Friday, March 14, 2008

Lessons Learned

Today I climbed a big mountain. It was hard. It was painful. It was lonley. And I hurt. A lot.

But I climbed a mountain.

And its name was Mount Palomar.

Here are the stats: (aside from BIG, LONG) - 4315 feet of climbing over 12.5 miles, which equates an average grade of 6.5%.

It took me exactly 1:27 to climb this mountain, for which I am grateful. It was a long, gut-wrenching climb. And I learned a lot along the way.

But that's what you get when you climb a big hill for 1:27. You get a lot of time to yourself, a lot of time to think, a lot of time.

After driving out to Rincon, CA, Chris, Liz, Thomas and myself warmed up for 30 or so minutes, spinning past groves of oranges, grapefruit and avacados. The scenery was beautiful, and I found myself more than once distracted by the huge hills looming overhead - clouds skirting their tops. The scenerey was desert and barren, but desert cacti - in full bloom thanks to winter rain showers - were in full bloom. The sun shone brightly overhead. Simply put, it was a marvelous day for a ride.

After our warm-up (wich included a brief wheel change for Liz, who switched out with hubby Chris, in order to have accurate Power Meter Data), we were on our way.

I had been warned ahead of time about this climb, about this mountain. I was told about the switchbacks, warned about the intensity, given fair warning about the low rpms and even lower mph.

But I didn't care: I wanted the experience. Having found a flair for hills in South Carolina, I decided this would be my next challenge. I was still irked about having to get off my bike climbing Panther (in SC), and was determined to not meet the same fate on Palomar.

While spinning through the neighborhoods at the base of the climb, the theme of "What's worse? Knowing or not knowing?" kept dancing through my mind. With knowledge came power: the ability to know what exactly lay ahead, and how to tackle each challenge. On the other hand, ignorance COULD be considered bliss - based on one's perspective.

It was a toss up, in my book. The only way to really experience the hill, to feel the climb - was to do it.

And after a good 40 minutes or so, we were off.

We hit some sort of Taco Shop at the base of the climb, and Chris made it clear that we were "on". 12.5 miles, and several thousand feet left to go.

Immeditely Liz jumped out, and I found myself holding onto dear life on Thomas's wheel. Chris pulled over to the side, no doubt attaching some sort of rocket blaster onto some part of his bike - as he blew by me and Thomas so fast, I bareley had time to yell, "Go Chris, have a great climb!"

Soon, the tempo that Thomas was holding was just too much for me, and I watched him slowly move up, yet unable to do anything about the pace. I knew it would be a long climb - 60, 70, 80, 90 minutes of uninterrupted UP. And I just couldn't hold his pace. Soon, I saw him meet up with Liz, and the two of them rode together for a time, before he peeled off - and it was just Liz ahead, and then me.

Essentially, for the next 1:15 or so, I spent the entire climb by myself. Liz was in sight for parts of the ride, but more often than not, I found myself alone. Which, at times, was quite scary.

But also, I found that I learned. A lot. I kept repeating what I had learned to myself - over and over - in my mind. And it became almost some sort of cathartic mantra, as my legs pushed my pedals which pushed the gears which pushed the wheels up and up and up the mountain.

So - for what it's worth - here's what I learned today on Mount Palomar:

-I learned what its like to be the slowest. To watch everyone else speed up ahead, and be able to do nothing about it.

-I learned that I can still ride when I'm last - that as long as I keep moving, it doesn't matter where I'm at. I just need to keep going.

-I learned that a bus full of cheering kids going in the opposite direction, as I'm pedaling 8 mph over a switchback is a great way of boosting morale.

-I learned what it's like to get passed by a butterfly.

-I learned what its like to sweat so much, that you feel the sweat trickling down your back, your legs, your arms - but you can't do anything about it because you're gripping the handlebars of your bike so hard.

-I learned that I can still take in my GUs, salt, Carbopro, and water while climbing.

-I learned what if feels like to have my tricep cramp from yanking on the handlbars so much while ascending.

-I learned what it meant to be patient: after 40 minutes I thought "This is the longest I've ever climbed." At 60 minutes, I thought "I've been going uphill for an entire hour!" At 80 minutes I thought, "I just DOUBLED the longest climb I've ever done!"

-I learned what it meant to hate my bike.

-But I also learned what it meant to love my bike.

-I learned that I got bitter after about 8 miles - when I saw people in cars pass me up the hill. "They should really try riding a bike," I thought.

-I learned that I DID NOT want to flat out (get a flat tire). I was here, I was climbing, and I was determined to stop for nothing.

-I learned that my mind can work wonders: it can be my own best friend or wost enemy.

-I learned that if I wanted to get to the top, I needed my body and my mind to work together. My body was in pain, so my mind needed to make it go.

-I learned that I can't stop and take pictures of everything: the views at some of the overlooks were simpy breathtaking - fantastic. So beautiful, I can't even discribe. But I refused to get off my bike, to stop my climb - even for a fantastic photo. You'll just have to trust me on this one.

-I learned that inspite of having a heavy bike, I can still make myself go up. (According to Chirs, the bike guru - my bike was meant for, well - "the 50-year old rec rider"). It didn't matter: I learned that WHERE THERE'S A WILL, THERE'S A WAY.

-I learned that I can carry Dumbledore up for 7 miles. After I completely lost sight of Liz (after 5.5 miles) - when we hit the switchbacks, I truly felt as though a gorilla had jumped on my back. It was Dumbledore, along for the ride.

-I learned how my mind would play tricks on me: when seeing a solid wall of mountain, I was near tears. When riding up to an overlook, seeing a 3,000 foot drop, I was ecstatic.

-I learned how to enjoy my solitued: it was beyond dificult climbing on my own, knowing that everyone was somewhere, some indiscriminate number of minutes ahead - but I had no choice but to keep going. Stopping was an option - but not one I was willing to explore.

-I learned how the scenery changed as I ascended further up the mountain: palm trees and desert cacti, became big boulders and coniferous forest.

-I learned how to overcome the urge to chuck my bike off the mountain overlooks: I did, afterall, have to descend (at some point).

-I learned that sometimes the greatest struggle is withinin myself, which is more difficult than the challenges that any mountain can toss at me.

-I learned to be quite, and just keep pedaling - to quiet my mind, quiet my doubts, and just simply go.

I learned that it took me longer to climb this mountain than any Olympic Distance bike segment will (hopefully) ever take.

-I learned how great it feels to reach the top without stopping.

-I learned that the greatest triumphs aren't necessarily in the final product, but in the process.

-I learned that I can accomplish what I set out to do - even if the task seems impossible at times.

-I learned that I get hot on the climbs and cold on the descents.

-I learned that old newspaper stuffed down my jersey, works as a great insulator.

-I learned that if I climb a mountain, that careening 35 mph on the descent, around sweeping turns, 2,000 feet above the Valley Floor are wonderful is a feeling like nothing else.

-I learned how fun, how wonderful it is to ride with expert riders (Chris, Liz, Thomas) - who took the time to teach, to listen, to help, to push me on the ride.

-I learned that I love Mount Palomar - and that I can't wait to return next time.


Beth said...

Wow - what a great experience Marit!!! You are definitely going to be the best Floridian climber around! :) Way to get up that mountain no matter what. Hope you guys have another great day today!

Pedergraham said...

Thanks for sharing this, Marit. I really liked reading all of your "lessons learned" but it's the image of the butterfly passing you that is lingering in my mind. Great imagery!
Have a super training day today.

Anonymous said...

And, you found out what it is like to WIN for yourself, Marit. Polamar is tough...and I was in the same boat last March when I did that climb too w/ Elizabeth/Chris. And, I am alone in my pain and thoughts here at Mt. Lemmon - as I am in the 25/27 and SS in the big ring...for 2+ hours - thinking...Have a super ride this AM. :) be safe, Jen H.

Mer! said...

Hi Marit! (Mer from San Diego again!). I was itching to see what you thought of Palomar and I can totally relate...I was dead...last...climbing with my was 100 degrees in June when I rode it, so I haven't been quite back yet! --but whenever you have time to grow/learn that much in a ride, you can't help but want to return! Have a great rest of your trip!

Anonymous said...

ZORA the magnificent! Yeah that's what i call you. You ARE the epitome of WonderWoman.

It is a REAL treat to experience(virtually) your grand adventures, stellar optimism, and ebullient enthusiasm!

Such a fortune it is.... to have met you, ran Indian Lake trails and know you are an AMAZING sentient person!!!

More to share via snail mail from me to you... Steph from Wisconsin

Anonymous said...

You did it Marit! Great job! Thanks for sharing this blog with us. I really enjoyed reading it. It sounds like you are sure getting in some great training before Ironman! Keep up the great work.

Mira Lelovic said...

You're doing great, Marit! Way to hang in there and stay positive. You are just becoming stronger with each of these challenging endevours. You're going to be even more AMAZING!

Kellye Mills said...

I'm proud of you Marit!! Great Job!

Anonymous said...

One of these days I will do Palomar myself, but until then, your story will do nicely.

keep up the good work!