Several weeks ago, I invited some friends to join me in an Austin bike ride that started off with 16 miles of significant hills (10-19% grades. 1030 feet of climbing ) then went into the 50ish mile Dam Loop with more sloping hills with another 1500 feet of climbing. I got 7 takers: Herb, Catherine, Andrew, Michel, Del, Greg and Nancy. It was gonna be great! On ride morning at 7:00am Herb, Catherine, Michel, Greg and Nancy showed up and got their bikes ready. Andrew meander onto the scene 15 minutes late, but there was no sign of Del. We set off at 7:25, plenty of time for any stragglers to show.
Unfortunately (or not), the week before the ride I broke a part on my Tri-Bike and it was still on order (and due to the altered position of my riding on my broken tri-bike, I was also nursing a knee strain). I had to use my Road Bike this weekend. Thing is, I hadn’t ridden my road bike in a while and did not have the proper “booty callous” built up. The week that I had been riding my road bike, several rides ended with me standing just to give my butt a break! On the other had, where my tri-bike has an 11/25 cassette, which is a nice mid-range cassette, with a double chainring; my road bike has a triple chainring with a 12/27 cassette- a climbing set up with a real Granny Gear. This may have given me a bit of an advantage over my biking brethren that day.
We started out with a quick 4 mile warm up on a flat road before heading over to Spicewood Spring, the first hill. Catherine had mentioned that she had some back issues the day before, but the trooper that she is, she was willing to give the hills a try. Our band of happy cyclists climbed Spicewood without any incident (that I am aware of, at least), yeah, there was the gasping and whining, but nothing unexpected. I had no problem getting up the hill and chalked it up to my exceptional fitness!
From there we has a bit of break, riding along Mesa and Far West, down the big hill to Ladera Norte. Ladera Norte is a hoot. It starts out as a nasty bugger, then flattens out a bit until you get to last little bump (the 19% grade). When I shifted into my granniest gear and stood up, I felt like I might actually have downshifted too far as my legs seemed to be a little too loose, although I was only riding about 4.5 mph, but didn’t dare add a gear for fear of being mistaken on my first conclusion then just falling over. As I huffed and puffed up the hill a walker was also navigating the steep hill with her unfazed dog skipping along side her with a big doggy smile on his face (!!?). Surprisingly, this hill didn’t seem as tough as last time either. I must be a rock star!
The last time my buddy Herb (who is over 6’4″ with legs that end at the base of his neck) did this hill, he was having a hard time keeping his front wheel on the ground, yes, it is that steep! But he seemed ok this time. Unfortunately, although Catherine did make it to the top, her back was not down with the climbing, so she indicated that she was going to beg off the rest of the hills and head out for a flatter ride.
As ridiculous as the Ladeara Norte hill is, IMHO it is not the worst hill on the ride. That’d be Courtyard. So we headed over to Courtyard. In order to get to Courtyard we had to ride from the east side of 360 at 2222 onto 360. This is a bit tricky because, although we were making a left with a light, there is a car entrance ramp coming off West 2222 on the right. That ramp has a yield, but as all motorists know, that doesn’t mean you have to yield to cyclists who may be dangerous stuck in traffic between to the two ramps. BUT oftentimes a cyclists who happens to be driving their car will approach the ramp and actually yield! Luckily a friendly, good looking, conscientious motorist stopped and yield to us cyclists and waved us through. Wait a minute. Is that Del!?! “Del, what the hell, aren’t you supposed to be out here with us?” I can only assume that Del rode the hills on Sunday since he shouted back that he thought the ride was tomorrow. I’ll have to check up on that.
At this point it looked like we may have lost Greg and Nancy on some of the turns leaving the last neighborhood (there are a lot of turns), so I stopped to call and make sure they were on the right track while Herb and Andrew went ahead. Michel stopped with me . . . delaying the inevitable.
Courtyard starts with a little bump, then goes into a significant hill with an S-turn. So you make the first turn and see yet more hill but it’s doable, then you make the second turn and HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! The hill gets really steep and you can’t even see the top! Good times!
During the two other times when I did this ride I was convinced that Courtyard was the hardest hill (according to the interweb: 11.5% average with 2 pitches of 20%). But apparently, like childbirth, you forget the pain because that last section still surprised me. I downshifted, stood up and started picking marks on the road that were probably about 8-10 feet apart saying I just need to get to the stick, or that white mark, or that pothole. Since I was looking down I cannot report as to whether we actually ended up passing any billy goats, clouds, or mountaineers. At this point I got the inkling that the gearing on my road bike might have been making my life a tiny bit easier than my cohorts’, because hard as it was (and it was hard) it really wasn’t that bad, like it was last time. I started doubting my rockstra staus and thought that maybe the granny gear was cheating a bit.
At the top of Courtyard we lost Herb (to an alleged knee injury) and Michel (to just not feeling it). Luckily for all of the victims of the hill portion, most of the hills were very close to 360 and the Dam Loop, so everyone could continue a good longish ride even if they opted to forego some of the hills. So it was down to Andrew, Greg, Nancy and me.
On to Jester! A 15% grade 1/2 mile hill that is familiar to just about everyone in Austin, TX. Although this is probably the longest hill, after Courtyard it doesn’t feel that hard (whatever the hell “that hard” means because it is hard, but I never think about quitting in the middle of it like I do Courtyard and Ladera Norte).
I read somewhere that you should look at the top of a hill as you climb so you can see all the progress you are making.
Worst. Advice. Ever.
I have found that looking at the ground 8-10 feet ahead of you makes it look like you are not even on a hill. With my climbing gears I was able to periodically stand to give my quivering quads a break, then sit to give my hips and glutes a break all the way to the top of Jester. Four hills down, only one more to go!
This is where Greg and Nancy informed us that they would be waiting patiently at the bottom of the last hill, as they were done with the ridiculous hills for the day. The last hill was Lakewood, but to get up Lakewood you first had to ride down Lakewood. Greg and Nancy would be hanging at the bottom of Lakewood.
Lakewood is a gradual hill starting from 360, which then becomes this insulting “out of your seat” steep hill, than a nice flat recovery to the final push which is pretty steep, but not as bad as that initial steep climb. After the other hills on this route, Lakewood is almost easy (assuming you are not bonking, cramping or otherwise crashing at this point).
Andrew and I finish the hill portion of the ride with our 5th and final hill at Lakewood, then met Greg and Nancy to do the Dam Loop, which is about 50 miles of “gentle” rollers. Greg and Nancy were in no rush, but I was riding with Andrew, so, ya know. . . after making sure Greg and Nancy knew where they were going, we took off. Quite frankly, after the ridiculous hills, the Dam loop isn’t really that bad. really.
We headed down 360 to Bee Cave Road – of course after riding up extremely steep hills, I drop my chain on the 2.7%grade hill (after the Pennybacker Bridge). Although this is frustrating, it is a lot better than dropping your chain on a steep hill, falling over like a tree in the forest, then being unable to get started again because you don’t have enough momentum to get clipped back in to your pedals. So there’s that.
All went well and fairly uneventful, but for the clueless guy in the pick-up who let all the motorist traffic pass but then decided that he could turn left in front of Andrew and I into a parking lot, as we descended a hill at 30 miles an hour. Oh, that was exciting! He did realise his error and stop mid-turn. I find that most motorist on the business-y portion of 620 in Lakeway and more clueless than malicious, so I tend to keep an eye on them and watch for oblivious moves so I can react.
We rode over the Mansfield Dam (is to too much to ask that they occasionally run a street sweeper through the shoulder lane filled with all the crap from the cars since they know cyclists use it?) and up the hill on the other side, past Steiner Ranch, when it started smelling, well, wet. You know that just after the rain smell? We rode for a while and Andrew commented that we must have just missed the rain, but then as I looked up 620, I realised maybe not. It appeared that we would be riding right into the rain, just as 620 got busy with traffic and businesses past 2222.
Yeah, I was right. We rode right into the rain. Besides the delight of not being able to see what was on the road in front of your skinny tires due to the rain and foam wash on the street, as well as the rain and street spatter on our sunglasses and the lack of sun, we were also constantly being sprayed with the rain and dirt muck off the street by passing cars and the occasional big truck (yeah, you want to keep your mouth closed for that one. I had to pick some re-tread outta my teeth and de-sand my nostrils when I got home). It was pretty horrible and pretty dangerous. We cut through the HEB parking lot so we could make a safer turn onto Anderson Mill, and both breathed a sigh of relief when we finally got into the Spicewood neighborhood on our way back to Jollyville.
We meandered through the neighborhood towards Jollyville and got stopped at a light on Four Iron. When the light turned green I went to clip into my pedal, since everything was wet my left foot slipped slamming my shin to the pedal with the added benefit of slamming my girly parrts into my seat. Andrew asked ‘Are you alright?” “Yeah,” I croaked, “Just got a few things going on over here.” So far, no permanent damage.
After a total of just about 4 hours of riding we were back in the Arboretum parking lot (I was supposed to do 4 1/2 hours, but the thunder and more threatening rain convinced me that getting home alive was a better option). My knee had not given me any problem at all on any part of the ride and there was much rejoicing.
Just as I was about to turn towards my truck, my phone rang. It was Greg. He and Nancy were holed up behind a Chevron in a Car Wash on 620 seeking refuge from the torrential downpour, lightning and hail they had ridden into, and were in need of a ride back to their car (seriously, there were in a car wash to stay dry!). I reminded Greg that he is an Ironman and might want to reconsider riding in, ya know, to demonstrate his fortitude. His response to that suggestion is not printable here. Let just say, he said “no.”
Even though my truck is a bit cramped for three soaking wet, yet very stinky people (but, has plenty of room for 3 bikes). I was glad to help out because by the time I got back to 620 that storm was off the hook and certainly not safe to ride in on busy roads.
So our Saturday training ride ended up being much more exciting than, I think, anyone had imagined. I’m thinking of shooting for something nice and flat next weekend.