Being chased by my soigneur, my wife Allison.
Todd was brilliant at calming me down when I was at my worst.
I’d blown two tubes and was having the worst time trying to fill a third. Todd was looking at me in my struggles and saying, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.” I was c’moning the best I could and when I couldn’t get the tube to take air via a leaky frame pump, I started screaming into the wilderness like a primal child. It was not a proud moment. However, Todd took control, bummed a CO2 cartridge from a passing Giant rider, got air into the tire, and we got back onto the road.
We were at mile 34 of the 101 mile SoCal edition of the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race and the bitter taste of bad luck was already coating our throats. Todd and I had lost contact with our teammates, went wildly off course, and now were contending with blown tubes and a dying pump.
The Heroes were out in LA to show how the Midwest gets it done. We got the invite from Rapha, accepted heartily, and trained for the occasion. Where some teams were able to recon the course itself prior to the big day, we flatlanders used cyclocross and miles in traffic and wind to prep. We did the best that we could do.
And here we were, up in the mountains doing it –– and working through several patches of difficulties.
We got back on track though, when the Heroes coalesced again a few miles at the top of a long grade. Wolters, Berman, and Jividen had been waiting patiently for us for some time. It felt icky to be such a straggler, but cycling can be an icky sport; it’s in its nature. We all rolled on together and started making up the time, passing some other teams who were encumbered by the sticky ill of bad luck, too. We tipped our helmets to their efforts, commiserated, and continued.
At the Ranger Station, we filled our bottles with cold, delicious water and ate what food we had left. There was another long climb ahead. We started on with the hot sun in our faces, though we were all looking down at the ground watching for sharp rocks, sand, peril, and an occasional cool shadow to ride underneath for a brief spell. It was on this grade that we especially took on a hurting. While Jividen and Berman looked fresh and put in good tempos to the top, Wolters and Todd had had some big digs earlier and were moving onward with the ghost eyes and tired limbs indicative of too much time skirting that razor-edge of utter depletion.
We were all ashen, covered in salt, dried sweat and saliva, and looked like hell. But so did everyone else. Some other riders we passed were walking up the grade, miles from the top. Those men were broken. At the top of the grade, after a small insult of a paved kicker, we celebrated by consulting our cue sheets and high-fiving some of the other riders we were with.
And then we went down and down, only pedaling for a few small rises. We let our bikes coast to the bottom, where our support team of Jonathan and Allison and the Rapha/Bike Effect folks were waiting with snacks and cold Cokes. We got to that oasis and were told the news we already knew: that our ride was over at this 66 mile point. The dying daylight had prevented our riding on to finish the full 101. That was OK info at the time, but quarterbacking it now, I wish we could have done the full thing. There is a tinge of disappointment.
The Heroes all learned a lot. We suffered, raged, and continued on despite self-inflicted and accidental hurdles. Thanks to my fellow Heroes, our supporters, and of course, the Rapha folks for such an awesome, brutal time.
Bread Winner Cycles
The faces behind Breadwinner Cycles, Tony & Ira.
I thought about rounding up a posse to head down to LA for this but work got the better of me. Next time, Mudfoot. Hopefully there’s a next time.
Last Friday I took a little ride out to the Headlands and then a butter lap around the city. Well, 28 miles isn’t that little but it’s a nice loop with an out-and-back. I got some PRs and the views made a heck of a great way to start the day.
What does it mean to climb a mountain on a bike? The act is such that one must settle into a sustainable rhythm for the duration of the climb while leaving enough in the tank for the rest of the ride. Giving it all for one ascent is good for a time trial, but not for a ride with other, perhaps longer, climbs.
Climbing a mountain requires a certain amount of cognizance of one’s own limits.
Climbing a mountain with a group can be a strange game. A mixed group offers its perils. Your stocky sprinter friend may have effort enough for the first third, but he’ll bag it and collapse. The willowy type will float away –– the temptation is strong to follow them, but to do so is to risk peril and cramps. Eye your fellow riders, judging them by weight and past experience. It’s obvious to note that, but it’s true.
Beating your friends up a mountain is also parcel with beating the mountain itself. You want to feel the satisfaction in equal parts from achieving dominance over people you care about while also conquering a huge feature of terrain.
Metering out effort via power or heart rate is perhaps the more scientific and accurate approach, but gut intuition has its place. You’ll make your attacks when it feels right. Try not to let your competition ride away from you. If you do let them ride away from you, you’ve already lost. They won’t slow down until they reach the top. You shouldn’t slow down until you reach the top. Don’t be the last one up the mountain, but if you are the last one up the mountain, you also beat the mountain. That is victory.
Learning how to beat your friends up a mountain is also learning how to lose.
(The below does not apply to mountains; it applies to hills. Mountains are a different topic for a different day.)
1,000 feet from the top of the hill, you listen carefully over the sound your own breathing and the wind for the sound of your competition’s breath. Gauge how harsh it sounds: if it’s choked and gasping, that’s good. Push on harder, get it ragged. At 600 feet, look back to see if there’s a shadow. If there is, push on harder. If there isn’t, push on harder.
200 feet, turn around completely to gauge your opponent. If they’re gone, roll on easy. If they’re right there, go as hard as you possibly can. Continue pedaling hard over the crest and spin on –– never let off at the top, lest you get taken out on the flat top of the hill before the descent toward the bottom. You would be well-served to shift into the big ring at this point, maybe sip on some water to wash the phlegm down your throat.
That is how you beat your friends up a hill.
At the end of June last year, my friend Adam proposed a group of friends get together for a morning bike ride around the Marin Headlands before work. Adam and I gave it a go the next morning. We met at 7 a.m. at the corner of Baker and Fell where the Golden Gate Panhandle begins and climbed Hawk Hill just across the Golden Gate Bridge before work.
Shortly thereafter, the ride became a routine with a rotating crew of 7 or so friends, and now every Wednesday morning at 6:45a, we gather at the same spot to tackle a 20-30 mile ride before we head into the tech mines. Adam started an email with the subject “Roll Call” to determine who would be joining for the ride the next morning and eventually we all came to know the cycling club as that.
This past Sunday, we went on an inaugural weekend ride that we’ll be adding to our weekly routine. Ever since first riding down the west side of Hawk Hill via Conzelman Road, at its steepest a -20% grade, and doing the full Headlands loop, I’ve wanted to capture the experience, and on this ride, I finally brought my new GoPro Hero3 to do so. What you see above is as close as I can come to sharing the thrill of the ride.
This is my Wednesday group ride. It’s a great mix of folk as Bill recounts here. I’m also pleased to have been part of this video. It was a fantastic Sunday.
Unpublished photos from the 1953 Tour De France. It makes today’s racing look completely gutless in comparison.