On Sunday, I broke 100km on a ride for the first time since the Great Ocean & Otway Classic. And that’s what made it epic. Big distance, lots of climbing (for me anyway) and no SAG wagon.
Five of us got together on to try the Kinglake climb via Humevale Rd. Every time I’ve climbed Kinglake, it’s been via the traditional route on Hurtsbridge/Heidelberg Kinglake Rd which includes the soul crushing Wild Dog Creek Hill. I was quite excited to try the Humevale Rd climb simply because it meant I didn’t have to torture myself by having to climb up The Dog (as we’ve started referring to it as in a very unaffectionate way).
The Climbing Cyclist site (which I’ve linked to above) called the Humevale Rd climb a hidden gem. And it is. For the entire climb (about 7kms, gaining around 600m) we encountered one car – yup, just one. The driver was decent enough to slow right down and pass us with caution. This is one of the roads that was damaged when the fires ripped through the area and not much has been done to repair it. To be honest, it would easily be the worse road surface I’ve ridden on but we were taking it slow so it didn’t matter so much. I really wouldn’t want to attempt it as a descent though. The area is taking some time to recover but there’s a crazy amount of regrowth near the edge of the road which makes for a lush, green ride. And it’s quiet, incredibly quiet and peaceful. All you can hear is the noises of the bikes, people’s breath, the odd snatch of conversation and the bird calls. That’s it. There’s no pollution, no cars, no people. The best word I can come up with to describe the area is serene.
After our first stop at the Flying Tarts Bakery in Kinglake West (think we’ve found a name for our group!), it started to drizzle so all the wet weather gear came out and we rugged up. Only to overheat on the way to Kinglake as there were plenty of rolling hills. Brief stop at Kinglake to put on any final kit and we were ready for the descent down to St Andrews.
Everyone knows I love to descend. I love the rush of speed and the sound of the wind blasting past. I love leaning into corners and feeling the bike move with me. Just love it. I really suffer when I climb so a great descent like Kinglake makes up for it. I’m fortunate to have a dad who worked hard to teach me to corner properly (when I was first learning to drive I couldn’t corner properly to save myself) and on the whole, I can descend quickly enough to keep up with the boys but keep myself safe as well. Uhh… most of the time. This time I totally messed up my lines not once but twice and found myself praying there wasn’t any oncoming traffic as I ended up on the wrong side of the road. But I was incredibly lucky and managed to get away with it. (Let that be a lesson to me to be more careful next time!) Still, I accept the fact that there’s a pretty good chance that one day I’m going to get it wrong in a corner and the end result will not be a happy one for me. I should just remember what my dad told me recently – it’s amazing what can happen if you go into a corner more slowly. You can accelerate out of it!
Then the inevitable happened. We started climbing again as we headed through Kangaroo Ground and Warrandyte South and I found myself dropping further and further behind to the point I couldn’t really see the others ahead of me. I was suffering, a lot. What is it about climbing that I find so hard? A couple of times I wanted to cry because I was feeling so bad and I was so far behind. The mental demons really came out to play and I felt weak, slow and stupid. Stupid for thinking that I could do it when evidence was heavily leaning towards couldn’t. Sigh. I feel that I’m not mentally tough enough but I don’t know how to fix that.
I have no problems with the physical act of riding a bike. My legs are in pretty good shape. I’m stronger than I was. Logically, I know I’ve vastly improved if compared to where I was last year. This time last year, I hadn’t done a single serious climb and hadn’t done a ride that was further than 70kms (I think). But mentally? Every time it gets tough, I start to fall apart. I doubt myself, I make it million times harder because I don’t believe I can do it – even with evidence to the contrary. But as to how to fix this, I have no idea. I know I’m only going to improve if I keep pushing through barriers but it’s really hard. I have to push myself past what I’m comfortable with. I’m letting myself down by always believing the naysayers in my head, that evil little voice that whispers that I’m weak, fat, stupid for even trying.
Maybe the mental toughness will just come over time. Doubt it though. It’s too heavily ingrained in my personality to always believe the bad stuff and deny what’s good. Doing rides like this will probably always put me through the wringer because it’s who I am. There will always be a little voice of doubt in my head. However! At least I always try and I don’t give up, even when I’m gasping for air and my legs are screaming at me. I don’t quit. Strength comes from the strangest places and perhaps I just haven’t realised it yet.
But you know, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be put through the wringer like this. Odd thing to say considering how much complaining I just did. It means I’m not emotionally dead, that I can still feel really intense emotion and pain. It indicates progress because a few years ago I was too afraid to feel anything at all, even physical pain. If I can master it on the bike, perhaps I can master it in the rest of my life.