Well, that hurt.

Yesterday I rode Jason’s Ride of Pain in honor of his 40th birthday (the sting of his newly advanced age was doubtless mitigated by the realization that he was the second-youngest of the eight of us who showed up).

It was, in a word, hard.

‘Silly’ might be another word too.

It all started auspiciously enough. The weather was fantastic, the group genial, the road – well, the road was still steep. We started out on Little Cottonwood, after all. Nobody was interested in hurting themselves, and I fell in with Jason. We rode easy and chatted and before I knew it we’d reached the top. It’s the only time I have ever got up Little Cottonwood without agony (and in fact the only time I have ever gone to the top – previously I have always stopped at Snowbird). I had feared the traffic on a holiday weekend, but there was not enough to create any concern. This might turn out easy after all!

A quick, brisk zip downhill, a quick refuelling stop, and we were off to Big Cottonwood. Where Little had been a pleasant surprise, this one felt like it normally does: long, and intermittently steep. We quickly split apart, everybody doing their own pace. I ground it out without too much pain, but as Kris later said, this is where it became clear that playtime was over. It took us longer to regroup at the top this time, and Jason’s Washington friend appeared to be in some distress. He ended up quitting at the bottom – he’s apparently diabetic and wasn’t in the mood for risking serious problems.

We had already done more climbing than there is in all of Lotoja.

We stopped at the bottom for ‘lunch’ (at the crack of 10:00 – we had been on the road 3 1/2 hours already). Out of habit I gobbled my sandwich and shoved chips in my face like a rabid chipmunk before realizing that this was not, in fact, a race, and that my compatriots were behaving in far more civilized manner.  Oh well, I expect it’s not the last time I’ll embarrass myself. Probably not the last time this weekend.

And so on to Millcreek. Millcreek is my canyon of power. I ride it regularly, love it, am intimately familiar with each turn and bump. I didn’t fear Millcreek. And yet when the group hit the first slope it became clear that I wasn’t going to maintain their pace. Anne and I fell off the back almost immediately. She appeared to be having some trouble, so I took that as an excuse to hang back and try to work with her. It didn’t take long to figure out that I wasn’t doing much good, so with my excuse ruined, I had to push ahead and see if I could catch back up to the main group. It was a long and eventually futile solo effort. People were flying by me and I felt the crazed urge to shout excuses after them: “Yeah? Well, I’ve already climbed two canyons today!” But I hadn’t the breath. I must have looked pretty grim because several people gave me the sort of encouragement you give the infirm or elderly: “Looking good! Keep it up!” as they passed.

At the end I was delighted to find the group stopped at the lower trailhead. There’s probably only fifty yards more to the upper but I might not have made it. Kris told me they’d only been waiting a few minutes, but I suspect that was a polite fiction. I proceeded to explain in lurid detail how much Anne had been suffering and just as I had convinced everyone that there was no point in waiting, we might just as well head back down and scrape her corpse from the road, she appeared, all chipper and making a fantastic pace. I think she did it just to make a fool of me – I certainly felt one.

And so, after a stop at Anne’s house for fluids and bananas, we were off to Emigration. Cycling is nothing if not the art of self-delusion, so I told myself I would just make it to the top of Little Mountain and quit. Millcreek had hurt too badly – I couldn’t imagine making it up Big Mountain. Riding past the golf course I spotted a small concession and stopped to fill a bottle with Coke. Warm, flat Coke is my end of ride wonder elixir. It settles a miserable stomach (and indeed, Gatorade was giving me cramps) and delivers a charming little dash of caffeine and sugar. Despite the fact that my official plan was to quit at the top of Little Mountain, I put the magic bottle in my rear bottle holder to save for an ’emergency’. Perhaps a Big Mountain shaped emergency.

Like I say, it’s all about the self delusion.

Of course, in stopping to get my Coke I’d lost the group, so I was alone again for the grind up Emigration. I took it as easy as possible and it actually wasn’t too bad. Climbing up the final stretch to Little Mountain summit I met Charles and Dave coming down. They’d turned around, but they yelled to me, “Keep going! They’re just ahead!”

And my stupid legs did. Right over the summit and on we went. Guess I was doing Big Mountain after all. I ritualistically switched my magic Coke bottle to the front holder as I descended to the reservoir. Emergency time was here.

The remaining three up ahead, Jason, JLo and Kris, soon spotted me and sat up to allow me to catch back on. I finally managed to regroup with them just as the real climbing started, so we had time to exchange pleasantries and make clear my plan to finish before I got spat out the back again.

The five mile climb up Big Mountain was pure misery. I emptied my suitcase of courage about a mile in. Fortunately my suitcases of ‘dumb’ and ‘stubborn’ still had plenty and so I didn’t quit. I don’t think anybody has ever before ascended that climb quite as slowly as my pathetic, inching effort. I was standing up in my granny gear, barely managing to turn the pedals. Unfortunately I know the climb too well to delude myself very effectively, so when a pair of descending runners cheerfully called “A mile and a half!” to me, I *knew* it was almost two, and how I hated them for that half-mile of lie!

But I made it. The guys were waiting for me. I didn’t bother asking how long they’d been there – I’m sure it was quite some time. We took perfunctory pictures (see Kris’s report) and took off back. Nobody wanted to prolong the thing now.

The climb back up the back side of Emigration wasn’t as bad as I had feared. The end was finally in sight and that helped my legs. I was still hellish slow on the descent, determined not to turn a pedal unless forced to, and the others quickly disappeared. But they had the enormous decency to wait for me at the bottom, by the zoo, and so we finished together. I’m sure they lost at least half-an-hour to waiting for me over the course of the day. Much appreciated, fellows.

And so, I made it, even if DFL. I’m proud that I did. I didn’t know that I could.

But, as I told Jason at the ensuing picnic, I am *not* going to his next birthday party.

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