Friday, July 11, 2008

No Pain, no Gain.

Lots of pain, and lots of gain (in elevation), let's hope there's some fitness gains in there too.

Somehow I got it in my head that it looked like it should be fun to bike up Mt. Evans. I think the important part is picking your starting location. Initially I had illusions of grandeur that it would be really cool to start from my house. That changed when I drove the family up Mt. Evans last week. The round trip would have been well over 100 miles, let alone the first half of the trip taking me from about 5800 feet in elevation all the way up to 14,150+ feet. I can safely say that that's not going to happen. Probably not ever, after today's experience. If it does happen, you can also look forward to seeing me in some televised domestic Cat 1 /Pro Tour race somewhere. Either that, or I'm retired and do nothing but bike all over the place and am in the best shape of my life.

I had decided on starting somewhere around Evergreen, CO:

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The grade didn't seem to bad in the car, averaging between 3-7 percent, and 32 miles to the top of the mountain... seemed doable in my head at least. 32 miles couldn't be that bad, and overall, I'd get a nice metric century ride in this summer.

The ride to echo mountain lake wasn't all that bad. Not very much traffic, cool morning, seemed to be in the low 70's, not a cloud in the sky. The no cloud part would be a slight problem, as I forgot to put on or bring any sun screen when I left this morning. At 14,000 feet, you have 40% less atmosphere to block those evil UV rays. I did bring some arm warmers for the descent so I could cover up a little. I still got burned a bit on the top of my legs, and my arms toasted up a little after I got back down and took off the warmers, but all in all, its quite minor. Lesson learned.

Anyhow, at Echo Lake (18 miles from the start, and about 2+ hours later) I queued up with the cars and some other cyclists going up. There's are $3 fee if you plan on stopping anywhere along the way, if you just want to drive/ride up and then turn around and go back down without getting out of your car or off your bike, its free. (Note, its a $10 fee for cars, $3 for motorcycles). I paid the fee, since at this point I already knew once I'd made it to the top, if I made it, I'd want to take a rest. The climb up the road started out well, and I just paced myself, and tried to keep the mindset of the "little engine that could." I was anticipating some pain, and significant respiratory problems but I was up for it. I was in for a surprise though. I really expected to be huffing it in the thin atmosphere, but it was different. I had no problem keeping my breathing and HR under control, but eventually it just felt like my quads where on fire, or someone was injecting acid directly into them. It was so hard to turn them over, and eventually got to a point where it felt like if I would stop, they would seize up and not move again... Ow!

To top it all off, the road up the mountain just seems to keep going, and keep going, and keep going. You can see the top from what's probably 2/3rds the way up. It doesn't look to far away, but never seems to get closer. You'll round a switchback only to be presented with yet another ascent up a long road with a turn way off in the distance. Ugggg. I was so close now. I couldn't give up, as much as I wanted to. I must only be 2-3 more turns I told myself (about 8 times). Finally turned the last round and I saw the parking lot and observatory I was so familiar with. Yay.

Oh, almost forgot to mention. I was talking about doing this at work earlier in the week (and trying to find people to suffer with me). Well, one of my co-workers decided to come up too (in his car). And was sure to find me suffering up the way and point out how nice his engine powered iron horse was working. Thanks Rob! I eventually made it up, and saw Rob coming down from the small foot path that leads up about 50 feet to the top where the USGS marker is, as I was leaving.

I didn't spend much time on the top. It was cold, as expected, and I didn't want to cramp up. So I stretched out the muscles a little, tried to eat my cliff bar, put on my arm warmers and left. At this point I could barely stand up. It wasn't a pretty sight (probably quite comical actually). The ride down pretty much sucked, in my opinion. And as far as I'm concerned, the biggest reason for going up is for the opportunity to go back down. Going up the mountain at 4-7 mph isn't bad and the cracks and bumps in the road aren't really noticeable above the pain emanating from my quadriceps. Going down however was a different story. At 20+ mph, every bump and crack seemed to jar my aching body as I tried to keep my muscles tense enough to support my body above the bike, so as to let bike go easily over them. The wind was also atrocious in spots cooling me beyond comfort. It was only motivation to try and get down faster so I could rest at echo lake, in thicker, warmer air.

I finally made it. Took a good rest, bought some Gatorade at the little shop / restaurant there, stretched some more and tried to prepare myself for the last 18 miles to the car. From Echo Lake, I had to go back up hill a bit and over squaw pass again. The climb was not all that significant in length, so I was able to suffer through it pretty well. Also at the lower elevation my quads weren't burning so much either. I figured the "extra" oxygen and lower altitude was able to buffer out some of the lactic acid that I had built up at higher elevations. I was quite hot at this point though, so I pulled over and took off the arm warmers.

Cruising down the rest of the way was pretty fun. The main road is in much better condition, and where there were bumps and pot holes, someone had outlined them with orange paint so they were easy to spot. Cruising down the curves at 30 miles an hour was a blast. This was what I was waiting for. I guess I got a little to lax towards the end though. About 2-3 miles out from my car, on one of the last turns I crashed. I was slowing for the hairpin when I caught some cinders just before entering the turn, while I was breaking. My back wheel locked up and started to slide right. I let off the rear brake and steered left to correct and catch myself, but at this point I was coming into the turn hot, and at the wrong trajectory. Into the loose cinder burm I went, trying to stop without locking up the front and not smash into the wall in front of me (at least it wasn't a drop off.) I managed to hit a deep section of cinders and my front end stopped abruptly sending me over the bars and off to the left a little. Managed a 3 point landing (my elbow, hip and knee) with minor scrapes and skin removal. I was shaken a little, but not to bad. I was quickly back up and back in the rhythm. The intersection at which my car was parked approached quickly. I've not been so happy to make it back to the car in quite a long time.

You can see most of the details of my ride here at motionbased. I had some problems with the cyclocomputer turning off when jolted hard by a bump (am looking into sending it in for repairs, as its getting worse) and as usual, the HR strap on my body when its windy and I'm cold gives bad readings.

Will I do this again? I don't know. Probably not by myself. Some details of the ride:

Length: 64 miles
Total time: 7 hours
Moving time: 5.5 hours (probably higher when you add in the moments my computer shut itself off)
Total Elevation gain: 9,070 feet (most of this over the first 32 miles... ouch)
Average Heart rate: 160 bpm

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Catch Up

It sure seems like a long time since I've posted anything here, not quite a month. Mostly I've just been doing the same routine, work, eat, sleep, etc. Life is good. Parenting is difficult. Work is work. Nothing new really. I did however manage to go on a backpacking trip with a friend from Pennsylvania, and his friend. We spent 4 days and 3 nights hiking around Rocky Mountain National Park, the highlight of which was climbing Long's Peak, my first time above 14,000 feet in altitude.

The above Picture is Long's peak from Boulderfield campsite, the morning of our summit. You can see the weather was perfect. It's quite an amazing experience being up that high, and yes, I certainly could tell there is less oxygen up there... In fact mild symptoms of altitude sickness set in for me on the second day. I had a nagging headache that was there enough to make itself known, and by the time we came down off the peak, I had no desire to eat lunch. It was time to hike down to the next camp anyway, lower altitudes fixed all that.

Before the backpacking trip, the family and I drove up to Cheyenne, WY to check out the Sierra trading post brick and mortar store. Its pretty nice, prices are good, as always, but the selection lacked compared to the online offerings. On the drive up we saw our first wild Antelope playing in the fields, but alas, no roaming buffalo's Bison. The trip also reminded me that I'm not cut out to live anywhere between Denver and the Mississippi River. The plains just do nothing for me. I think I would go crazy without mountains, and at least some vegetation.

Cheyenne, itself wasn't all that exciting either... we drove around a little bit. I didn't see anything to exciting, and the place seemed kind of vacant. Some areas more well kept than others. Given my impression of Wyoming so far, its hard to believe that Yellowstone is in this state... but then again, you'd have the same impression, seeing eastern Colorado too.

So that's what's going on around here... Was feeling bad about not posting in a long while, and wanted to share the pics from my recent backpacking trip. Enjoy.

From RMNP Backpacking
"The Trough" It's steeper than it looks.