Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Stevens Pass - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Thursday May 30th I climbed Stevens Pass on my bicycle again. This was the most audacious attempt at the pass as I started in Seattle and rode there. The ride was so many things and I hope that I can capture it here for you. I had been looking forward to the ride so much that I think I ignored my fitness a bit. Lavinia and I scouted the route to Sultan, WA the weekend before and we knew it was going to be a pretty ride through the farm country.

The Start (the Good)
8:45am Joan, Danielle and I rode out from my house. The sun was already shinning and it was going to be a hot day. We had enough food and water to make it to Sultan, WA, which we estimated was about 50 miles away. The ride started off along the Burke Gilman Trail to Woodenville, where we jumped on highway 9 and turned off at Maltby and then on to Broadway. The traffic was not too bad. We turned off Broadway onto Elliot Road. This started the pretty part of our ride and I've got a few pic below. Velonews.com always has a picture from each stage race that shows the beauty of the ride and they say "where did you ride today?" This is my best pic of that.

Sultan - midway (the bad)
We arrived at Sultan, mile 50 or so right at 11:30. That was pretty good time for 50 miles (2 hours 45 minutes). Our pace into Sultan was high as we were feeling good.
We waited until 12:15 for Lavinia and the road crew to show up. Jean Studley (Joan's sister) was riding with Lavi and Aron was driving his car (Joan's husband). The were going to be our road support for the rest of the day and boy did we need them later, but I get ahead of myself.

We stopped at the Sultan Bakery for some quality treats. The temp was getting warm for sure and we knew we had a hot day in store for ourselves. We shed some clothing, lathered up the sun screen and restocked our water bottles. We were each adding NUUN tablets to our bottles and eating a lot. I was eating so much I was actually feeling full.

We set off from Sultan and started the last 40 miles to Stevens Pass along Highway 2. The highway is busy but during the day on Thursday it was not too bad. I've ridden highways like this a lot, but it took some time for Joan and Danielle to get use the big rigs buzzing past us. We made even better time along the highway. It took about 20 minutes to warm up again and the heart rate was a little high but it settled into place and we just cruised along.

Skykomish - the mountain looms ahead (the Ugly)
We ran into Skykomish and only had 16 miles to go. It was mostly all uphill, but that was just a trifle detail. We all felt pretty good. I was not tired or hungry, but I was very hot. I'm not sure how hot it was, but probably over 80 degrees (to which I know my Nebraska relatives are laughing at me for stating that is hot, but heck I'm NW). We quickly had a nature break, got some more water, ate again and saddled up.

On the way up we snuck off the highway and climbed up a side road for 3 miles, which was a bit more steep, but the lack of cars and the scenery were worth it. The picture to the right is me climbing up through the forest. Jean took this picture from the car adn it shows how nice it was. The black parts of my jersey are a mesh outline that is suppose to help me vent a bit more.

It was at this point that I started to not feel good. You've all heard about hitting the wall, and I've done this several times to know what is happening to me when it comes on. All of sudden my legs were not ticking over the pedals fast enough and my heart rate started dropping. I had no energy and was essentially bonking. It's hard to see in that picture but I'm actually a little scared. In fact, had I not had a support crew I would have stopped soon, but I knew I was safe so I kept pushing it. Joan and Danielle danced away as I pedalled slowly along. I was really struggling. I was so hot it was suffocating me a bit. At one point I just wanted to stop and hurl, but I got past that. I kept telling myself, "make it to the corner" "catch Joan again" "breath slowly" it was really good.

We turned off the side road and back on the highway. At this point we saw something that made me realize I was not going to stop on the hill. Three cyclists, each with at least 30-40 pounds on their bikes were caravaning over the top. They looked about as bad as I felt. But seeing them there on that hot day making the same climb made me decide I was not going to stop.

We started up again on the highway and after about 15 minutes I needed to stop and cool down. I was too hot. I just couldn't continue. The picture below is how it looked to dump ice cold stream water on my 100 degree head. I look miserable but it's really just the shock of the water and quick sensation of losing my breath.

After this point Lavi was every 500 yards or so for me. She had cool water from the hill side run off that I just dumped on my head to cool me down. I felt like Flyod Landis on that remarkable day in the Tour last year. After suffering like I did I'm now not sure he was clean, but that's a different blog post. My cadence was so low that I finally just shut off my computer. I even tore off my heart rate monitor strap so I could feel like I was breathing better. It was so hot. I just couldn't understand why I was climbing that poorly. It was frustrating, confusing, comical and agonizing all wrapped up. Find a word for that and insert it here.

After a little bit I started laughing a bit as I recalled a story from a book my buddy Joey had me read. It was about a common Brit who decided to ride the Tour de France route before the race and in doing so he discovered a lot about himself. On one ride up a mountain he retold the story of British racer Tom Simpson that died while climbing the mountain stage of the tour. He fell off his bike and the spectators swarmed to him. He simply said "put me back on the bike." Which they did and he died soon after that. Now Tom was hoped up on some stuff and it is just a tragic story for sure. But the author recalls saying that the likelihood of him saying 'put me back on the bike' was about as good of odds of him saying "someone ought to teach those ostrichs a lessons."

After laughing about what my last words would be and how I'd explain it to my mother I kept pedalling. Finally reaching the top. I was exhausted. I was demoralized. I was happy and giddy. I was a bit shamed by my lack of performance. I think my pride must have jumped off the bike and been hit by a semi. I still can't seem to find it. For those that have ridden with me you would have relished in the chance to stick it to me.

I have a big hill climbing objective in late July. The only positive is that I remember Lance saying "you don't win the Tour in July" and by that he meant you win the Tour by training months in advance, suffering through things and getting stronger. I felt like warm dog poo but I know that I was stronger at the end for making it.

In the End:

  • The good, was the scenery and the support crew.
  • The bad, for me the heat.
  • The ugly, how I felt and looked as I climbed.

I think the picture to the right sums it all up. This is me at the top. I'd like to think I was in deep prayer thanking any diety that would hear me for not letting me die. But I think I was just this tired and hot that I couldn't move. This picture will be a good motivator for me as my training goes forward.

I'll post a bit more about this ride and the weekend later. That's all for now


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