We had word the day before that the weather might be very questionable. They were predicting 45-60mph wind, just like Newton's. Right away I adopted a new strategy, and that strategy was to fucking go for it. Right out of the gate, don't hold back to save something for treeline, which is where the going gets rugged and the wind starts to show itself. I figured the wind is going to destroy you no matter what. So just go like hell. That much was decided.
Gearing, I kept the 23t Q-Ring, but this time made up a custom cassette with nothing bigger than a 23t. I've never taken a setup with zero options north of 1:1, so this would be a data point I really needed. I knew it could be really hard, and was mentally prepared for the worst.
Sunday we wake up to reasonably mild temps. I'm actually cold in the parking lot about to warm up, and this is perfect. Also perfect:
Two things were weighing on me though.
For one, the night before I slept like shit. I had incredible anxiety, which is weird because I almost never get that. Maybe it was eating dessert (which I never do), maybe it was the Forza Motorsport 4 before bed (the house we stay at has an Xbox), maybe it was listening to Jump before bed, and then trying to learn the synth chords to Jump before bed (the house we stay at has a synth), maybe it was Gewilli's 7:40pm tweet (the house we stay at has, although terrible, internet)
I was all jacked up and ready to go. The problem was I really needed to sleep first. I "went to bed" at 9pm, may have actually fallen asleep around 11ish, and strung together pieces of sleep until 4am when it was time to get up. I woke up feeling trashed. I did not think today would be good.
For two, even though I made my oatmeal the night before to save time, I still was only going to get a maximum of 90 minutes between eating and riding balls to the wall up the side of a mountain. Typically I get 3 hours to digest, which I know to work perfectly. So these were totally uncharted waters. I feared that general "I have shit in my stomach that doesn't want to be here" feeling.
Clear as day up there. What a sight. I threw a bike in the trainer, put a reasonable effort in - much better than usual - and it was time. I really didn't think twice about my strategy. Even though things had changed from yesterday's forecast and the conditions were now perfect, I still resolved to go full bore until I cracked. It's what I had mentally prepared to do, I had never approached the ride like that before, and figured what the hell. Plus my iPod playlist was 90 solid minutes of unbridled asskicking. The only way it wasn't going to be full gas was if I didn't press play.
I take off and wait about a minute or so to get into a rhythm up the road before I start the music. Then it's just, I don't even know. Mental. I am just going for it. It feels wrong but I am resolved to not giving a fuck. I blow the doors off a guy with a polka dot bike who is spinning effortlessly and I am certain will later crush me to pieces. I must be doing something wrong, but 90% do not care.
23:23 is not easy to turn, but it's also not as awful as I thought it might be. I know I need a cadence just north of 70 one day to do a 1:20 with this gear, and I'm all over the place with it in the first few miles. Lower, higher, hard to tell where I'm at. But I am definitely fast today. I am also standing a lot. This is really cheesy but I had this thing in my head - I heard Paul Sherwin describe Alberto Contador's climbing style as that of a "pure climber" in that he stood and attacked the grade, rather than sat into it and endured it. So I had that "pure climber" mentality going, and every time I got up I felt really free. I rarely downshifted out of the 23 since the change was good on my legs. They got a break when I was up, my cardio got worked, then I sat and gave the lungs some recovery while the legs went back to heavy lifting.
I have this thought - the faster we do this, the harder we go, the sooner it will be over. It is working. I am at treeline before I know it. That whole lower section is boring as hell on video. Today I could hardly remember seeing any of it.
I had no idea if or when the bottom would fall out, right up until the end. As it turns out, it never did. I had plenty of gas in my tank, and I will never forget that now. I know that as long as I eat, and even if I get a fucking terrible night of sleep, I have the motor to go bottom to top. I mean, attack-mode motor. Pure climber motor. Not sit in and I hope I make it motor.
I remember thinking when I got to 5 mile grade, when my cadence got positively awful, that this is where PRs go to die. You're just so screwed here. I now know that until you're past the hairpin late in mile 6, you're just going to have to deal. Unfortunately, my legs were not dealing with 23t that well in these two toughest miles. At times I must have been turning something in the 40s.
I had that feeling again, as I did on Newton's, that the 1:20s were in reach. All I wanted was that 1:29 today. This time though, I knew it could really happen. At 6 mile I was at 1:12 I think, and I just started mashing. Go go go. Everything I had left I put into it for the last 1.6 miles. I saw Kristen at one of the final turnouts, and chucked my second bottle, as it was nearly full. I needed everything. I could see the summit house and the cog railway. It was right there, right there, and I was at probably 1:28, and I knew I was going to miss it. I still went hard all the way. So close. A 1:29 and this would have been a perfect day.
Two minutes short; it bothers me, but how can it. It's still 3 minutes better than my PR from 2008. That's all I wanted out of this year was to get back to that point, and now I'm better. Ask anyone who either knows me or follows me on Strava, I don't ride that much. If I actually rode a lot, I have no doubt in my mind I would do this with minimal drama.
It's hard to look at the other two rides this year and make any kind of assessment on gearing, since I bonked the first time (25t cassette), and faced 60mph winds the second time (27t cassette). I think I will take the 25t up for the fourth trip, and hope that I can get enough improvement from it in miles 5 and 6. Combined with this new approach and attitude, when the conditions are right, I think we're going to start systematically kicking this things ass. I am really learning the road now. Hard to explain how or why it all of a sudden starts to click.