Posts Tagged 'old la honda'

A Different Kind of Labor Day

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.

Holiday OLH Ride

Pulmonary Dysfunction

Do you ever wonder if you just weren’t meant to do something? Like you try and take a trip somewhere and always miss ticket sales or your dog gets sick or your car breaks down on the way to the airport… and you just wonder if maybe the universe is trying to tell you not to go? I’m pretty sure that’s me and climbing Old La Honda. Every time the OLH Odyssey ride rolls around I get excited. I’m finally going to be one of those cycling nerds who compares times up “the hill” (or who has the option to compare but decides not to for reasons of not bragging/being mocked) instead of just wondering what all the fuss is about. And then something happens. I break a bone and am not in good enough shape when it’s OLH ride time. The weather turns terrible and it’s not safe to climb. For whatever reason, I never manage to go up this stupid, supposedly mythical hill. Granted, I’ve actually only tried twice… but that’s not the point!

Last August’s Old la Honda ride was, sadly, no exception. I show up, ready and raring to “tame the beast” and get myself geared to head out in short order.  Snag a quick briefing on the ride, meet up with my team, and roll onto Foothill. I remember noticing that the world smelled faintly like barbecue… or campfires… but didn’t think much of it. We were going to tackle Old la Honda!! Finally! What did cookouts have to do with me?

In case you aren’t good at anticipating my heavy-handed foreshadowing, I’ll tell you now – the answer is: a lot. Less than two miles into the ride, I started having trouble. I was shouting “GAAAAP!!” and gasping like a fish out of water pretty much immediately. On Foothill! Possibly the flattest and fastest piece of pavement in a 20 mile radius! My coach dropped back to check on me.

“What’s going on there Jamie?”

“I dunno… can’t seem to breathe. I guess my lung issues are flaring up again.”

“Well, you did hear that Santa Cruz is on fire, right?”

*blankstareface*

“…yeeeaah. So there’s a giant wildire going on not that far from here. It won’t impact our route or anything, but there’s a lot of ash in the air. It might cause folks to need to work harder to breathe… didn’t you hear us cover this at pre-ride meeting?

Thinks to self: Of COURSE I heard it… I just didn’t anticipate it having an impact on ME! It’s OLD LA HONDA DAY!

*grumbles some reply that was likely both offensive and vaguely incoherent*

“So… uhhhh… maybe you should drop back to the Bs for today. We’ve got plenty of support, why don’t you take it easy?”

Had I been able to get a word out of my mouth, I probably would have declined. Or at least wanted to pretty badly. I’m your *ride support* for pete’s sake… not the noob who falls of the paceline!! But I was getting dropped on the easiest part of any ride ever and, after two minutes of standing still, could not breathe. My legs felt like jello at mile two. So I acceded. My group rolled off, and I continued my grind up Foothill — too stubborn to call it a day this early, breathing or not.

I was pretty quickly caught, and subsequently passed, by the Bs… and then the As. I slogged out the first ~15 miles to rest stop 1, on truly some of the easiest road in existence… in my little chain ring at about 10 mph. Apparently lungs are fairly essential tools in powering your body to ride (who knew?!), and my legs pretty much told my brain to shove it at the wussy levels of oxygen I was providing. At the first rest stop, I flagged down Charles (who was, once again, providing rock-star SAG) and pulled out the useless-to-date inhaler.

Side note: We missed a post on this. My vaguely fail doctor decided that I *obviously* had what I can only term “Random Onset with only Some Symptoms Adult Asthma” and prescribed two inhalers to help with my lung issues — one for every day and one for “attacks” — despite the fact that I never had an attack or …really… more than one  indicator off the laundry list signs of asthma. The daily one didn’t do crap other than to make my mouth taste bad twice a day, but I carried the emergency jobber around on the off chance that the doc’s predictions would prove correct (in which case having it would save my life… right?).

I figured that if I was ever having “an attack,” this must be what it felt like. I wasn’t quite wheezing, but I was light headed and couldn’t get enough air in to power my legs… or much of anything else. So I tried it. Two puffs of the emergency inhaler, a wave off of the “maybe you should just SAG this one” and I was off to climb Stevens Canyon Road. (Have you gotten the impression yet that I’m a teeeeeeensy bit stubborn?)

MAN! Does that lung stuff make a difference!! I can only assume “rescue inhaler” is another term for some combination of crack and steroids. By the time I left the parking lot of rest stop 1, I had gone from feeling just about as bad as I’d ever felt on a bike to… superwoman. Or my version thereof. I powered up that climb and even managed to catch back up to the groups that had dropped me (well, the A/B folks… my team still lapped me). I hit the end of the road and flipped around, ready for a typically awesome descent. When it’s not wet, that road is super fun to ride down!

Turns out, crack and steroid highs are short lived. About halfway down the hill, I started feeling kinda lame again. Bottom of the hill I seriously considered sagging out of the ride — before deciding that I could still bang this thing out. Back out on Foothill (this was an out and back piece of the route), I was worse than before. I was literally in my smallest ring, panting, alone, and pushing a whopping 7mph. And then, to make things just a bit worse, I spaced out and completely missed my turn… adding 6 miles to my route. Full of win!

I did eventually get back on route and made it all the way to Altamont. The very foot of Altamont, to be precise.(For those who don’t remember the reference, Altamont is a beastly little gut-popper that exists to make cyclists cry. It’s just long enough and just steep enough to suck lots.) I Gu’d up. Poured water on my head to cool down. Clipped in. Spun twice. Realized there really wasn’t another gear lying around, waiting to take me up the hill. Turned around and flung my bike in the truck. Yep… at this point, Charles had been assigned to be my personal SAG. I was THAT far behind. I had made it a full 36 miles, but I truly had nothing left in the tank. I couldn’t climb Old La Honda if I couldn’t breathe. Hell, I couldn’t ride the flats! I found the limit to my stubbornness, accepted that OLH wasn’t going to happen for me… again… and threw in towel.

To add insult to injury, I had to ride along as SAG for the rest of the team for the remainder of the day. Just because I failed didn’t mean Charles was off duty! On the one hand, I was happy to cheer folks on — especially those climbing “the beast” for the first time — but I’d be lying to say it wasn’t hard to watch, knowing I couldn’t pull it off myself. Again.

Believe it or not, I did live through it. The rest of the team rockstar-d up the climbs and, for the most part, had a nice, uneventful day. (Apparently ash doesn’t affect all equally!) As for me, the best I could do was resolve to get my lung issues nailed down sooner than ASAP – with Moab on the horizon, climb skipping just wouldn’t work!

TNT Ride #8 Old La Honda Odyssey

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


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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