Sunday, November 16, 2008

Island in the sky.


For some reason I don't sleep well before brevet's. Permanents, no problem. It was no exception for this ride. I found myself wide awake at 3 am after a fitful 6 hour sleep. Seeing as the brevet was all the way down in Marana I figured I would just drive down there early and maybe take a nap if I could. I have to say that the Dove Mountain Basha's doesn't open until 6 unfortunately as I was famished. After an hour nap it was open and I was able to get some breakfast and make my change into randoman.

The parking lot was full of randonneurs preparing for their assault on Mt. Lemmon. I dug through my brevet bucket and pulled out my long fingered gloves, my mitten shells to put over them, my arm warmers, leg warmers, and my windstopper jacket. I was expecting 63 degree temperatures on the top of the mountain according to the weatherman and ever since the 300k last year I have made it a point of taking a little more warm weather gear than I otherwise would. I have come too close to hypothermia on a couple of these and I think I am getting a little more cautious with age. Anyway, I used everything except the arm warmers and the mitten shells.

Lemmon ice.

Calle Sin Nombre

After a quick talk from Susan we were off into the cool of the morning and the breaking dawn. A group of 3 or 4 pulled off the front fairly quickly and I hung out with the slower guys and chatted with Dave Glasgow a bit. He is another of the older guys on these rides that I kind of hold up as a model of where I want to be at that age. This was his first brevet back since he had a run in with a cab awhile back. He picked a doozy of a ride to start on! The group was going just a little faster than I wanted to go so I let them go. I hadn't ridden in 2 weeks to try and let my knee heal up from riding Mike Sturgill's Yarnell 300k permanent a few weeks back. My knee was already starting to twinge a bit so it was just going to be a enjoy the brevet day and not one where I would try to get a fast time or anything like that. Besides, I needed another good relaxing ride. Life has been a little intense and depressing lately with my job search.

I always laugh riding up Sunrise as one of the side streets is "calle sin nombre". I think someone had a sense of humor. I also think it appropriate since it joins up with Sunrise, or is it Ina, or Skyline, or Sabino Canyon? For those of you who don't speak spanish "calle sin nombre" means street with no name. I myself have thought of designing a southwest neighborhood with street names such as, Los Pantalones, or La Nariz, or perhaps El Ojo. But I digress.

The eastward part of the course was a bit of a chore and I saw weekend cyclists bent over with effort and crouched down as they fought the fierce headwind blowing down the street with many names. I wondered what this would do to my ability to make the controls on time. I hunkered down into the aero bars and spun as best I could. I would pass four of the guys ahead of me in here who were stopped to fix flat tires. The wind was blowing all sorts of tire eating garbage into the road. It was rather picturesque at times riding into blowing tumbleweeds.

Bruce Chandler at that grand support stop in the sky.

The ride down "calle muchos nombre" was a grind and I was soon passed by Steve Atkins and Mike Enfield. I was able to hold onto them until just before the first checkpoint but that was enough to get me through the first stretch of big winds. I stopped at the gas station at the corner of Catalina and Tanque Verde, refilled, refuelled, and greased up. Then I was off to discover my shifter was coming loose up on Bear Canyon road. Fortunately Susan was at a secret control and let me use her multi-tool which happened to be a lot more accessible than mine (which was in my saddle bag but that was under my jacket which was hanging off the back of the good old brooks.

#^&*# wind up the @#%@ hill......

I think it was Mark Goldentyer that asked Susan for permission to swear at the Palisades and said that was the toughest thing he had done on his bicycle yet. I believe he had also climbed Mt. Lemmon before so that says something about conditions on the mountain the day of the ride. About a mile from the bottom of the hill I passed a girl who also described the conditions in similar fashion. It was to be a @#$%(*&(* of a day for my first climb up Mt. Lemmon, and me nursing a sore knee to boot. I had been pumping ibuprofen up to this point and hoped it would hold out.

I had been hoping that I wouldn't have to resort to my sissy gear 32 tooth cog on the back (I ride a triple so it really is a sissy gear but hey, I made it didn't I?). Within a mile I was forced into my lowest gear and I doubt I would have made it with my knee and all without it. Coming around corners 40mph gusts of wind would drop me down to 3-4 mph making me grind in even the lowest gears. Standing up wasn't any better but did allow me to use other muscles and rest the posterior periodically. I was glad I had been doing a lot of hill work lately. That being said unless you ride Mt. Lemmon regularly there really is no place to completely train for something like this. The road up it is an engineering marvel. I challenge you to find any other road that stays between 5 -8% continuosly for 20 miles. I am sure there are a few in Colorado and the Nebo loop I climbed over the summer comes close but the Lemmon had it beat for elevation gain by 500 feet.

I apologize for no pictures up until the turnaround as I was thinking I had to be there by 1:52 and I was cutting it very close. In fact even if I hadn't burned myself out getting up there I think I would have still barely missed it even without taking a good rest at the Palisades.

You start with a beautiful Cactus forest in the first 3 miles as you climb up a hillside and then into a canyon. The hill is relentless as you progress. Passing the toll station you then pass into gorgeous riparian habitat to your right in the creek bottom with giant sycamore trees to your right that reach up to the road and wave in the wind as you struggle by. As you leave the wash you see the last Saguaro struggling for life, just as you are, as the grassland starts with Century plants casting their stalks to the sky and quivering in the wind. On up you go, slowly, fighting the wind, cursing it under your breath, legs hurting and crying for mercy. Are you even close to the top? Not remotely, there are still 12 miles to go! Rounding another bend the cliffs dwarf you and the temperature drops noticeably as you ride into the shadow which fortunately also turns out to be a brief respite from the wind. Despite the effort you shiver. Over a bridge and back into a canyon you go! Now you are in the first of the pine forest, able to survive because of the shady canyon and extra water that comes down it. There are picnic areas and people are enjoying themselves at the tables.

I am enjoying myself, but my body is not. It is swearing at me. You &#$^@ loving @#$* it says. I don't tell it we still have around 8 miles to go. Just a mile ago I was looking high up at the top of an extremely high cliff and could have sworn I saw the signs of a highway built off of the top of it. It wasn't the top. Rounding the bend I continue up. Round corner after corner. At least the wind is dying down a bit up here on the mountain. I pass a sign stating I am now at the 6000 foot level and I arrive at the Windy Vista viewpoint which happens to be the road at what I thought was the top of the massive cliff. Bruce Chandler invites me to get some water but I still have a bottle of Gatorade left and I am fearful I am going to miss the checkpoint so I gratefully decline. On up the hill I go. I don't tell my body we have over 1500' feet and 6 miles to go.

I enjoy one of the two almost flat spots for a brief moment as I press on. Soon I am in the pine trees and the wind has finally let up. Around bend after bend I ride through the hilltops. They are deceptive. You think you are near the top but around the next hill there is another one. My bike computer says I am still far below 8000' feet and I press on. I have to stop very briefly around a mile from the Palisades as my legs are completely void of oxygen. Within a minute I am back on the bike pressing on with fear and finally I am there. I ask Susan what my chances of making it are and she says really good and that I only have to be to the bottom of the hill by 5 since the turnaround is a postcard drop. I decide that since I really wanted to have a fun ride today, I will rest.


I sit down for around 15 minutes in which time a randonneur who I think was Mark Goldentyer but I could be wrong comes in and says his speal about the days difficulty in climbing to which I was greatly amused. I thought it was just the way Lemmon was but apparently this was a rather difficult day to do the Lemmon.

Between the Palisades and the Post Office and back there is around another 1000' of climbing in moderate sized hills but they are nothing compared to the big climb of the day. Around the top of the hill past the Palisades the faster guys are on their way back. The other two guys who pulled in to the Palisades after me go to the post office and are quickly on their way back. I stop and sit down and eat my banana. I worked hard to get up here and I decided I was going to enjoy it. Besides the knee needed a rest and I needed to call my wife and let her know where I was on the pay phone.

A couple of pictures and a hill later I was back at the Palisades. Where the weather was a lot warmer. The temperature had been 43 degrees on the other side of the hill and there was ice on the side of the road in spots. On the side of the Palisades temps were nearly 60 degrees. Still descents were a bit cold. I sat and chowed down and chatted Bruce and Susan up. I figure I stayed there between 20 minutes and half an hour pigging out. My plan was to eat up as I had about an hour of good digestion ahead of me as I dropped off the hill. It was a good plan actually as Susan's delicious wraps got me all the way back to the parking lot.

Down the mountain I sped. Growing ever more used to speeding through corners and reliving the past 5 hours as if someone had hit the quick rewind button. In the lower half the winds had returned and I find 40 mph speeds slam down to 14 around corners where the grade is still greater than 5% but the wind is like suddenly rolling into large patches of sand. Amusing it is to be pedalling to go 16 mph on a decent downhill grade to keep up forward motion. Eventually I am at the bottom and enjoying a tailwind as I pass the cacti and bid the mountain goodby, feeling sheepish in my jacket in the near 80 degree warmth of the desert.


I was determined to get a bit of that tailwind heading back before the evening calm came. I only stopped for one last picture and a receipt at Circle K for a nut roll I wouldn't eat until after I was done. Initially the wind was good but I squandered quite a bit of it in my climb up Sabino Canyon road which is where Susan passed me heading to the end. I did get the last bits of the wind after I turned west though and Sundown took me a few miles down the road. I originally intended to only ride in the dark for less than an hour but with all the resting I did it was more like an hour and a half. My lights held up well though and I only had one spot in the section of twisty turns in the last 10 miles where I wondered if I had overshot a street in the dark. On Moore road I decided I was cold enough that I didn't want to just soldier through and put on my jacket. That is where I noticed you could see the milky way out here. The pleides star cluster was rising from the eastern Horizon and cassiopea was overhead watching as I rode the last few miles downhill to the finish.


My knee really hurt the last 15 - 20 miles or so so I probably lost some time to that. With my rests and my sore knee I figure I did good finishing at 12:22 hours. In fact, with the sore knee I figure I did good to finish at all. With the winds and the fact most of my training was in the 5000' elevation gain arena I think I did pretty good.

Now for a few days of icing the knee and getting it ready for the next brevet. Susan helped in looking at my bike position and I moved my seat forward as a result. We will see how that helps. In the meantime I am going to lay off the climbing for a few weeks. After all, 9400' is a healthy dose of climbing for a day's work. Even a weeks worth.

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