Saturday, July 4, 2009

Epic Climbs of Insomnia

Looking down on Utah valley from high up on the Nebo loop.

What happens when you set your alarm for 3:30 am it's daylight savings time and your biological clock is mixed up from driving all night the day before? You wake up at 12:45 MST/1:45MDT and think you have overslept by 15 minutes. I didn't discover that it wasn't 4 o'clock until I was down the road aways. Getting out this early did mean I would be able to do the whole ride I had intended this morning. I had to be back by 10 so I thought I was going to have to settle for an 80 mile ride instead of the 100 mile ride I had intended.

So, 2 AM, after I have told my son to go back to bed again, I was out pumping up my tires, adjusting the headlight and then came the time to turn the taillight on. Hmmm, it seemed something was missing. Yes, I had forgotten my taillight. I had my ankle reflectors, my sam brown belt, and my spare headlight but no taillight. This was a bit of a deal breaker when you are going to be riding for 3 or 4 hours in the dark. The thought occured to me that I could hang the spare headlight off my seatbag and set it on flash, of course, it is technically illegal to have a flashing white light on the back so I searched the back of the van desperately for something red I could put over the light. I found a Lightning McQueen water bottle that one of my kids had brought. So I stuffed the throat of the bottle over the top of the headlight and put it on the seatbag. It was a little funny looking but it worked.

I was off into the night. A few miles down the road I would start to get preoccupied with the fact I had forgotten a windbreaker. Temps were in the upper 50's and I wasn't too cold now. I knew that as I climbed up the mountain it would get colder. My other concern was thunderstorms. It had rained at my sister's house overnight and I was worried I would find more weather as I went on. Fortunately I didn't run into any rain, just wet roads.

I was a little disappointed in my speed heading down to Salem but my legs didn't feel bad so I chalked it up to headwinds and climbing. I kept a vigilant eye open for a gas station where I could top off my bottles before the big climb. One thing about little Utah towns, they completely shut down at night. I was at the edge of town when I realized I was going to have to get creative as I headed up the road to enter Payson Canyon. I had inspiration as I passed the last set of houses before heading into the canyon. It occured to me that every one of these houses probably had a garden hose. I was careful to choose a house with a for sale sign as the house was probably vacant. I managed to top off without any uncomfortable confrontations with gun wielding homeowners.

So, without further ado, I was off into the night with the red flashing waterbottle hanging off my saddle looking like a crazy chinese lantern. Entering the canyon I would surprise many deer. I would actually get within 10 feet of one before he realized I was a person and ran off. I also startled a bunch of fawns, and may have seen a lynx but it ran off before I could be sure. The road in the lower canyon goes along the side of a creek with green trees and the occasional house is still on the side of the road but soon I am stopping at the first parking area looking for a garbage bag I could possibly use as a wind break for the descent later. Unfortunately the bathrooms were locked.

After the simple 2-3% grades of the first few miles the climb ramps up to the 6-9% grades that will be a constant over the next 15 miles. Not too long after the initial climbing I found some open restrooms but they didn't have garbage cans. So back onto the road I went again. I was getting into the groove now. Occasionally I would stand and pedal for awhile to rest the back and use some different muscles. Even so this climb takes everything you got. Last year it took me almost 4 hours to climb this hill. In some respects the hill went faster than last year climbing it in the dark. First comes the 7000 foot sign signifying you have climbed 2400' since the bottom of the hill. It's an important milestone that lets you know that though your legs have been burning for the last hour + you actually have something to show for it at this point. The flip side is it gets you looking for the 8000' sign which now seems to take forever to come up.

As you approach the 8000' sign you start to find the switchbacks are ending and the terrain is starting to mello out enough to allow places to camp. Between here and the other end of the loop I must have seen 10-20 family reunions out camping in the greeen meadows off the side of the road as I climbed further up. The hill changes past the 8000' foot mark. The quad crushing spirit damping constant leg burn gives way to short flat stretches between steep hills as you stair step up to 9000'. Most of the hills are 9-11% grades. So although you get to rest a little in between you are working harder when you climb. Even so I found the compact crankset was doing pretty good. I had a lot more energy at this point then I did last year. Amazingly enough I was able to keep enough juice coming out of the generator to keep the light on. When i stood up the light would pulse as I shifted from foot to foot.

Around this time the first hint of dawn was coming and the mountain birds started singing. I recognized many of the calls to birds that would sing outside my window in the mornings when I was growing up in Flagstaff. The Aspen and fir trees actually took more form, and the green meadows and forests started to appear out of the darkness as I climbed. Not a soul was stirring in the campsites at the side of the road. Occasionally I would see a light in the camp as I passed but not a soul. I had only heard one car pass while I was in the restroom further down but besides that I had not seen a single car. I had started the hill down in the cottonwoods and sage and had climbed up through fir forests and now I was entering the aspens. I had stopped seeing deer, perhaps that was a result of seeing more campers, or perhaps there just wasn't as much grazing area up here.

The final 7 miles or so of the hill walk up a ridge going over and around knobs. I was hoping I would get up onto this section before sunrise as it is this part of the road where you start looking down at the other mountains around and you get a clear view of the sky to the east. I made it actually and as I rode eastward towards the mountain I would watch the sunrise unfold behind me in my mirror and when I would stop occasionally to take pictures.

I was amazed at how much more energy I had up here. I was in a lot better shape this year. I also looked at my watch and noticed I might be able to get to the top in 3 hours which would be about an hour faster than last year. There are six false summits on this climb which can really mess with your psyche. I find it is easier if you know they are there. This year the climbs up over the nobs did not seem nearly so big. I still had good power and the beautiful mountain morning was invigorating. It was about 47 degrees up on the mountain and I was in shorts and a jersey. It ended up working but I think a windbreaker still would have been handy.

Approaching Nebo

Around another corner and I saw Mt. Nebo lit up in the rays of the morning sun and stopped for a picture. Around here I would start to see occasional cars, but I only saw 3 or 4 before I was down the other side of the mountain. In 2 more nobs I was at the road's summit. 9345 feet, I hadn't really noticed the altitude as much this year. Probably because I am in better shape. Anyway, it was 6:30 am and I had climbed the hill in 3 hours. I still felt pretty strong too. Being this early it also meant I could go forward with the original plan of dropping down the other side of the mountain to the town of Nephi and head home from there to make a hundred miles exactly.
Mt. Nebo from east

I had to make one more rest stop before dropping down and was dismayed to find no garbage cans with a bag I could use. So I steeled myself for a long cold descent. I stopped at the last mountain overlook to take a picture next to a guy looking at the mountain through a spotting scope, then I was off. I stopped once to put my energy mix into my remaining waterbottle so I would have something to burn to keep me warm on the way down. I'm experimenting with putting soy protein in my maltodextrin and it seemed to work pretty good.

Nebo from southwest

It was a bit of a treacherous descent. Around many of the corners there were rocks that had rolled out into the road from the rainstorms that night. I was getting spray kicked up onto me from the road and that was pretty cold. I had to ride my brakes pretty hard as it was a steep twisty descent and if you go too fast the mistake could be disasterous. I stopped momentarily to look at the devil's kitchen but I think it was a little overrated, of course I am probably a bit jaded since the great red rocks of Sedona are in my neck of the woods, and this didn't compare to much to those.

Nebo south face

At one point the road was cut to one lane as the other lane had slid down the hillside in a landslide. Occasionally there were bands of dirt across the road where they had dug something up and it made for a bit of white knuckle fun when you hit them at 30 hoping your wheels wouldn't slip. There was a wet cattle guard too that gave me a bit of a tense moment. I did make it through the steep stretch safely though.

The south side of the loop is a lot less green and what trees there are, are just blackened trunks remaining from a fire. The geology is more of a clay/Shale type of rock. The road was a lot straighter though so I was able to build up some speed and shoot on down to the highway where it was 4 miles to Nephi.

The devil's kitchen

The Utah valley has a whole handful of little farming communities spread out across the flats. The first of these I would get to was Nephi. Just about every one of these towns takes it's name from the Bible or the Book of Mormon. This was one of those from the latter. If you ever want to wander into a little town similar to what you might find in 'The Music Man'. Theres a main street with an old firehouse, an aging used car dealership. Today there was a rip roaring community carnival getting put together in the town park. All the streets are lined with small brick houses with large trees out front. Fortunately I did not encounter any of the dogs that usually wander this type of town. Opie Taylor could be lurking anywere.
Downtown Nephi

Leaving Nephi I am out into the farmland mostly flat with the occasional gentle hill to break the monotony. There are green fields with occasional farms and silos. I am keeping my speeds above 20 most of the way across the valley floor. To my right are the mountains I just went over. After I pass through another small farm town called Mona I catch glimpses of the peaks of Mt. Nebo. I am still strong and I think I might have enough drink left in the bottle to get me back to my Sister's house. In Santaquin I guess that Main street is the street I should turn on since they have not signed the highway numbers. I guessed right fortunately.
Flat Country
More Farms
Toto, something tells me we aren't in the mountains anymore.
Silos and Mt. Nebo from the West
A Lavender Farm

It is a quick drop down into Payson from there and it would take me less than an hour to get back to Springville. The temperatures were still in the 70's when I got back and they were eating breakfast. Mmmmmm, pancakes.
Sister's home sweet Sister's home.

So to sum up, I took an hour off my time to climb the hill, rode 100 miles, and had over 6000' of climbing. Not too bad. Now to eat like no tomorrow so I'll be ready for Monday morning when I plan on doing the alpine loop.

Spanish Fork Reservoir from up at play area

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