Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Climbing mountains is always tough. No matter how long you go, no matter how hard you work, it never gets easier. You just keep going. Up, up, up - until you're at the top. Sure, the gradient may change now and then, but the bottom line remains the same: if you want to reach the top, you must keep going.
So true of life, eh?
Today Kim and I experienced an epic day on Mt. Palomar. It was my third time climbing the hill (is it disrespectful to call it a hill?), while today would be her first.
After running around my place like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to get all of our gear (bikes, helmets, shoes, running shoes, jerseys, gloves, vests, jackets, socks, bars, water, gatorade, more socks, hats, run shorts, hr monitors, leg and arm warmers...need I continue?), we made it out the door. I swear we were carrying more gear than what we would for an actual race. But it worked for us, we had what we needed, and all was well.
It seems that all the water and coffee (for me) that we've been drinking hit us hard: both of us had no shame in squatting between bushes in a casino parking lot in Rincon Valley, at the base of the Cleveland National Forest. There may be video evidence on the casino tapes, but I don't care. It was the busload of tourists that passed mid-flow that had me more concerned. But what could we do, right?
Bladder voided, we set off with more gear stuffed in our jersey (for the cold descent) than we had on the bike. I'm not kidding. We were prepared for it all - and could have survived just about anything.
Warm up was not exactly a "typical" warm up. It consisted of going up, up, and (guess what?) more up. We did ride a few "flat" sections - perhaps a half mile long stretch on the valley floor, but that was about it. I was just happy to see The Big Ring and 90+ rpm once or twice. I didn't even bother to look at the heart rate: demoralizing when you're in zone 8 (or whatever) 10 minutes into your ride.
But we knew what was ahead: an hour and a half climb up South Grade Road. Rumor is that some guy named Lance does it in under 50 minutes. I was hoping for 90 or so. The anticipation was awful, and Kim and I were determined to get going.(View from Palomar Overlook, taken on descent)
At Jilberto's Taco Stand (official beginning of the climb), we paused momentarily to peel off arm warmers and to relieve ourselves one more time. Only problem? No bush. Nothing that resembled anything that one could squat behind. So I did as any impatient athlete would do who was nervously anticipating a tough climb - I simply squatted at the side of the road, in the shade. Not that it made much difference - as the three vehicles that past could attest to.
No, actually it was a gentleman who emerged from the taco shop and yelled, "We have bathrooms inside!" that made me blush.
Kim - squatting somehow behind an 8 inch bush a few feet away - burst out laughing. All I could see was a white helmet and bright green bush. Quaking with laughter.
My reply? "Thanks! I'll keep that in mind for next time."
I guess I didn't realize the place had tinted windows. Oh well.
And then we started climbing.
As in the past, it went by incredibly fast. Looking back it's hard to believe that we were physically climbing for 92 minutes. At the time, though, it was tough.
The first 30 minutes or so - until we hit the half mile long flat section between the first 5.8 miles and the second (steeper) 6.86 mile section, went rather well. We chatted, joked, discussed the "tough stuff", and commented about how beautiful the scenery was.
And the South Grade Road decided to show us (or at least ME) who was boss.
It was hard. It was painful. And all I wanted to do was stop. There were several times where I put my body in aero (we were climbing on the TT bikes), and simply stared at the white line on the pavement below my front tire. It's not like we were going fast, right? The few times I chanced a peek ahead, the road seemed to stretch endlessly off into the distance. I didn't know how or if I could make it.
But I reminded myself that THESE moments are the ones I remember. If the climb was easy, if things went really well, if I felt great the entire time - what kind of benefit would I get. Certainly the physical. But what about the mental part?
When the going get tough (literally), can we back down? Can we simply stop, choose to quit, decide that this isn't for us?
Yes - yes we can.
But today wasn't my day.
Occasionally Kim would interrupt my thoughts with remarks about the scenery, the overlooks, the trees. But I was quiet, lost in my thoughts and contemplating every minute.
Eventually I made deals with myself: get to the next switchback, make it to THAT tree, count to 50 pedal strokes, look for the next .2 mile marker. And slowly but surely, we passed the switchback, made it to THAT tree, completed 50 pedal strokes, and reached the next .2 mile marker. It wasn't pretty. And my ragged breath made me incoherent.
But inch by inch, foot by foot, minute by minute, we grinded up the hill.
Soon the vegetation changed, pine trees dominated the landscape, and antenae from the top could be glimpsed from overlook points. I knew we were close.(View of Mt. Laguna, from one of the overlooks near the top. Taken on the descent)
Reaching the top, Kim right behind me, was like nothing else. I was THIS close to crying, saying I LOVE YOU to Kim - because for the previous 92 minutes we had suffered together, endured a climb like no other, and at last - had achieved our goal of making it to the top.
Kim was ecstatic. I was craving something non-gel, eventually settling on a Fig Newton from the General Store. Unfortunately, the cafe was closed (FYI: they're only open Thursday through Sunday...), and no hot cocoa for us. Next time, I swear.
It took us longer to pile on our layers than it did for us to get ready at the bottom. But finally we were ready for the descent: snapping pictures and making a few stops along the way. Good for unclamping our hands from the brakes, and shaking the tension out of our shoulders.
Our epic climb was followed by a fantastic run around the Rincon Valley Casino Parking Lot. No public urination for me, folks. I had had enough. Kim - being the super hydrated gal that she is, re-watered the shrubs and we were on our way.
I'm always amazed at how much I learn about myself from Mt. Palomar. It's not easy, it's not pretty, nor is it pleasant. But through the darkness, the pain, the moments of doubt, I learn how to push through, to persevere, to survive. And I always return, looking to learn and grow more.
Post ride we had hoped to go wine tasting, but we were both too exhausted. Instead a late lunch of pizza and then dinner of sushi fit the bill.
Today I was beyond happy to share this climb with Kim. She was incredible, such an inspiration. She was always there, grinding up the hill right along side of me. It was such a comfort knowing that I wasn't alone, that through this climb we were growing together, pushing and supporting one another. Thanks Kim for an incredible day!
Next time, I'm hoping for hot cocoa, though. Anyone else game?