morning, the first became apparent as I shot down the road into the night (my Sister lives at the top of a half mile 5% grade hill). It was cold out this morning and I left my leg and arm warmers in Mesa. The second weakness I would not realize until I was down the road aways, and that was that I forgot the tire pump. So I hoped I could extend my 2000 mile no flat streak 65 more miles.

Getting down to the road along the railroad tracks I was in the industrial section of town and it smelled funny. The smell of progress was well, stinky fair readers. Of course, not too far down the road I would get to smell some of that old school smell too as I went past some farms. Despite the chill it was a beautiful morning and as I pushed a little the speeds hung around 19-20 mph which wasn't bad for riding in the dark. I selected the road down by Utah Lake and Geneva steel purposely to avoid all the traffic lights. My one worry was that it might be an old dilapidated road since the steel mill had fallen on hard times over 10 years ago. My fears were foundless though. One thing I can say for Utah is that the roads are typically wide and the pavement is good. I was afraid the drivers were going to be obnoxious but I didn't have a single honk. Perhaps that is because my route avoided most of the rush hour traffic.

Riding along in the dark I did make one wrong turn but I soon found my way over to University ave. It was a beautiful morning for riding, even when the wind did pick up. I knew it would as mountains tend to generate wind as the sun rises and sets due to differences in temperatures. Even so I made good time. I made my way past the old steel mill, still doing something as it was lit up. I don't think they make steel like they used to when my wifes grandfather worked for them. Across the lake I could see lights of a small town and I wondered at all the burgs that are springing up just like they are in my neck of the woods. Gas being what it is these days, I think there are some people out there that are in for some failed investments, but that is neither here nor there. The view of the lights was pretty and as I neared the end of the ride along the lake, dawn was peeking over the Wasatch front to the east.

I hadn't realized the climbing started in Pleasant Grove but soon found out that the Pleasant grove temple llit up on the hill in the distance would soon be below me as I continued to climb up the hill towards American Fork canyon. Or for those of you from that vicinity, American Fark canyon. I passed bus stop after bus stop full of commuters getting ready to go to work and kind of felt sorry for them in a way. Of course I would be joining them when I got back since I did have to work on this trip since I am getting laid off in October and every vacation day needs to be saved at this point. Around the mouth of the canyon I discovered my bike computer was flaking out so I reset it so I could get a good record of the hill around the corner.

This hill was really the crux of the ride. My brother in law showed me this hill a long time ago when he was engaged to my sister and he was taking us up for a hike. He mentioned how hard it was (of course the bike he rode was probably not the best thing for the task as I understand it). Ever since getting back into biking I have always wanted to give this loop a go. The official title is the "Alpine Loop" and it is a popular ride around here as I would figure out by the number of cyclists I saw out. I also saw a lot of people wearing jackets on their descent. I wouldn't see anyone climbing until I went down the other side. I don't know if that is because I have gotten stronger or just because no one was climbing this side this morning.

Entering the canyon is like entering another world. Outside the vegetation is sage and grasses (unless you are in a neighborhood then there are lawns and big green trees). Inside the canyon everything is green and a creek flows next to the road. Of course in Arizona we would call it a river, but those in wetter climes call it a creek. Sunrise had still not entered the canyon and the greens were accented in the twilight. I have to say, the desert has beautiful riding, but on the otherhand, cycling in the mountains is beautiful too. The cliffs the bottom of the canyon is, but later I would be looking down on them from far above.
The foot of the hill winds up through Timpanogas Cave National Monument. I have been up into the cave before and it is a good climb up to the cave, my kids are not up to it yet, but one of these days we'll nag them up to the cave (the trail is really steep but paved). Today though I had bigger fish to fry. The first 3 or 4 miles of the hill maintains a steady 3-4% grade, teasing you up higher. As you progress further up the canyon everything gets even greener but the grades increase as well. The top 7-8 miles of this hill stay above 6% the rest of the way topping out at 9% in a few places. Along here I stopped a few times to take pictures from what I now know is a broken camera but I did have hopes of capturing the scene to share with the readers of this blog.
There were still patches of snow up on Timpanogas and I would soon be looking down on a few of the patches. Pretty soon the vegetation was so thick you couldn't see any soil. Aspens started to mix in with the dougless fir, spruces, and Pine trees. The mountains surrounding me were magnificient and were reminiscient of the scenes of Austria one sees in the sound of music. The scenery definitely matched the climb. I have climbed steeper but I have never climbed a hill of this length and steepness combined before. By the time I got to the top of the hill my altimeter was reading 2800' climbed and that wasn't counting the climbing up through pleasant grove which probably added 2-300 feet or so. The top of the hill read 7400 feet. Not too shabby considering I had started the day down at 4000'.
The descent on the other side had a lot more switchbacks than the side I climbed up. I found myself having to use alternating breaks. If ever there was a hill that would heat up your rims from braking and pop a tire, this was it. A lot of the switchbacks slowed me down to 18 mph and that was with full use of the road. Slowing wasn't too bad though as I was dropping back into the shadows of the mountains and canyons and I was cold. Really cold.

Soon I would be looking down on the top of Robert Redford's ski area, also home of the Sundance Film festival. Passing the ski area the road straighted out a bit and I was able to hit 45mph in one spot. A car kept trying to catch up to me but everytime they got close we would enter some more corners and I would leave them in the dust as bicycles are a lot more limber in the turns.
Descending Provo canyon was fun too. Despite Mr. Redfords strong opposition they widened the road up Provo canyon and they remembered to give it a wide shoulder fortunately. Pedalling after the freezing descent was interesting as I needed to fully warm up again before I started pedalling comfortably and faster. Dropping down the 7% grade in the sun was nice but the tires on the concrete made a funny noise which made me wonder if I had a flat developing. Off to the left I noticed 2 waterfalls cascading out of the granite cliffs. One I don't know the name of, but the other is Bridal Veil Valls, which I rode up to with my daughter, neice, and nephew a few years back.

Crossing Provo back to Springville I was plagued by stoplights. What is the point of having a hill you can break the speed limit going down if there are stoplights every 100 yards? I hit every one red thanks to all the students heading off to classes at BYU who were waiting to cross. One guy was sporting the "My pants are falling down and I think it looks cool" look. I kind of have to wonder at these types. Especially going to this school. Kinda pointless but hey, some people are gluttons for punishment.
Upon entering Springville again and about 2 miles from my sisters house I spied a Sonic Drive in and a little voice inside my head whispered thoughts of breakfast. Since I had really not packed enough food and I had pushed my luck getting over the pass with only a trail mix bar, I succumbed to weakness. After all, I did have time. I managed this ride in about 4 hours which I think is really good for me seeing as this route had about 4000 feet of climbing and it ended up being 65 miles. Yeah, I deserved a good breakfast. I would later find out the hill back up to my Sister's house clocks in at 5% for about a quarter mile, just enough to get warmed back up again.

No comments: