I am an amateur and am very slowly learning the art of cycling, or at least my art of cycling. I am sure I don’t ride like the pros, a fact my Strava results will back up. I struggle to find and keep cadence, I know I am in my toes too much, putting excess strain on my quads while not utilizing my strong hamstrings and glutes. There are ever so small moments of greatness where I feel myself fall into a rhythm and sustain it. In those moments I feel amazing! But for the most part, I am sure watching me ride is less poetry in motion and more epic struggle.
When I began riding in August, I had 2 goals: to ride to the top of Dallas Divide, probably 10 miles to the top from town, with over 1,800 feet of climbing, most of it in the last 3 miles. I have driven the road thousands of times over the year, and for a beginning cyclist, the continuous climb is daunting. I remember thinking there was no way I would ever be able to do it. My second goal was to do the Log Hill climb. Outside of my town, a two lane paved road winds up the side of a hill (Log Hill) at an average grade of 8.8% for about 2 miles. It is a shorter ride and climb, but the incline is a tough one. The fact that I have to drastically down shift in my car to get up made me think that going up it on bike was impossible, despite the fact that my much more experienced cyclist friends not only ride it but do laps up and down on it to train. On the day before the Axel Project ride, we drove the route, which climbs over Dallas and into Placerville and then up into Telluride. As we ascended it via truck, I thought to myself “No way can I do this.”
October was my month in 2014. After being advised by not one, not two, but three past year Gran Fondo Hincapie riders to be prepared for Camp Old Indian Road climb on the piccolo route, reality began to set in. In a matter of weeks, I would be in Greenville, SC, lined up with 1,300 other riders. I had committed, and for my safety (and pride), I needed to be prepared. I upped my riding schedule to at least 4 times a week, with an hour or more of riding. I began to watch GCN videos on how to climb, as well as reading the Carmichael Training System blog for pointers (if you haven’t already, check them out, this was my most useful resource and it is my goal to attend one of their training camps to really build on my skills). I also started using the Skratch Feed Zone rice cakes (and I modified their almond flour waffles into a high protein cookie as well) instead of store bought bars. The combination must have worked, because on October 4th, I ascended Log Hill. It was not graceful, I had to stop 3 times to shake out my legs, and the taste of bile in my throat was a constant as I pedaled up the hill. But I made it to the top, spun my legs out for a few miles on the top, and rode down, feeling elated. With that achievement reached, a week later, I dropped Hailey at Grandma’s house and took off up Dallas Divide. I had a rice cake and some Honey Stinger tucked in the back pocket of my Hincapie jacket, 2 bottles of Skratch in my holders, and some great music on my iPod (I only use one earbud at low volume). I was ready. I climbed up through the first 5 miles pretty easily, it is the mostly flat segment, and the next 2 miles were a mild climb (in comparison to what was coming) and that stretch was one I rode with my dad pretty regularly and I was able to make it up with decent effort. As I passed the turn off to County Road 24 (the marker for the beginning of the “real” climb), the turn off that usually marked the end of my ride, I stopped, had part of my rice cake, and rode forward. Dallas Divide is a tricky road. It is wide and curves gradually around the mountain, lulling you into a false sense of being almost done. Luckily for me, it is also home to some of the most amazing aspen stands. The road goes up against Ralph Lauren’s RRL ranch, thousands upon thousands of untouched pristine wilds that light up like fire in the autumn. I was distracted enough by the beauty to ignore the burning in my legs and lungs. The last part of the climb is the worst, one last steep segment as you come around the corner and by all appearances, are finished. But I pushed through it, and pedaled across the brief flat part to the official sign declaring Dallas Divide and its 8,970 elevation. I stopped there and stood with a fellow cyclist admiring the gorgeous feat of nature in front of us, the San Juan Mountain range fringed by thousands of aspens that appeared to be literally glowing in the morning light.
Neither of these climbs showcased beautiful form. In fact, I was grateful to not be riding with anyone who would witness my struggle against the climb. But I succeeded both. And while I will never be a “climber”, I will continue to climb. And with each climb, maybe my legs will burn less, maybe I will keep a better cadence, maybe someday a passerby will mistake me for someone who sort of knows what she’s doing. There are a lot of maybes when it comes to cycling, but one thing is definite, that cycling for me is poetry in motion, even if it may not appear so to anyone else.