Measuring the Ride…Vertically

   Well, it took me two months to find the time to actually get around to doing this again. Back in December of 2005 I did a “triple ascent” of South Mountain here in Phoenix for my 43rd birthday, and so I was going to do it again for my 44th. I figured if I added a little in I could up it to 44 miles and 4400 feet. Weather and my desire to row 200,000m in December conspired to push it back, so I tried on New Year’s Day. Big mistake. It was like they had shifted the entire traffic pattern of I-17 onto the two lane, winding road in South Mountain Park. Literally bumper-to-bumper at times, and when you are on a road bike, that stinks. So there was no way I was going to play dodge-car for three ascents that day. So, I decided to try for President’s Day, 2/19. Rained all day. I hate riding in the rain. So, finally, on Wednesday, 2/21, I set out. My riding buddy Eddie McKee couldn’t get off work to join me, so I was solo the whole way.
   First ascent I did the “heart rate control” thing, keeping my heart rate as low as possible so as to maintain my glycogen supplies for that third attempt. South Mountain reserves its steepest grades for the last half mile (of course!), and I’m still a big boy, so climbing 10%+ grades is an energy-intensive task. Managed to do well on the first run, keeping my energy output as low as practically possible.
   Second run things were going well until I heard a loud, deep rumble behind me. I was at a point where you can see a long way down the mountain, and as I looked back I saw a biker’s worst nightmare: a huge tractor-trailer loaded with heavy equipment, obviously heading for the farm of television and radio towers at the top. What do you do? Stop and wait for it to go by, or try to outrun it? I did some quick calculations and picked up the pace. It would have caught me but for a very sharp turn about 1.5 miles from the top that required it to do some tricky maneuvering. Here you can see it from my vantage point at the top of the second run, and then a few minutes later as it waited for the gates to be opened so it could get to its destination. That took a bit more energy than I had planned to expend on the second run.
   Third run started fine. The weather was exceptional. 72 for a high, probably upper sixties for the last run. My biking friends back East can’t help but be a bit jealous at this point (of course, during the summer, I have to be down there by 5am to start by 5:15am with a beginning temperature, before sunrise, of 93 degrees). But as I approached the steep grades at the top I started to feel something that is quite unusual for me: my quads were starting to cramp up. Now, when you are on 10%+ grades, cramping quads not only hurt, but, since there was some traffic there, it is a bit dangerous. I had to stop once to try to stretch them out, but getting started again from a dead stop on a grade is tricky (those who ride know that is the one time your cleats just won’t click in right the first time). But I refused to give up, and made it to the top. But guess what happened then? Yeah, the truck, having been unloaded, decided to head down. Now, a bike can descend winding mountain roads faster than most four wheeled vehicles. On the straighter portions of the descent I’ll be in the lower to mid 30s speed-wise, and obviously I can take a turn much tighter than a car, and surely a whole lot faster than the truck. Thankfully, I found a spot near the top to pass him safely, but then I had to keep my speed up the rest of the way down. He surely made my day interesting.

   Total for the ride ended up at 45.4 miles, 4,560 feet of ascent, and a top speed of 35.8 mph. As I look at that ascent number, I do a little mental calculation and come to the conclusion that my next goal should be to ascend 5,280ft. in one day, i.e., do a “one mile ride.” If I avoid the super-steep grades at the top (there are other lookouts I can ride out to) I could probably get the 5,280ft of ascent over the course of about 52 to 54 miles. It is Springtime in Phoenix, the weather is far more often perfect than anything else, so that will be my next goal. And just think of how many lectures and debates I can listen to over a marathon ride like that!
   Just in case someone might wonder why I would invest hours in such an activity, it’s simple: health. I have considered the ends of my progenitors, and it seems the primary killers in my family history are related to the cardio vascular system: heart attacks and strokes. So, wisdom would seem to indicate that cardio-vascular exercise is a necessary element of my personal self-discipline, and, since I can carry literally gigabytes of audio files with me while I ride, it is a tremendous opportunity for uninterrupted study. I am thankful to the Lord for the good measure of health with which I have been blessed, and I feel a duty to utilize that health properly. A day may come when I cannot do this (I see men in their sixties out riding, and I hope to be in their shoes some day), but while I can, I know one thing: I think more clearly, have a better outlook, and just feel a whole lot better, when I am working toward a physical goal (like doing my One Miler). And if I ever get run out of a debate by an angry mob of (fill in the blank) I at least know I should be able to outlast most of them on the run!