Alternate Post Title: FRIKKIN’ FINALLY!!
Generally speaking, I don’t approve of failure through not trying. If I go out, give something my all, and then find out I can’t do it — fair enough. I need to train more/work harder/grow taller/read books/sleep less… whatever. Tried + fail = ok. Room to grow. Applies to all facets of life really. On the flip side, failing at something due to complete inaction? Problematic. I accept that I can’t be good at everything (or even, really, a lot of things), but I can’t accept that until I’ve at least tried it. Could I be a scuba diver? Maybe not… but until I take a course, strap on the gear, and hop in the water… how will I know?
This “guiding principle to life” is why the latest failure on Old La Honda really got in my head. I knew I could ride that hill. I’d dominated (or at least limped through) bigger and bad-assier hills than OLH. Multiple times. In sometimes ridiculous weather conditions. How is it possible that this one stupid road bump continued to elude me?! Often through no fault of my own! I steamed over it for about a week. Grumbled, bitched, kvetched… whatever you wanna go with. Until Julie (probably annoyed at said whining) says to me — “Do something about it. Let’s ride it.”
Like alone? Without SAG and team encouragement? Give up on my “doomed to fail at Old La Honda forever” posture and… just… ride it?! Well shit. Now there’s an idea! We could just pick a route. Map one out designed specifically to ensure OLH climbing success. Short warm up and then straight to the hill (no “extra” climbs to break down the legs early). Down 84 and then another short cooldown back to the start. This could work! I know how to make route sheets!!
And so I did. I hopped my tail over to MapMyRide, picked a known starting area and mapped out a ~30mile loop designed purely around climbing the “Bay Area Hill Standard.” The following Monday was Labor Day, so Julie and I decided to make the most of a long holiday weekend and met up around 9am to get ‘er done. We rolled out pretty casually, and took our time warming up the legs through the back rounds of Menlo Park and into Woodside. The roads were surprisingly empty for a holiday weekend (maybe everyone else was at the beach? Or BBQ-ing?), and the weather was perfect — sunny with just a few puffy clouds; warm without being hot.
By the time we hit Portola Road, I was feeling pretty good. My chest was bothering me (yet), and you really couldn’t ask for a better day to be on the bike. By the time we hit the base of Old La Honda, I was raring to go. Julie and I stopped at the bottom, Gu’d up, and then agreed to meet at the top. I took a deep breath (or as close as I could come to it), clipped in and started spinning.
The climb was surprisingly easy… which I think makes sense compared to how much it had obviously been built up in my mind. Now, I’m not saying that it wasn’t work, because it was. There are bastardly punchy sections of that hill that exist solely to make you pop kidneys. There are unexpected switchbacks that make you wonder if there is, in fact, a top to this thing. There are, in some cases, couples riding side by side in matching rainbow jerseys just fast enough to stay ahead of you… but just slow enough to make you think you could get by if you tried. For the record, those suck. I spiked my heart rate at least three times trying to pass, or passing and then getting lapped by, a couple wearing rainbow argyle. I really hate climbing directly behind someone… but couldn’t quite seem to break the pace with these folks. Grrrr!
For extra bonus fun, sometimes there are fail route sheets. As it turns out, if someone were to accidentally include the west segment of Old La Honda in the route, it might make you think that the hill was 3 miles longer than it actually is. This in turn might make you aggressively start throwing down GU, spitting wrappers on passerbys… 1/8th of a mile before the summit. And by “might”, I mean “did.” I made the fail route sheet, thought I was 3-3.5 miles from the end and, feeling kinda tired, decided I should proactively take down some carbs. A couple passing me on the left (who, thankfully, didn’t actually get hit by my spit) chatted me up as they went by. On finding out this was my first time climbing OLH, they congratulated me on finishing the climb. I yell back (as they start to pull away) that they should hold their congrats until I actually finish… only to find them at the top, just around the next switchback. Who knew?!
I’d like to say my feeling of finally cresting Old La Honda was euphoric – I mean, I’d stressed about it enough that it should have been – but I was so dang surprised to actually have hit the summit that my first reaction was “Damnit! I could’ve had a better time if I’d know the top was that close!” About five minutes later, the joy-part set in and I stood around grinning at random people (and telling them all about my “first time”) while I waited for Julie to finish her climb. Thankfully, most cycling folks at least remember being noobs once upon a time — and they bore my enthusiasm graciously.
Julie hit the top maybe 10 minutes later. After a quick recovery and “wow, how awesome are we for doing this unsupported?” chat session, we rolled out again to enjoy our descent down 84 — which was surprisingly technical! Hwy 84 is supposed to be the “safe descent” compared to coming back down OLH… so apparently I’m never trying that idea!
The remaining cooldown miles flew by, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what they were without looking at the route sheet. I’d done what I set out to do, and that was what frikkin’ mattered. I remember that we had a great rest of the ride and that the weather stayed gorgeous. And even if that wasn’t 100% true at the time, it’s definitely how I’ll remember it. I mean, my lung issues held themselves in check for a day, I finally conquered the Beast — and did the entire thing in the saddle; no stopping. Pretty damn good for a Monday.