Old La Honda(less) Odyssey


Old La Honda is the hill in the Bay Area. Its not that long (3.35 miles), or that steep (15% grade at points, 7.8% avg), but it is the hill that every cyclist in a 30 mile radius knows their best time up. People climb this hill repeatedly, trying to improve their time for boasting rights amongst their geeky cyclist friends. Some do it weekly! Some probably more frequently than that. Certain cycle teams place you in ride groups based solely on your best time up this hill. Its a bay-area-cyclist-cultural-monumental-climb-thing. A rite of passage if you will. And I’ve never been up it. (feel free to recoil from the screen in horror)

That’s right, after nearly a year of riding on a bike out here, I am required to claim the title “cyclist” only in quotes in front of my bikenerd friends, as I have no Old La Honda personal best time. Lucky for me, the TNT winter training Ride 8 was going to change all that. An odd combination of surgery recovery timing and a nasty bout of California winter rains moved the 70 mile Old La Honda Odyssey to February 2nd; just three short days after I was cleared by the orthopedics people to ride again. Coaches note was to show up at Foothill college at 7am that Saturday morning rain or shine. Too many rides had already been cancelled for the season, and we’d at the very least sacrifice some sleep on the off chance that the weather would cooperate. So, show up we did.

While the sky was overcast, it wasn’t pouring down rain, so the team rolled out as planned. Knowing that my arm would be weak after surgery (especially in the cold weather), I tried to break the ride mentally into small goals. The first few miles are almost always cake, so I set goal one at 30 miles. Goal two would be the first climb of the day up Altamont. Then rest stop three…etc. The first goal was easy. Goal two, however, a bit more challenging. Now, compared to a lot of climbs we do in the area, Altamont is short. I’ll give it that. What no one tells you about Altamont though (at least not anyone who to convince you that you can ride up it) is that Altamont is steep. Like 18% steep in parts. Like you could walk faster up this hill than I will be able to ride it steep.

It doesn’t start out that bad. In fact, looking at the hill, you think to yourself…”this isn’t going to be that bad! I can see the top!” And then you hit the beginning of the actual incline… and then you hit the first curve… and then (if you’re me) a truck magically appears 6 inches off your rear wheel and scares the bejesus out of you. So you stop breathing, realize you can’t possibly turn that crank over without gasping like a fish for breath (and possibly popping your guts out through your spine in the process) …and you frantically pull into a driveway madly trying to unclip before falling over, since you were going a whopping 4 miles an hour to begin with. At this point you’re (I’m) approximately a quarter of the way up the hill. Freakin awesome.

Two stops and one almost stomach-emptying-heave later, I’m at the top. Go me. On the bright side, whatever fear I had of Old La Honda had pretty much entirely faded in the face of the horrid, steep, gut-wrenching, Hill-o-Doom that was Altamont. I’m basically spent at this point and have to re-GU before rolling on towards rest stop two. Now it is at the second rest stop where I seriously consider sagging out. The cold damp weather had progressed from overcast to drizzling, and my arm was aching like mad. I wasn’t really able to support any weight on the gimp-arm and wasn’t sure I could take another 30 miles with all of me leaning on the right side. Tired and wet as I was, the allure of finally passing into Bay Area Cycling Adulthood was great, and I decided to push on again. Rest stop three was just passed the Old la Honda climb…I could always SAG out there (new mental cycling badge acquired), right?

Well, it was a good theory. Unfortunately, for once, the weatherman was dead on in his rain prediction. Overcast in the morning and full on rain by noon played out almost to the minute. Our team rolled up to Portola Road, looked at the thick grey fog encasing the top of our mountain destination through rain spattered glasses and decided that even if we could reach the summit the descent would be too treacherous to risk. We were all pretty bummed to have to skip the hill (me especially as one of the only people in the state never to have done the climb), but even I can’t deny that “safety first” is a pretty darn good rule.

By rest stop three, I was toast. I may have missed the second big climb for the day, but I was rained on, missing guts, and barely over surgery. The last 12 miles of the ride were going to be cut short anyway (taking the shortcut back because of the weather), so I opted to take the SAG route home. I’d more than surpassed my original 30 mile goal and my Altamont goal. Giving up on Old la Honda glory had been difficult and even a little heartbreaking. Letting go of the “I rode the last 10 miles in the pouring rain on a bum arm” glory was easy in comparison. The good (by weird cycle standards) new is, I live close enough to the benchmarking hill to give it another run anytime. I’ll get those bragging rights yet! At least amongst really slow, easily impressed people…

Motion Based ride data

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What do we have here?

An often sarcastic, occasionally humorous journal of my training adventures in preparation for the Livestrong century ride. I took up cycling back in '07 in hopes of meeting new people, and, with the help of Team in Training, making my small positive difference in the world -- and haven't stopped spinning since. Follow along as my Trek road bike and I try and hash out our differences, hopefully with me upright and in the saddle.

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