Rollers, Rollers, Rollers

That squeak turned out to be a worn chain. I’ll get a new one this week. In the meantime, I lubed it up and headed out to meet my biking buddy Maggie for a Sunday ride.

I didn’t want to go far because of the chain. She had done a longish ride the day before, and wasn’t up for a long one, either. We set off for Buda, about 15 miles away. When we ride there with the A’s, we often get there in record time. This week, we lazed our way along.

On the outskirts of the small town, we took a bio break at the Walgreen’s. That’s a favorite stopping point for both of us, because the water fountain by the bathrooms always runs cold.

“Where should we go from here?” Maggie asked. We have a routine route — head for the historic downtown area, then make a choice between turning toward Cole Springs Road or heading out on the road past the cement plant. Cole Springs is the more scenic, if rougher, road. The cement plant road is slightly uphill for three miles, and we prefer to take it on the way back, where we can rack up some real speed.

The bike was rolling well with its freshly-lubed chain. I suggested a route we hadn’t taken yet — one I hadn’t ridden in four or five years. We’d turn in the opposite direction, cross under Interstate 35, and pick up the country roads.

Almost as soon as we crossed east of the Interstate, we hit the rollers. This land might be called “Blackland Praire,” but it’s anything but flat. Rollers can be fun, though. Work a bit on your way up, then coast at anywhere from 20-25 mph on your way down. This went on for several miles.

A typical view as we approach more rollers on Turnersville Road.

A typical view as we approach more rollers on Turnersville Road.

A left turn sent us north, but still up and down hills. We saw a dog stick its head out from a driveway some distance ahead, and got ready to fend him off. But he apparently called his friends, and as we got closer, four other dogs dashed out onto the road, charging us and barking loudly.

Two of the dogs were little things, and a shouted, “Stay!” was enough to stop them in their tracks. The first dog we saw looked friendly enough, and hung back, but a brown and white pooch bared its teeth and made some threatening moves. Maggie pulled out her water bottle, ready to squirt. But her yells kept that one away, too — until I drew even with him. He let me get a little ahead, then came after me. I yelled, but that didn’t faze him. Finally, I built up enough speed, and we were far enough past his place, that he stopped.

We turned at a busy ranch road, that led past the local landfill. It’s a huge operation, and its claim to fame is an exotic game ranch around the back side. But this time, a beautiful large African antelope of some kind was right next to the road, behind a fence, of course. I would have stopped for a picture, but the animal was skittish. He backed away when Maggie drew close, and I figured if I stopped, he would run off. I kept going.

Turn again, past some back holes on a golf course, and up and down more rollers. Suddenly, I was having trouble catching Maggie, who was pulling away from me. I realized it wasn’t my bad chain — it was my bad fitness. The previous night, I went to bed an hour earlier than usual, since we were planning an early start this morning. But the dog barked to be let out at 3:45 a.m., and I never got back to sleep. Now, I was feeling it. The tiredness just washed over me.

We had a civil conversation with some guys in a Boss 302 Mustang while waiting at the light to cross I-35 again. They thought what we were doing was dangerous, because the intersection is always busy with heavy traffic. We explained that this was the only way for us to cross the highway, and we’d grit our teeth and get through it as best as we could. Of course, the unspoken subtext was that we weren’t supposed to be riding on the roads. As I say, at least the conversation was civil.

Two miles farther on, I called for a stop at a convenience store. We don’t usually take a break there, with only about eight miles to go before reaching home, but I needed to recharge. Some Shot Bloks, Fig Newtons, and ice water, and I was good to go.

Still had to climb the backside of Davis Hill. By this time, the food from the stop had kicked in, and I had little trouble. “I hate that hill,” Maggie said, and I agreed. I pedaled well all the way back, but later at home, was knocked flat by cramps in my thighs. I got to the kitchen, made myself a good lunch, then conked out on the bed for two hours.

Rollers are fun, and are a good conditioner. But next time, I’ll make sure I tackle them with a full night’s sleep under my belt.


Thinking About Hills

Anyone who has read Bike Noob knows I’m not much of a hill climber. In fact, if anything, my hill-climbing ability has decreased in the past couple of years — I’m getting older, you know. Yeah, that’s it. (All right — I still haven’t managed to get my weight down to that level where hills are doable — but I think I’ll stick with the age angle.)

But it’s spring, believe it or not (It must be — we’re under our second wind advisory in a week! It was tough out there today!), and as we point toward our nice weather riding (It will come again, I promise), a lot of us will add hills to our training regimens.

Yes, even I climb hills in training. But the hills I climb close to home aren’t anything like the really challenging hills we’ll face on some of our targeted rides.

One that I think I’ll try to handle — maybe in the fall, after I’ve had lots of time to train for it — is Fulton Ranch Road. It’s not too far from Austin, and has been part of the 100-mile version of the Livestrong Ride here. It’s got a grade that I think is just within my abilities, but the problem is, it’s a lot longer than most of the hills around here. To whet your appetite for some warm-weather climbing, here’s a YouTube video of the hill.

But Fulton Ranch Road pales in comparison to the real monster. That’s the Westernport Wall in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Its 31 percent grade — that’s 31 percent! – is steep enough that the road is closed to motor traffic. But bikers are welcome to take a stab at it. And to make matters worse, the Wall is only part of the story. It comes in the middle of a triathlon! If you can get to the top of the Wall without clipping out and walking, you get a brick with your name incribed added to the rough and uneven surface of the road.

Makes my .4-mile jaunt up Convict Hill look like a walk in the park. Maybe by the end of summer, it will be!

The Hills, Revisited

Guest poster Don Blount is back again, this time regarding his never-ending battle with the hills.

BlountOnBikingNo mea culpas from me. No apologies either. I previously have called hills evil and I am not backing down from that statement.

Well, at least not until they apologize for throwing so much hate in my direction.

Hills, and their partner Gravity, worked against me greatly.

They made climbing torture and frequently stripped me of my dignity. You ever tried to look cool pushing a bike up a hill while wearing cycling shoes?

But of late, climbing has become much easier.

I can comfortably do rides that I could not handle a few months ago. I can look at the scenery and even talk to other riders at times. I can do rides I would not have attempted previously.

This is not because of any change in the hills as they have made no concessions. It is because I lost a boatload of weight and improved my fitness.

Now that I can ride in the hills, I have plenty of climbing planned.

On Jan. 2, I was part of a group of six who rode a route that is part of the Amgen Tour of California . We started in Danville , rode to the summit of Mt. Diablo , descended down the other side of the mountain to Walnut Creek for lunch. We then rode back up to a junction a few miles from the summit before returning to our starting point.

In total, the ride was 49.44 miles (79.56 kilometers) with 6,138 feet (about 1,871 meters) of climbing in 3 hours 57 minutes.

Summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park near Danville, Calif.

Summit of Mt Diablo in Mt Diablo State Park near Danville, Calif.

And it was something I would not have attempted a year ago.

But as I do these rides, I keep in mind that Hills and Gravity are tricky. They are just waiting for the right moment to ambush me. It could be on an extended climb or a climb with a steep grade or even a series of rollers. I am not letting my guard down. I plan to continue working at riding and climbing.

And I keep in mind what I was told by Bennie, a member of my bike club. He would know about climbing as much as anyone. A few years ago he climbed a million feet in a year. He consistently tells me: It gets better the more you climb BUT NOT EASIER.

The B’s Beat the A’s

Well, not in the realm of speed. But the Sunday morning club ride turned out to be a real morale booster for at least two of us B riders.

We were going to head out on a route I’d been wanting to do for some time, but for some reason never got around to it. I had ridden it last about three years ago, and recalled that it approached 50 miles. It also features a few hills.

Twenty-four riders set off at 8:15 on an overcast day, with temperatures hovering in the low to mid 60s (18C). As usual, we quickly separated into a fast group, a less fast group, and the B riders. Four of us made up the B contingent today: me and Maggie, who has been riding with the club for a couple of months, and two newcomers, Mark and Victoria. Actually, Mark qualified as an A rider, but he was content to stay back with Victoria.

By the time we reached the rural part of the route, we couldn’t even see any riders ahead of us anymore. I directed Mark to turn right onto a road that leads around the back side of a country club, hoping that was the way the A’s went — not that I thought we’d ever see them again.

But in a few minutes, we came upon several riders alongside the road. Janice, who is usually near the front of the pack, had hit what she called a “crevasse” in the asphalt — a big crack that swallowed her rear wheel. The tire was badly damaged, and she was lo0king for someone with a boot. I carry a piece of a ride number to serve that purpose. It’s made of a Tyvek-like material, and it’s no problem to cut a ride number in thirds, and stuff them into the seat bag.

Too bad I hadn’t done that recently. I came up empty. Jerry (not the same Jerry who broke his leg in a fall a couple of weeks ago) did have one — a nifty little unit the size of a credit card he bought from Park Tool. Janice made do with it — “I really needed several today,” she said — and abandoned the ride to head home.

A mile or so up ahead, the A’s had all gathered to wait for Janice to catch up. When I told our ride leader that she would be turning around, we all headed out in a big group again. Then the fun really began.

Satterwhite Road is a rural road in Hays County that gets a lot of bike traffic on Sundays. It’s fun, because of its rolling hills. I was following Maggie at speed down one of the hills, when the road surface at the bottom just didn’t look right. It changed in an instant from semi-smooth old asphalt to torn up. It looked as though a giant scraper had been over it, ripping up the old asphalt and leaving only what was underneath — hard-packed dirt, gravel, and stones.

We all hit the brakes and rode gingerly through the mess. Two riders flatted along here. Whenever we hit a stretch of asphalt that hadn’t been torn up, we rejoiced — only to round a bend and get hit with another bad road surface. This lasted for several miles, when finally we could turn onto a new road.

I saw the A’s up ahead, waiting at an intersection. It looked like they were going to take a shortcut back home. But Maggie and I had discussed our ride options, and she wanted to go a little longer. We shot past the startled A’s and kept going. Our route added probably six miles to the one they chose.

After a rest stop at the convenience store in Creedmoor, we set out for home. Maggie had to pick up her son from a sleepover at noon, and we would be hard-pressed to get back by then. We both pushed it harder than usual, taking turns at the lead.

Our route passed the exotic game ranch behind the big landfill, and the animals were out in larger numbers than I had seen before. Lots of small deer and antelopes, but also ostriches and emus, a zebra, and a number of scimitar oryx — African antelope with long, curving horns. Magnificent!

Just before reaching the Starbucks where our ride began, Maggie and I peeled off in different directions, she to get her car and me to head the last mile home. This afternoon, the club president posted his summary of the ride. The A’s did 41 miles. The B’s — Maggie and yours truly — did 48! I believe this is a first. The B’s have never ridden farther on a club ride than the A’s. In the overall scheme of things, not much perhaps. But it was a little feather in the cap for Maggie and me.

Stoplights — Bike Ride Spoilers

The main club ride today was scheduled to make a run into the city. It would skirt downtown and go north on some well-traveled bike routes.

I’ve done most of this route in the past, but it’s not one of my favorites. The turnaround point is about 25 miles out, and it’s all urban and suburban riding — nothing in the country. I had suggested a country ride to Creedmoor, but at the Starbucks gathering point, some of the other Bs thought tagging along with the A ride would be fun. So we set off in an impressive looking group of 28 riders.

That group strung out and some of us were losing contact with the front pack by about nine miles into the ride. We had had some online discussion about one of the streets, which has been closed on and off over the last few weeks. Some said we needed an alternate route to get around the construction. The club president said he drove that street the afternoon before, and it was open. Unfortunately, he posted that info at 7:15 in the morning, and I didn’t see it.

We got to an intersection with Lamar Blvd., a major north-south artery in town, and watched with downcast faces as the peloton shot across. The red light held up about six of us. It turned out to be a long light. By the time we got rolling again, any trace of the main group was long gone. We found our way up to Barton Springs Blvd., which would take us to the pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River.

At Barton Springs, another red light. Two of us got across the street before the light turned red, but the others got stuck at the intersection. We waited. Then, another red light on our street separated us again. The three of us in front waited. Finally, we got up to the pedestrian bridge. It’s a lower level of the freeway bridge that crosses the river, and is used by both pedestrians and cyclists. On this gorgeous Sunday morning, it was packed. I unclipped from my right pedal so I could put my foot down in an instant if needed, and pushed on only my left pedal to weave through the crowd.

Cross the bridge. Turn left, power up a hill past an uninterrupted row of cars, many of which could block us with opening doors. We kept a careful lookout, but got to the next light with no trouble. Another long stoplight, then we could turn onto a road with a decent shoulder and make some time. Any hope of catching the main group had long since disappeared, and we continued on as a fractured group of six.

But at another turn onto Shoal Creek Blvd., who should we see but New York John. He was waiting for us, because his son-in-law was one of our group.

“What the f***!” he yelled. “I’m waitin’ for my son-in-law, and the whole f****n’ B ride shows up! I t’ought youse was goin’ to Creedmoor! Ten f****n’ minutes I’m waitin’ here! Why the f*** are youse guys so f****n’ slow? Aaagh, now I been dropped! Let’s get f****n’ movin’!”

I love New York John.

He set a quick pace up Shoal Creek, even though there was no way we would catch the As. He might be 65, but he’s slightly built, and rolls his carbon fiber Specialized Roubaix with the best of them. Shoal Creek is a road through residential neighborhoods, and sure enough, stoplights pepper the route. Sure enough, some of us got caught at them.

Stoplights can be your friend. John and the others were stuck at one at Anderson Lane, and we three laggards caught up. About a mile later, we saw a peloton heading toward us. It was the A group.

We did a U-turn, heedless of traffic in the area, and latched onto them. Luckily, they pulled into a convenience store a minute later, and we got to take a much-needed rest.

It was nice to feel the pull of the peloton on the way out. I was in the middle of the pack, chatting with a couple of A riders and our club president. But we had some guests with us today, and they picked up the pace. The group fractured again. This time, the club president stayed back with us. He got caught by another stoplight, too.

By the time we reached Mount Bonnell, it was just Buddy, Jan and me. “We don’t have to climb Bonnell,” I said. “We can stay on this street, which is plenty hilly, and meet them a little ways on.”

The club president caught us a mile down the road. “We waited for you at the top,” he said. “It was literally only 50 yards to the top — you could have come with us and bombed down the nice downhill.” We turned into a gas station for a quick break — and the rest of the ride flew by us.

After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the river again, we got onto the frontage road of the Mopac Expressway. Buddy was starting to slow, bothered by cramps in his quads. I stayed back with him, but that noble gesture was driven by self-interest. By now, I was tired, too.

One last stoplight on Escarpment Blvd. I made it through — Buddy didn’t. He pulled into Starbucks a few minutes after I did. We agreed that we’d done well this day — 3500 feet of climbing over about 50 miles. Both of us were pleased with the results, but we agreed that without those pesky stoplights, we would have done a lot better.

Conquering That Hill

I was planning to do a 50-mile or so flat ride southeast of town today, but some of my fellow club members did that ride Saturday, and they were headed for the hills today. That’s okay, because the route allows a convenient turnaround for me and other B riders at about the 17-mile mark. I figured 34-35 miles of hills would equate to 50 miles in the flats, so I showed up.

It was a morning for riding we haven’t seen around here in a long time. Rain came through last night, and the sky was heavily overcast, with temperatures in the low 70s (22C). No wind. Conditions were perfect for a fast ride, and the peloton took off like a pack of scalded dogs. I knew they’d be held up by stoplights along the way, and while I pedaled briskly, I didn’t push myself. I was the only B rider to show up this morning (apparently, the cloudy skies had enough promise of rain that they scared some riders off).

One of the really fast guys flatted about two miles into the ride. A few of us kept going, while the bulk of the group stood around while he changed his tube. We figured they’d catch us sooner rather than later. I had company in the form of Steve J., the state time trial champion of Texas in the 65-69 year old age group. He rode fast the day before, and was looking for an easy ride, so he was fine with loping along with me, chatting about a myriad of different topics.

We turned onto Barton Creek Blvd., which is a smooth, wide road through a (very) wealthy neighborhood. Here’s where the hills began in earnest, with a series of rollers that get higher as you go north. Sure enough, I was passed by the guy who had had the flat, then a couple more, and several more. We reached “Hail Mary Hill” at the end of the road in a group. This steep hill has caused me problems in the past, although I was able to climb it the last time I came through here, about a month ago.

Today, I hit the initial uptick for the hill with a surge of energy. Unlike past efforts, where I was loaded with doubts at the base of the hill, I knew today that I would climb it — and with no trouble. I shifted down, put more power to the pedals, and felt the bike surge forward — a bit. I wasn’t going to pass anyone today, since I carry a substantial weight disadvantage over most of these folks.

When I pulled into the church parking lot at the top of the hill, a couple of riders made remarks like, “You were climbing well today,” and “You had an easy time of it.” Hail Mary Hill is never easy, but I had an “easier” time of it than I ever have in the past.

I rode much of the rest of the ride with a 20-something cyclist who has had his cycling interrupted by work and school, and was happy not to race with the large group. The rollers went by with less effort than they have in the past. I didn’t have that fatigued feeling I often get on this route.

So why the big improvement? I include a decent, but not too tough, hill on some of my weekly rides. It’s got three or four short, steep segments and a long steady climb. I use a stopwatch on that long climb, and I’ve dropped my time by six seconds over the last two weeks — although I was eight seconds slower when I did it Saturday. Ever notice how a mediocre performance can presage a good performance in the next day or two?

Other than that, I haven’t done anything different. But I can feel that my legs are putting out more power. I’m sure the cooler weather today had something to do with it. Doesn’t matter. I’m just happy it’s happening — just in time for the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred this coming weekend.

Can’t Outguess Mother Nature

We’d been expecting all week that Sunday’s club ride would be affected by rain. We were on the tail end of the big weathermaker that brought killer tornadoes to Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa Saturday. While we weren’t going to get anything that severe, the forecast called for a good chance of strong storms at about the time we’d be in the middle of our ride.

So we gathered under a sky dark with low clouds, high winds, and the threat of a line of storms off to our northwest. Consensus was that we would head northwest, but double back to avoid the worst of the rain and have maybe a shorter than usual ride.

A good turnout of 17 showed that not everyone was scared off by the threat of rain. There were even some new people in the mix. Our ride to the turnaround was uneventful, and the clouds actually started to break up. We regrouped and headed toward the west again, this time on a different road. But when the ride leader wanted to head north on Barton Creek Blvd. (the road that would take us to the infamous “Hail Mary Hill”) a few of us rebelled. Both John and Kenny had ridden long and hard on Saturday, and weren’t up for killer hills. The three of us decided to head east and work our way back to the starting point.

We battled the still-strong crosswinds on the way, but had a nice three-person paceline along Southwest Parkway. I suggested we go over to Convict Hill, where I would show them my usual Saturday morning hill workout. For Kenny, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge, but it would give him something new to look at.

Kenny is a strong rider — the kind of guy who does a 100-mile ride in a little over four hours on a Saturday, then comes back for a 45-mile club ride the next day as a “recovery ride.” When he saw Convict Hill, he extolled its advantages as an excellent venue for hill training. His idea of hill training is 30-second repeats, going all out, then standing and pushing hard on the steeper section of the hill. We got to the top, looped around for some other, less difficult hills, and roared down the smooth asphalt to head back to Starbucks.

The sky, which had lightened but was still overcast, was now darkening again. The wind was as strong as ever.  We chatted at Starbucks for a good half hour before the rest of the crew started to trickle in. It seems they had broken up on the ride over the desire of some to go farther, and others to head back. Around 11 a.m. I pulled the plug and said my goodbyes.

At home, I ran into my wife who was still in her biking clothes after doing some Veloway laps. We showered and grabbed a light lunch and were starting our house cleaning chores when the pitter-patter of raindrops sounded on the back patio. The rain came in two waves, first light, then heavier, but when it was all over we didn’t get much more than a couple of tenths of an inch. It was good for my scraggly lawn, but not the kind of soaker we really need around here.

So it turned out to be a good ride, but at 25 miles, a lot shorter than I expect to do on a Sunday outing with the club. Coupled with a ride of only 19 miles the day before, and I appear to have some ground to make up this month. But that’s okay. If Mother Nature cooperates the way she did today,  I should have my share of good weather weekends for riding.

By the way, that 19 miles on Saturday was the result of one of those flukes of biking: A bee flew into my big helmet vent, got stuck inside, panicked, and stung me. Since I tend to blow up like a balloon when stung by bees, I rushed home to attend to the problem, but since it stung me in the forehead and got only skin and bone, there wasn’t a lot to swell. Tylenol is great. Until it wears off.

Great Explorations

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel hits the hills over Thanksgiving.

This past Thanksgiving I found myself in Asheville, North Carolina, the same place I had dragged my bike to several years back with mixed results. What I envisioned then were glorious climbs in the mountains; the reality turned out to be several days of misread directions that never got me to my intended goal. Sure the rides were still fun, but they included making a wrong turn and actually riding several miles on an Interstate highway, almost making it to the Blue Ridge Parkway only to find the road I was on turn to dirt…and constantly finding my knee warmers falling to my ankles. Hey, I’m a Floridian. Until then, I had never even worn them, much less understood how they were supposed to fit.

This time was different. I researched my potential routes, I knew how to properly wear cool weather cycling gear, and although I didn’t bring my own bike, I had a decent rental. My goal? To climb something much bigger than the Intracoastal Waterway bridges that are a highlight of a ride at home.

To be honest, I’m a decent climber. I actually enjoy the challenge, and I’ve discovered I’m fairly good at it. But the climb that I chose in Asheville was both steeper and longer than I had done before. The first, Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, would take me up a lengthy Category 2 (in cycling the lower the number the harder the climb), narrow road with multiple switchbacks. The next, Blue Ridge Parkway, would only throw a steady Category 4 increase at me over the miles, but continue almost as long as I wanted to keep riding. Both also had the unnerving aspect of few or no guardrails, absolutely no shoulder or bike lane, and frighteningly steep drops off the side of the road in many areas. Not to mention the irony of their names (highway, parkway) not matching their tiny, two-lane reality.

View from peak of Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. There was a “TT FINISH” spray-painted on the roadway here…maybe I’ll come back and try it! (Hard to tell from this persective, but this is actually a pretty decent drop, and that valley is WAY down below.) 

Still, I absolutely loved them. I climbed the same route both days I had my bike, winding my way up thousands of feet of elevation. On the second day, I even tacked on some additional mileage on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was cold, the skies were a mixture of grey clouds and occasional sunshine, and the leaves that just weeks earlier had probably been magnificent in color were now mostly dull, brown, or gone. But still, it was some of the best fun I’ve had on a bike in a long time. The views were fantastic, and the roads surprisingly quiet. A really cool break from my everyday routine.

Funny thing about climbs, they also include descents. Heading back into the city on the aptly named Town Mountain Road, I discovered the sheer thrill of a steep, switchback-filled descent, even if my rental did have sketchy brakes. It was awesome — and frightening — all at the same time. I’ve done steep descents before, but they were relatively straight. These curved back and forth like a roller coaster ride.

At one of the scenic overlooks along Blue Ridge Parkway…

I’ve often said running is an easier sport when you travel, simply because all you need is a pair of sneakers. But a bike truly lets you get out and explore, covering distances under your own power you’d never experience if not for the wheels below.

What about you, have you ever discovered a great ride far away from home? Ever rented a bike in a strange town and discovered something terrific? Let’s hear your stories.

The “Big” Hill

I did a group ride recently that featured a big hill.

“It comes at the turnaround, about 15 miles into the ride,” said a friend, who had done this ride several times before. “It’s a STEEP hill.”

Many people, she said, skip the hill by turning around at the beginning of the road that leads up to it. The hill-loving “freaks” could continue on.

Hm, I thought. This could be interesting. I do a ride in my area that features a tough hill. I often have to jump off the bike halfway up and walk the rest of the way. Several times, I’ve been able to climb it to the top, where I stop and gasp for breath. I wondered how the hill on this new ride would stack up.

In the parking lot, I ran into a guy I’d ridden with a couple of times before, but whom I hadn’t seen in almost a year.

“Hey, you’ve done this ride,” I said. “What’s the deal with the hill? Is it as tough as they say it is?”

“Man, it’s been a long time,” he said. “I think it’ll be all right.”

Not much info there.

The ride started. I fell in behind a couple who, as they neared the turnaround point, started talking about the hill. The guy had apparently done it before.

“It’s cool coming down,” he told his companion. “You do about 42 miles per hour. Of course, going up you do about 7 miles per hour.”

His friend laughed, and said she would skip it.

I made the turn onto the hill road. A typical suburban arterial leading into a subdivision of recently-built homes, it had a grassy median down the middle, curbs at the sides, and smooth asphalt pavement. A few of the faster riders coming back the other way were already hitting the flat at the end of their descent. I started a gentle climb, and wondered how long it would be before the hill got steep.

We reached the built-up part of the subdivision. This was going to be a longish hill, but didn’t seem to be getting much steeper. I still considered it to be a gentle climb.

I swung out to pass some riders, downshifted and spun easily as I rode up the grade. This isn’t steep at all, I thought to myself. And looking ahead, I couldn’t see it getting much steeper.

At a cross street at what appeared to be the summit, several bikers were pulled over, drinking from their water bottles and apparently waiting for friends to catch up.

“Hey, is this it?” I asked.

“Well, if you want to do the whole thing, you keep going down to where the road ends in a cul-de-sac,” said one of them.

I looked ahead. The road did indeed go down, so you’d have to climb to get back to where I was. But that section was no different from what I’d just climbed — just an easy incline. I decided to turn around and head back down.

I pedaled and pedaled, waiting to catch a dip or something that would bring me close to the 42 mph the guy had mentioned earlier. But we had a stiff headwind, and this was not going to be a fast descent. I topped out at 26 mph on the way down.

Back at the restaurant where the ride started, I met up with the acquaintance I’d first asked about the hill at the beginning of the ride.

“How did you get here before me?” I asked. “I know I passed you out there.”

“You did,” he answered. “But we (pointing to another rider) decided to skip the hill and turned around.”

Now, I’m no hillclimber, but come on. This was nothing. The warnings of the people who posted about the ride and who spread tales about the hill were obviously exaggerations. That kind of hyperbole does bikers a disservice, I thought. It scares people away from a hill that they’d probably get some satisfaction climbing. If improving on the bike means being able to do things you weren’t able to do before, people were being robbed of a chance to improve, and to build their confidence to tackle tougher challenges.

I suppose what’s easy for some is tough for others, but given the large number of riders who classified themselves as intermediate (the largest group on the ride), most, if not all of them should have been able to reach the top of this hill with no problem. So if I learned something on this ride, it’s to take dire tales about cycling routes, whether they be hilly, or rough, or heavily trafficked, with a grain of salt.

The Hills, Part II

Guest poster Don Blount continues his account of his struggle with the hills.

Part II

On a recent Saturday I joined a club ride, a roundtrip starting in Wallace, Calif. to Mokelumne Hill, Calif.

I thought this would be a route of about 40 miles with some 3,000 feet of climbing. I thought this would be a good test as I had completed rides of this length with just a little less vertical. In reality the ride was really 48 miles with 3,400 feet of climbing.

We started the day and I was fine. I rode from the middle to near the rear of the pack and stayed within my comfort range.

So far so good.

For a short time I had forgotten that hills are evil, and they hate me. I was actually enjoying myself!

We eventually came to a series of three long rollers. I made the first two but never recovered for the third. As Phil Liggett would say, I had cracked. And in short order, the group was long gone.

A rider riding sweep came upon me and asked if I was dizzy – I was walking or maybe even just standing at this point. She encouraged me to walk and would later tell me that I was weaving when she found me.

The sweeper continued on and disappeared over the hill. A bit later another rider came over the hill toward me. It was the cavalry. He and another rider paced me to the rest stop a few miles away.

I ate a Clif Bar, drank water and a Dr. Pepper and rested. I felt fine.

We left and I thought I would be in good shape on the return trip as the heavy climbing was behind me.

And I was fine most of the way, until we hit the last big climb of the day just after traveling over Pardee Dam, which  borders Calaveras and Amador counties in Northern California. Did I mention that the temperatures had risen and it had become quite toasty?

Now I had never before experienced leg cramps and after this day, I pray that I never do again.

The contractions in my quadriceps and hamstrings were so painful I thought the alien was going to burst through my skin. I unclipped and tried to stretch my legs. I massaged them. I pounded them. I stopped and walked. Yet the cramps came and went as they pleased.

I could not ride the inclines. I struggled to ride the flats. And I hoped my whimpering was inaudible. Any substantial stress on my legs brought on hellacious cramps.

Somehow I made it back to the starting point with the group. I purchased a 32-ounce Gatorade from a convenience store and drank it in what seemed like 30 seconds.

My legs cramped on my drive home and with less than ½ mile to my house, I pulled over because of the cramping.

Yet, I had survived the ride. In reflection people were right. Riding in the hills had brought variety to my workouts, made me a stronger rider and contributed to a weight loss. I would continue to ride them. That night I ordered an 11-28 cassette. I need to be prepared for my next time out.

Yes, I am going to continue riding in the hills, even if they hate me.