Tag Archives: Climbing

Going up?

Scan of my 7 Peaks passport with its four stamps

For someone who proclaims loudly that they hate climbing, I sure do seem to do a lot of it.

In the last six months, I have ridden up five mountains. I know, only four stamps above but I did Donna Buang as well (a week before tackling Mt Buller again – which went way better this year than last year). That’s real progress considering that until the middle of 2010, I had never ridden up anything steeper than Yarra Boulevard in Kew. Now I’ve conquered some of the bigger climbs in Victoria – some of of them, twice!

It’s taken me a long time to get in the right head space for climbing. I’ve accepted the fact that I will never be as quick as other, stronger riders but I can do it if I’m willing to plod along. Because of my prolapsed disc, I climb slowly – which can be incredibly frustrating when you’re always the last person to reach the summit. But I figure it’s better to reach the summit ages after everyone else has than be parked on the couch doing nothing at all. At least I’m trying.

I suppose I have been very slowly seduced by climbing. I get why we do it. It is really satisfying to reach the summit. The new bike helps too. I didn’t think I’d notice any difference but the stiffness of the carbon frame does make it easier to settle into a rhythm. I never really noticed any flex in my Cannondale but I have noticed that I seem to be more efficient with my BMC so the flex must be there somewhere. Both of them have Ultegra so it’s not a gearing issues (the only difference being that my BMC has electronic shifting). I dunno… it just seems a tiny bit easier. Maybe it’s a mental thing and I’m trying harder because I think the bike deserves a better rider. *lol*

There are thoughts brewing this year of tackling Mt Hotham. I have a real mental block when it comes to Hotham. It seem impossible to me. It’s such a long climb, sections of it are incredibly steep and everyone I know who’s climbed it all say how hard it is. Not exactly encouraging me to do it. But I’ve decided it must be done at some point. So maybe this is the year I’ll shove all my concerns to one side and just do it.

However! There is an upside of course. It’s a hell of lot more fun coming down the mountain than it is going up!

At it again!

Yup, this could be titled dumb things I have done – part two. Doing things that I shouldn’t be doing because I can’t hack it physically.

This time it was the Scody High Country Challenge. Signed up for it ages ago and was feeling pretty positive about it all. The challenge of Mt Buller seemed appropriate after conquering both Mt Buffalo and Mt Donna Buang. But then it happened.

Six weeks ago, I dislocated my right thumb.

This meant two weeks with no bike riding at all. I couldn’t even tie my own shoe laces, let alone get on a bike. It was over two weeks before I started riding again. But I could only do short distances before the pain in my hand got too bad – damn bumpy road surfaces! I knew there was no way I’d be anywhere near prepared enough for the weekend. But I did it anyway, with about 10 hours proper riding time. My longest ride was an 80km pootle around the Bellarine Peninsula the weekend before. (I do ride to work but that doesn’t really count when it’s only 10kms in the morning and 10kms in the evening.)

Not prepared at all!

Still, I lined up with everyone else on what was a very foggy Saturday morning, wondering if the new battery in my garmin’s speed/cadence sensor would stop the auto-pausing problem I’d been having (answer: yes and no – no because it still happened but yes because it didn’t get stuck paused like it had been). And then it began. We left Mansfield behind and made our way to the base of Mt Buller. At first it was okay. Actually, it was okay for about the first ten kms of the climb. I definitely wasn’t going to set any records for a blistering time but I was still turning the cranks over and I didn’t feeling like I was pedaling squares.

Then the nausea began. My stomach was churning and it got worse the further up the climb I got. In the last four or five kms of the climb, I stopped four times. At one point, I simply stopped. My heart was hammering in my chest and I just couldn’t turn the cranks over any more. I had to stop, I just had to. I forced down a bit of an Clif bar and contemplated the fact that I wasn’t even at the hard bit yet. That moment was a tiny bit soul destroying and I contemplated just turning my bike upside down and waiting for the sag wagon. Yet I didn’t. I clipped back in and suffered my way to the top. And my, did I suffer. My partner stayed with me for the final two kms and as we came around the very last corner, he heard a very little voice behind him squeak “Is that it?” in sheer desperation that it be the truth.

I got the blue “You are here!” sign and promptly got off my bike, fighting the desire to puke up my guts up all over the sign that two seconds ago had been a blessed thing to see. I walked for a bit but hopped back on my bike so I could ride across the finish line. Couldn’t be seen walking across the line!! Then we sat in the town square on top of Mt Buller in glorious sunshine as I chugged down a can of coke (rides are the only time I’ll drink it) and burped my head off. Slowly I started to feel better, my stomach unknotted and I relaxed. I acknowledged that fact that I was totally underdone for the climb. I had no clue just how hard it would be and my lack of knowledge of the climb made it even more difficult because I had no clue how far it was to go.

But I am proud of myself for not packing it in. I might’ve been in last group of people who completed the ascent but I bloody well did it!! I wanted to quit, I thought I should but I didn’t.

The descent was quite fun. I really didn’t like the first bit which is incredibly steep with a hair-pin turn. I was working the brakes the whole way down that bit, probably holding some people up but I didn’t care. I’d already seen what could happen if you crashed and I had no desire to put myself in hospital (one guy did – last I heard he has broken ribs and he cracked a vertebra). It was a much quicker trip back to Mansfield than it was going out. Simple fact is that there’s a lot more down than up on the way back!

Unlike when I climbed Mt Buffalo (with a cold no less!), I had a real feeling of achievement when I crossed the finish line in Mansfield. I had suffered but I had prevailed. I conquered Mt Buller on my first go.

Sunday was meant to be the 125km ride to Whitfield but my dislocated thumb put paid to that idea. It would be a 55km jaunt to Tolmie instead (the first water station and turnaround point). And my, what a tricksy little ride that turned out to be! What I didn’t know at the time was that you essentially start climbing as soon as you get out of Mansfield. Sure, it’s nowhere near as steep but it’s just as long as riding up Mt Buffalo! The “Welcome to Tolmie” sign appeared about 2.5kms before the damn water station!! It seemed to go on forever!

As we stood around the water station, I was eternally grateful that we would be turning around and heading back to Mansfield. And it was one of the funnest descents I’ve done it quite awhile. No real need to brake at all, just lots of big sweepers for corners and the feeling that you’re really in control because it’s not that steep. It was a lot of fun.

Will I do it again next year? Yes. I know it sounds like I had a terrible time but I really didn’t. I got to spend a long weekend in a gorgeous part of Victoria with my partner, doing what we love doing – which is riding our bikes.

But next year, I intend on being waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better prepared.

In other news, I’m heading off overseas next week for a grand jaunt. It goes something like this:

Depart Melbourne 12pm 27 March > arrive LAX 8:30am 27 March (love that whole arriving before you left thing) > Santa Monica 27 – 29 March > fly to Seattle 29 March > Seattle 29 March – 2 April > fly to New York (yay!!!) 2 April > New York 2 – 5 April > fly to Paris 5 April (very late at night too) > Paris from 6 – 12 April > fly to Hong Kong 12 April > Hong Kong 13 – 15 April > fly home to Melbourne 15 April. Arrive home 6am (!!) 16 April.

What’s missing for that is a day being bussed around for this year’s Paris-Roubaix. I think there are three stops along the way and then the tour company we’re going with will take us to the Roubaix Velodrome for the finish. It’s going to be very exciting.

Paris! I’m going to Paris! Mmmm… macaroons.

Dumb things I have done

It started out okay. We (the other half and I) had followed the forecast as the Bureau of Meteorology kept adjusting it. Jan 2 2012 – the day of Amy’s Ride – was going to be hot. 41°C (105.8°F) to be exact. The ride organisers elected to invoke a heat contingency plan which meant we got bumped from the 120km (75mi) ride to the 70km (43.5mi) ride.

At first it was okay. It was warm for that early in day but I figured we’d finish the ride before it got really hot. Uh huh… bit of wishing thinking there! I was okay until the road surface hit 45°C (113°F) about two and half hours into the ride. (Yes, we should’ve been quicker but common sense dictated we take it easier.) I felt like I was slowly being cooked. I couldn’t drink the water in my bottle because it was too hot and even a small sip made to spit it right back out. I suffered. I suffered like I haven’t in a long, long time.

It became very apparent to me as I slowly rolled into the Botanic Garden in Geelong that I wasn’t in the best shape. I felt very shaky and bit disorientated. My other half was sneaking further and further away from me as I came to the end of my endurance. But I couldn’t sing out to get him wait because I simply didn’t have the energy to do so. When we did come back together he suggested we head straight back to the car (which we’d just rolled past) but with about 500 metres to go the exact words out of my mouth were “I’m f#$king finishing it!!!”

I have no idea how I made it to the end. It was blessed relief when I could finally unclip and put my foot down on the ground and simply know I didn’t have to get back on the bike. Getting off the bike proved to be a little more tricky because I wasn’t certain I had the strength to swing my leg over. I wobbled my way over to the covered BBQ area and sat myself down on the only seat available which just happened to be in front of the organisers. I think a few of them might have had their eye on me in case I keeled over. It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt that weak and distressed.

At first there was no satisfaction in what I’d just done. It felt like one of the stupidest things I’d ever attempted and I have to admit it was pretty dumb to continue when the road temperature got to the point where I felt like I was being cooked. I was obviously starting to suffer from heat exhaustion and probably should’ve quit. But not me! No, I’m too stubborn and bloody minded to do that. No sag wagon ever for this little black duck. All I can think now is: moron! whilst still feeling a sense of achievement for completing the ride.

So yes, I feel like I’ve already done my really dumb thing for this year and it’s still only January.

Of course, three days later I rode up Mt Donna Buang. I am a glutton for punishment. I have no idea how I got talked into it but I must admit I enjoyed this ride far more than Amy’s Ride. At least it had one of the best descents I’ve ever experienced. Took me over an hour and a half to get up and under 25 minutes to get down. I have to say I’d do it again just so I could experience that descent again. I slogged my guts out to get up the damn mountain but you couldn’t get the smile off my face on the way down – except maybe for the really steep bit (locals will know it as the bit around Cement Creek) as that was a bit scary and had me grabbing the brakes. I couldn’t feel my toes by the time I got to the bottom in but it was totally worth it.

The next challenge is the SCODY High Country Cycle Challenge in March. Mt Bulla anyone? For someone who’s never liked climbing, I certainly seem to be doing a lot of it these days.

Mt Buffalo – conquered!

Took me two hours to get to the climb’s end but I did it. I’ve officially climbed my first proper mountain and I have the ride stats to prove it.

It’s long – really, really, really freaken long. My brother described it thusly when we talked about it a few days later: it goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on – fark! I’m only half way!! – and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. Just when you think it’s never going to end, there’s a small descent and the scenery opens out into the most amazing plateau. It’s a meadow at the top of a mountain. Grass, flowers, the whole bit. There’s a tiny little bit more climbing to do after that to reach the chateau that signifies the end of the climb.

The crazy thing is that I did it with a cold. Probably not the most sensible thing I’ve done recently but I had company. Louisa and I ended up nattering most of the way up as evidenced by this photo:

We took our time, stopping quite a few times in the shade to cool down and have a drink. It’s not like were were in a hurry or anything. We also snapped a few photos. I think this one is from about two-thirds of the way up.

But make it to the top we did. There were cheers from the group we were riding with when we arrived. And of course I took a photo of my bike at the look-out just to prove I’d been there.

Am I smiling? Or is it a grimace? (At least I look spiffy in my pink Rapha jersey. And yes, it matches my handle bar tape.)

However, something strange happened on the way down. For the first time ever on a descent I actually got a little bored. 21kms is a long, long way to descend on an unfamiliar road with a dead surface. Plus because I had a cold, my ears were blocked and I couldn’t get them clear on the way down which affected my sense of balance. I had to go more slowly then I probably would’ve a few months ago. By the time I got to the bottom, I was in a bit of pain and I had to stop to blow my nose in attempt to make my ears pop.

There was a cruel torment on the way back into Bright when the sign on the side of road promised it was only six kilometres away. Longest six kilometres of my life! When I finally staggered into the guest house the riding group I was with had taken over for the weekend, I was a shattered woman. Exhausted, drenched in sweat and feeling like death. I thought I’d feel some sort of achievement for successfully traversing my first proper mountain climb but mostly I just wanted to lie down and never get up. The sense of achievement came three days later when we were returning to Melbourne and I realised the mountain I could see to my left was Mt Buffalo. Then I truly realised what I’d done.

See that mountain in the distance? I rode up that, all 1,302m (4,272 ft) of it!

There were a few more rides on the weekend – rail trail tootle to from Bright to Myrtleford for breakfast and then back to Bright and a quick Bright – Harrietville – Bright trip but mostly this weekend was about Mt Buffalo for me and the realisation that right now I’m just not in love with cycling like I once was.

The realisation came as we were heading back from Myrtleford to Bright and were going to stop at a pub on the way. We had to ride across some grass and lucky me, my bike slipped out from under me and I fell. At least time it was on grass and the only damage was to my dignity. But sitting in the shade after everyone else had ridden on – at my request – with my partner, I realised I’m having a bit of a tough time with the whole bike riding thing at the moment.

It’s hard to get out on the bike. It doesn’t feel as natural to me as it once did. I still get edgy in large groups and I’m not comfortable being surrounded by riders I don’t know. I’m nervous and overly cautious. I’m not comfortable on the bike since I switched saddles to a narrower and less padded one with a massive cut-out. I thought it was because I got the seat height wrong but even after adjusting it, I’m still not comfortable. So a new saddle is on its way to me now. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. Don’t know.

Does the fact that I’m still trying count for something? I’m not willing to give up on it. Cycling and I are having a bit of a lovers’ tiff at the moment but maybe everything will be fixed with a new saddle and a few good rides.

Something good, something bad

I’ve noticed a pattern. Something good is always either preceded or followed by something bad. It’s like I can’t have one without the other.

Things at work have gotten… umm… stressful. For the first time ever, I’m caught in the middle of a restructure. Plenty have happened around me (it’s a university, we restructure all the time) but this is the first one that has directly affected me. From where I stand, the process hasn’t been handled particularly well. There’s a lot of misunderstanding and defensiveness on both sides now and right now I can’t see how it’s all going to be resolved in a way that makes everyone happy. How we’re all supposed to work together, I have no clue.

I know that I should be worrying only about myself but I can’t help but be really angry at what’s being done to some of my workmates. I’ve worked with these people for over five years now. I see them every day. How can I not be concerned about what’s going to happen to them? Unlike them, I have the (dubious) fortune having a position to move to. I know I should be happy to have this certainty. However, I can’t help but have some doubts about what it’ll be like to work in the new group. The position description for the job I’ll be slotted into is vague at best and I’m not sure I want to be a “Content Analyst”.

Still, the daily work stuff continues as it always has and there’s a strong sense of solidarity in the team now. That’s one good thing to come out of the whole sorry situation.

All I can do is wait and see. The situation is out of my hands, I can’t change it.

It’s funny… I had a terrible week at work and spent a lot of time wanting to punch someone in the face but get me out on my bike and it just doesn’t matter. The stress just falls away. The weather on Saturday was – in a word – crappy. But it didn’t matter. I was with people I like, who make me laugh and I was doing something I love. Work is just work, it’s a means to end so I can do the things I actually want to do – like get totally filthy and saturated. Then sit around in damp bike kit, drinking cider at Little Creatures Dining Hall while my companions had a pint.

Sunday was another go-round of the Emerald Bakery Loop. The something bad of this was the stretch between Emerald and Kallista. I have no idea what happened but I was really suffering. I dropped further and further behind, I was gasping for breath and my legs felt like they were about to fall off. It was so incredibly hard and I still don’t know how I managed to get up the really tough section (3kms at about 7 – 9%). I felt sick and exhausted but somehow I did it. I wonder if the climbing is ever going to get easier or if it’ll always be this hard for me. Something good was that I had someone drop behind to stay with me for most of it so I had a wheel to follow.

Still, I had a ball flying down The Wall. When I hit 70km/h I figured I should probably slow down a bit as I was overtaking quite a few people, riders who had been 3 – 5 minutes ahead of me. Got to one corner and all I could smell was burning brake pads from the person who had gone through previously. Every time I get to the bottom of a descent like this I always have the biggest smile on my face. It’s an awesome feeling.

The descent down to Montrose was amazing as always. I don’t think I braked once and I managed to pick and stay on some excellent lines through the corners. I love it, just love it. Thinking about it now is making me smile. There’s nothing like the sensation of speed and the world flying past in a green blur. All those tiny movements you make on the bike which make it lean and shift with you. The bike feels like it’s a part of you, that it’s alive. It’s joy, pure and simple.

Something bad (work) countered by something good (bike and an unexpected development in my private life). The universe likes balance so I suppose this is the way it’ll always be.

So, this thing called sleeping in…

I’ve heard it’s this idea where you don’t get up while it’s still dark and no birdies are chirping in the trees.

My sleep in during this Easter break was on Good Friday where I managed to make it until just before 9am. Surprisingly enough, no one put on a load of laundry at 8am – a normal occurrence on the weekend mornings when I’m actually home. My first though when I woke up was (after going eeeeuuugghhhh) hey, the sun is up.

No sleep in on Saturday as I tootled my way over to Ringwood North to join in on the Easter Bunnies Emerald Bakery Loop Ride. The group I ride with had been talking about tackling the well known Emerald Bakery Loop for awhile so why not do it when everyone was on holidays? Just over 75km of hills, hills and yet more hills. But of course that meant plenty of opportunities for descending 🙂

The Yarra Ranges actually make climbing kinda fun. The area is stunningly beautiful and this time none of us were busting a gut to get to the top of the 1:20. The funnest descent of the day was coming down The Wall. As I was unfamiliar with the descent, I was on the brakes a few times to make sure I didn’t crash by being overly enthusiastic.

The bakery at Emerald was worth the effort of getting there. Been a long time since I’ve seen so many yummy cakes and slices crammed into a glass display unit. I have to say that these stops during rides are one of my favourite parts. It’s great to just sit around and chat. I’ve never been great in social situations and this one of the few times I feel okay. Plus there’s usually nummy treats involved which is fine by me!

What I thought would be the hardest climb of the day came as we left Emerald and headed towards Kallista. It was about 3kms of slogging away up what around 7 – 9% gradient. There was water cascading over the road and I was glad we were climbing (!!!) and not descending but it still made for a hairy climb as the road was rather slippery.

I must admit that I didn’t enjoy the descent down to Montrose as much as I normally do. I was feeling pretty knackered by the time we got there and my body was starting to complain. However, I made it down the whole way without touching the brakes once which is the first time I’ve managed this. I think I descended a little more slowly than normal because it was taking a lot of effort to concentrate. I love to descend as fast as possible but I’m not willing to risk my safety when I know I’m tired. See, not totally stupid!

By the time I got to the bottom I was ready to call it a day but of course that meant getting back to the starting point. And that’s when it happened. For the first time ever, a climb defeated me. I had to get off and walk. Eastfield Rd in Ringwood East. We could see it from the other side of the traffic lights we were stopped at and it didn’t look good. I only got about a third of the way up before starting to struggle and at the halfway point I realised I was going to fall over so I stopped. I looked down at my garmin and it was telling me the gradient was 22%. I was sure this was wrong but this reading has been corroborated by other garmins. I felt so defeated. Everyone else did it but I walked it. I just felt so inadequate. But what can you do? Nothing but get over it and swing the leg back over the bike.

The funny thing is that there’s a bike path marked on the road. The running joke at the moment is that someone needs to go out with a can of spray paint to add a happy cyclist at the bottom and a dead cyclist at the top. It would be appropriate.

After 70kms of hills, I decided I needed a cruisy ride on a flat roads so I took my bike to my parents’ place. I did learn one important thing – if you’re not 100% sure about where you’ll be riding, check your route beforehand. I was out in the orchards, pedaling away and I realised I had no clue where I was going. I had a rough idea of where I was but no idea where the road I was looking for was. In the end, I took a punt and turned down a road I thought I recognised the name of. Turns out I wasn’t that far away from where I wanted to be and if I’d continued on I would’ve found the road I wanted. Typical! I had a laugh when I looked at the elevation after downloading my stats. I went from climbing 1,324 metres to a grand total of 37 metres.

Today’s spin was a MRR loop with some extras tacked on. I like the MRR loop and I’d do it during the week but the logistics are too difficult to overcome. I’d have to be up so early and there’s no guarantee I’d be able to get to work on time. I’ll be sticking with my laps of Yarra Boulevard.

And to finish off…

Tree project, week thirty one

And for my next trick…

…I shall attempt to ride up Mount Donna Buang this coming Sunday.

All 16.61 kilometres of it at 6.2% grade. It has an elevation of 1,250 m (4,101 ft) and it snows there in winter. It’s the closest mountain to Melbourne where you can go skiing in winter. I’m thinking it’s going to take me between 1.5 – 2 hours to ride up (and that’s being generous).

If I can do this, the 145km Great Ocean & Otway Classic Ride should be a breeze. Uh huh, right. I’ll just keep telling myself that.

I think Master Yoda has it right on this one: Do… or do not. There is no try.

SkyHigh

Sunday’s ride was an adventure out to the Dandenong Ranges.

And it was a total blast. It was the most fun I’ve had on a ride which involved climbing.

We started at Mitcham where two of us on the ride parked our cars. We picked up two more companions on the way and headed out to The Basin and the famous 1:20 ride up to Sarrafras. Unlike the ride the weekend before (which went something like oh my god, it’s so gorgeous up here on the way up to Aaarrrggghhhh!! I’m gonna die!! on the way down due the fact that it started pouring with rain about five minutes into the descent), the weather was kind if but a little chilly. At least this time I was better equipped. Had my arm and knee warmers as well as full finger gloves for the descent.

There was quite a bit of chit-chat until we hit the 1:20 ride and I did my usual thing of falling off the back of the group. The 1:20 climb is one you’re supposed to measure your time on. The road has start, distance and finish markers painted on it so you know exactly how far you have to go. I was hoping to do it in under 25 minutes but I couldn’t quite get there. I hit the finish line painted on the road at 25:20. So close!! However, I have a problem in that I get distracted by how mind-bogglingly beautiful the area is. I spend too much time admiring the view than concentrating on my time (check out Cycling Tips Blog for some photos of the area). Still, I have a target now so hopefully there will be some improvement. I’ll just have to learn how to set up manual laps on my Garmin. I should really read the instructions one of these days!

After a break in Sarrafras, we headed up to Olinda and SkyHigh on Mt Dandenong. It was chilly up there but the view was quite spectacular if a little hazy.

Having never been up there before, I was admiring the view when it was pointed out to me that the map that explains the view to tourists actually had shopping centres on it. So naturally enough I had to take a photo.


Look ma! I climbed 2069 feet!!

After coffees and hot chocolates to warm up, we headed down the mountain. The initial sharpness of the descent caught me totally off-guard and I found myself struggling to control my bike, trying to slow down whilst doing over 60km/h with really grabby brakes so I was essentially fish-tailing and scaring the crap out of myself. Once we hit Mount Dandenong Tourist Road it was so much fun. Unlike the Kinglake descent which is all S-bends and switchbacks, this was big sweeping turns. Means a lot less riding the brakes and a lot more free spinning. It was amazing. As I was hurtling down the hill, I could feel a huge bubble of laughter building. How else can you express the sheer joy of it? It’s as close as humans can get to flying and it’s simply amazing.

Rode the rest of the way back to The Firehouse in Ringwood in a kind of euphoria. The rolling hills on the way back were hard but I didn’t feel like I usually do. I’m never going to be a brilliant climber but on Sunday I actually felt pretty good. I felt tired and the effort at some points felt enormous but it was a good kind of hurt. Except when I dropped my chain near the crest of a hill. It seems that whenever I do that, I always manage to drop it in a way that means I can’t pedal it back on and I have to stop. Must be my special skill. (Can I get another special skill? This one is really annoying.)

I felt that all the effort warranted one of these…

Rides like this one make up for all the crappy ones. The ones where you feel like death and the effort of turning the cranks is enormous. There’s nothing quite like cycling to put the hurt on you but when it’s good, it’s the best thing ever.