Every year I get two Thanksgivings, one on the day and one a week or so before. Some how everybody in my family all decided that doing Thanksgiving as a family before the date would allow us all to be together and allow us to be together with our extended families. For the last several years this system has worked well and every family member has been pleased with this arrangement. Cool thing for me is that it gets me a chance to spend some time with my brother, a die hard triathlete, runner and cyclist. We had decided to go riding early Saturday before everyone arrived at my brother’s house. Since we were riding in his neck of the woods, he chose a ‘simple’ 12 mile out and back course for us to ride that had some easy hills and one fun hill. That one fun hill almost did me in.
The Warm Up
If you follow this blog you will know I have not been cycling very long and only recently have gotten into any type of shape where I could imagine biking. Most of the routes I have ridden in my forty miles since buying my bike have been relatively flat so far, maybe a slight steepness, but relatively flat. My legs have been getting stronger gradually. My brother informed me at the beginning that he knew I was new, but if I was going to ride in his neck of the woods I needed to ride cement hill, its what everyone rides who comes to Auburn Georgia. The course my brother chose for us was a true test on my leg strength and contained a series of decent hill climbs followed by some fun steep, nerve racking down hill sections. I kept asking him if this was the hill he was talking about as each climb was taxing and he kept informing me no, this was just a warm up.
The climb he kept referring to was a hill most locals dubbed cement hill, thusly named because the road had numerous holes tarred over leaving tons of cement like protrusions on the road. Cement hill was a 1.1 mile steep uphill climb with an average grade of 2.8% and elevation change of 170 feet. The fastest riders according to Strava ride this in under four minutes, including my brother. It took me just over ten minutes to get up it and my brother was circling around me helping to motivate and verbally push me up the hill. I had climbed a few other steep hills before this and my legs were already sore, hill climbing on a bike was still a new activity to me, so this monstrous climb was murder. But I climbed that sucker and I owned it that day. Months ago, I would have given up on one of the earlier hills and it was a testament to how far I had come in a few months to finish this climb and all the climbs before and after it.
As I neared the top of the hill with only a bit left to go, I tried to shift to my easiest gear and all of a sudden the teeth would not connect and I was pedaling out of control. As I was on a very steep incline this action caused me to loose all forward progress and the bike and myself toppled. I got up and my brother and I managed to get the bike into a gear. But, it now had a catch every couple of strokes which made pedaling difficult, as every so many strokes would be off. Fortunately my brother had planned this trip with the half way point being his local bike shop, just passed the top of the hill. They took a look at the chain and informed me that it was a stiff link (I think I have this right) and it was not fixable. They had to replace the chain. Luckily, they knew my brother and charged it to his account as neither of us had carried money on us as it was supposed to be a quick out and back, an hour or two.
The weird thing was that I had the bike in the shop the night before for some adjustments as the breaks and rear deraileur were acting funny. With less than forty miles on the chain and everything working the night before and even for the first half of the ride, it is really strange the chain going bad like that. The store I bought the bike refunded me the money for the new chain, but was dumbfounded as to how it happened when they had looked the bike over the night before (that money went into buying a water bladder to aid hydration till my balance further improves and I can get to my water bottles). So I actually rode some of Cement Hill with a chain that was not working properly. In the end, the store I bought the bike from handled things extremely well and I only ended up with a sore hip from the fall.
In the end it was good ride and I only had one fall caused by the chain having an issue. I managed to ride 12 miles with some pretty good climbs that challenged me including one pretty monstrous climb. I am super impressed with how far I have improved. I noticed that I was getting better about my balance as I was able to take my hands off the bike without too much shaking. Also, I had to ride the break a little on some down hills as the steepness left me going fast enough that I felt a little out of control at times. One thing I did realize is that when riding steep hills, on the down hill, I need to get a better sense of what gear to be in. I found myself too often bouncing while trying to find the gear I should be in and I was wasting energy in the process. Could I have done this ride back in May? I seriously doubt it, it was a fairly technical ride and I had no muscle strength or endurance back then. All the running, spin classes and strength classes I have done has seriously paid off, providing a solid core of muscular capability. I love my new found muscular strength and endurance as well as greater cardio and recovery capabilities, not to mention new found drive and determination.
In the end it was a really good ride that I cannot wait to tackle again and I was glad a large feast was not far off. My hp was sore and muscles were taxed, but within twenty minutes after the ride I was already planning the next time we could tackle this ride. Of course my brother tells me there is another hill he wants to add on the next ride that is as much fun or more fun than cement hill. I just looked at him and said “Bring it”! Til next time.