Monday, May 14, 2012

Dumbest funnest ride ever

Well, we needed to do some heat training - and Humboldt County is no place for that. And hill training. So - why not put them together, right? There's some very hot, hilly country between here and Redding, and that's where we headed. We found it, and took full advantage of its charms.
We packed a cooler full of all sorts of good things and headed out with the dawn to Hayfork, CA. The idea was to go to the fairgrounds, ride a 70-mile loop, and return to the car for a nice lunch before heading out to do a second, shorter, easier loop.
Great plan.
We were slowed slightly at the start by Bill's headset, which wanted a bit of tightening. He managed that with great effort marred by a lack of tools (memo to self: we've got a good-sized truck at our disposal, might as well bring a tool kit...). But I figure it wasn't much past 9:30 by the time we took off.
Five bottles between us - a little short, but - should be enough, and we'll find more along the way. You always do, right?
We were dinking around on the road to Hyampom - enjoying the warm-but-not-hot sun and the spectacular views. Few if any cars, one construction zone (no one working on a Sunday), and one moderate climb put us in the settlement of Hyampom. I spotted a lot of birds. I meant to take some pictures but I got sidetracked, enjoying myself.
I am guessing that "Hyampom" is an old Indian word meaning "many tiny rocks" because the road surface was peppered with gravel for much of the ride. To make things trickier, the rocks were exactly the same color as the surrounding (generally very good) pavement, so you had very little warning if you were traveling downhill at any speed. Both Bill and I had near-misses with the gravel on inside corners early on, so we dialed back the descents (bummer).
The route did not dial back the climbs! After Hyampom, the first "real" climb came on - 2700' in a bit more than 5 miles. For those who are keeping track, that's almost a 10% average grade. If this sounds a little bit like a great training hill for Townes' Pass, well - Bill will be racing FC508 this year with the coolest totem ever: Pirate Fish. 
For those sports fans who are trying to envision poor ME slugging up a hill that's a great training hill for Pirate Fish's 508 - have no fear! I actually did pretty well. Typically grades like this would have had me walking - but the Pink Catillac ate it right up. At the bottom of the hill, Bill tried to bright-side the upcoming adventure: "Well, the next 6-7 miles are at mostly 8% plus..." neatly avoiding the reality that the cue sheet clearly stated 8-12%, as in - "actually, quite a bit of 12%, and the 7% bits will feel like relief".
The gearing on the Cat was near-perfect. I used the 36/36 a fair bit, but I was able to punch it up a gear or two from time to time. The handling was SO stable that I was able to reach for my water bottle - something that has always been a chore on the Carbent no matter how diligently I practice.
So reach I did. Over and over. Right up to the point where the reality hit me: we were going to run out of water. There were no two ways about it. Bill had three water bottles, but that was just putting off the inevitable. It was going to require some tricky calculus: what is the optimal speed to ride which will minimize my water need but still get us back to the truck before sheer exposure takes its toll?  I made my best WAG and settled in, knowing that Bill was quite a ways ahead of me, hopefully doing the same math and coming to similar conclusions.
Within a mile of the top of the hill, I shifted into the biggest rear cog for some 1:1 climbing action, and - drats - overshifted, jamming the chain between the spokes and the cassette body. This felled me like an ox, and I was more than a little pissed off. By this time I was hopeful that Bill had gotten tired of waiting for me at the top, and would be coming along to see what was wrong. Sadly, he is a very patient I got to fix the problem on my own. Took some doing to extract the chain, get everything reset, and back on my way. About the time I was starting up again, a guy came by and started peppering me with questions: "Is that another one of those laydown bikes?" " Is it hard going down hills on them?" ...
Just as I was underway and doing well again, here comes Bill - I'd finally worn him down, and he was starting to worry. One look at my grease-covered self told the story.
When we got to the top, Bill asked me how I was doing for water, and topped up my second bottle. Except - it wasn't the top - it was a saddle. We still had quite a bit of rolling uphill climbing to the real summit. We poked along - I was in serious conservation mode. Can't risk a cramp if you don't have water. Cramps require salt, and salt requires water, and water's what we don't have. Bill would edge ahead and wait. Once, he came rolling back at me, arm cocked. No - seriously? Yep - he threw a snowball at me! There was snow. Why we didn't think about it at that point is beyond me, except that we were still in a "well, we've got SOME water" denial.
At the turnoff to FR16 we met a passerby in a minivan. She was happy to give us all the water she had - about half a bottle's worth - and urged us to go back with her to her cabin to refill, but it was quite a ways backward and - brain-addled, dehydrated optimists that we were - we were confident that we would be Just Fine....
After a bit of a descent, we started another major climb. Although this one wasn't as steep, it sure was LONG. By now we had something like 18 miles to go, we were totally out of water, and we'd come here for - remember? - HEAT TRAINING, which turned out to be the wildly successful part of our plan(though at the upper elevations it honestly wasn't so bad). This hill was NOT ending. I could see Bill ahead of me (good news, either I was speeding up, or he was slowing down, or maybe a little of both) and that gave me some gauge of where the road was going. I could see ahead to where the road crossed a smallish creek. I started fantasizing about the cool water that we'd find there. Giardia be damned!
Bill and I were riding together when we got to the creek. We looked at each other - both thinking the same thought. The water wasn't exactly INaccessible, but - quite a scramble down, then quite a scramble back up. Between one thing and another, the risk of injury was there. Surely we were almost at the top of this sucker...
Well, "almost" is a very subjective word, but I'd not say we were "almost" there - a couple more miles of "can this be for REAL???" climbing ensued before we were at the top. Somewhere in there, the thought hit me that - hey - it's been a while since I've gotten any MORE thirsty, so maybe we're going to be okay here. Within minutes after that thought, I started to get a pretty wicked headache, which I knew was the dehydration talking. Crap! I remembered Bill's snowball. If we got lucky, we'd find a patch of snow in a shady curve somewhere along the way.
Very near the summit, we got lucky. Snow cones at 4500' on a waterless heat training day is good eats, folks!  We passed on the flavored syrup, though I realized later that I could've pulled a peppermint stick GU out of my bag. I was happy to trade in the dehydration headache for brain freeze.
After we got enough in to be more or less out of the woods, we filled our water bottles (this is the part where I get to feel smart for bringing one non-insulated one so the snow would actually melt), popped over the summit, and headed down the other side. When we hit Big Creek, we were finally able to sustain some speed. I was really happy to see that even after the long draught we both had some pretty good looking legspeed. We hit the town of Hayfork like a tornado - kids and pets staring shamelessly at the parade, us grinning like the idiots we were at having cheated death and had so much fun doing it.
We got back to the car and packed it in. The second loop would have to wait for another day. We had a great tailgate picnic - sandwiches, potato salad, cantaloupe, and a lot of fluids had us feeling pretty chipper.
As a measure of the success of this ride - I was feeling pretty stoked that in my mind the first major climb was "probably as hard as Panther Gap" - the first really big climb on the Tour of the Unknown Coast, which I can manage on the Carbent, but with difficulty. When we got home, Bill loaded up his Delorme Topo and compared the two. The Hyampom climb averages about 2% STEEPER, and I had done it with less effort than I typically use for Panther Gap.
I'd say that the Pink CATillac gets some serious props as a climbing bike. Sure, she's not the lightest kid on the block, but balance, handling, and attitude are all working for her.