Monday, April 5
Staring outside all day, gazing west, with a nervous anticipation. Today was the first weekday after daylights savings time, which, for the past five years has marked the first commute home. It's a solid commute - 25 miles with about 4,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. If you want to call it training, I suppose you could, but really it's my salvation during the long hot summer. And if it helps me get fit for a few "events" later in the year, so be it.
The skies were not promising. Gray all day, with thick layers, billowing towards the sky. The clouds didn't lie either - a quick check of weather underground showed a massive patch of green (rain) and blue (snow) extending from the Sangre de Cristos to Steamboat Springs, centered, it appeared, smack dab over Happy Valley. Around 4 p.m. it started to rain in Boulder, and I began to have second doubts. While I love epics, I don't necessarily wish that the first climb of the year be a Gavia style, rain through snow hypothermia inducing affair.
But to hell with it. The rain in Boulder ceased, and I simply stopped looking at the radar. And despite the gray clouds, at 5:30 sharp I suited up. Wool socks, leg warmers, baggies, Patagonia silk weight, a NEMA top and short fingered gloves. My theory being it would be hot going up, and if I got drenched, I'd still have a woolly and a parka to toss on for the long, endless ride on the dirt road. After the climb. The climb, which takes place between miles three and seven, is a *****. 2,700 vertical feet in those four miles, and a significant number of stretches where you could almost pop a wheelie and land on your back. Someone once told me it was the second steepest road in the U.S., but who knows.
So the climb starts all well and good, except for the fact that the first mile is absolutely vertical, and I'm not in great form right now. In good shape, from skiing, but the body must adapt to climbing, get smooth, in the metronome tick-tick up. That will have to wait until later though. Climbing is almost cleansing, the pain washing away any stress accumulated over the winter. The body will get stronger, and so will the spirit, as spring and summer progresses.
It's very early season, so today rode the geared bike. Spun! My goal for this year is to be a bit smoother, and push a slightly smaller gear going up, at least until I get back on the single and blow that theory to smithereens. Kept it easy, and felt all in all good. Slow but steady.
Things really started to feel cleansing when a drizzle started, and then, about a third of the way up the climb, a steady, cold rain. And it was cold, probably 39 degrees or so. I wasn't really getting all that warm going up, a sure sign of trouble when things started to get crisp and the rolling descents on the muddy Magnolia road began.
But what are you going to do? I had to finish the climb - never ever quit going up - but was less than enthused about freezing my skinny ass off on the remaining 15 miles once the summit was reached. By now things were getting ugly. Thunder was clapping above, and the rain seemed to be picking up a few ice crystals. And I was getting colder, even as I tried to push the pace.
I figured I could survive to the top, but would not mind a ride over the dirt portion home. Busted out the AT&T cellular, and, after struggling to get one bar of signal strength, gave a wishful call home, politely asking for a ride, and trying not to sound too terribly concerned. Made it clear that I wanted to reach the top, and if I wasn't there, my girlfriend should wait for me. No quitting on the first climb of the year.
This was a wise move, but since I only left a message, and didn't actually talk to a real person, I was more than a little prepared to have to slog through the sleet and snow 15 miles through dirt and rock home. And freeze to death.
Approached the last few steep sections and almost did fall over backwards, as I decided to show off for the passing car and cut the switchback to the absolute vertical spot. Got the thumbs up, but was now basically shivering as I climbed. Soaked to the bone, that deep cold that saps right into the marrow and takes a warm shower, some tea and about three hours to recover from.
If my ride home didn't show up, this would be an epic for the records. A little early for that, I figured, so I hoped. And continued climbing. The last two switchbacks, and voila, reached the summit. Hopped in the woods for shelter, and forced my slightly numbed self to take off the wet clothes, toss on the Merlino wool, the parka, the Swix gloves and hat, and prepare for the worst.
And then, with headlights glimmering through the sleet, rain and darkening night, my angel showed up. No hesitation here. Took the wheels off the Moots, tossed her in the back seat, and entered the cocoon of warmth. Shivering slightly, but glad to be warm. As the miles ticked by, and we gazed at the rain turning to snow through the thin visible line created by the wipers, I didn't have many regrets. You never like to end a ride, but it's a long season, and I was stoked to finish the first big climb of the year well and relatively intact. A bigger storm than I thought initially. Here at 8,750 feet above sea level, a spring snowstorm is blanketing the Rocky Mountains with a few inches from New Mexico to Montana.
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