Today’s route was supposed to be an easy roll up the coast, turn inland and up via Los Flores Cyn, Rambla Pacifica to Piuma Pass, follow Piuma down to Cold Canyon, ride up Mulholland Drive to Stunt Canyon, climb Stunt up to Saddle Peak Road and head on down towards the coast via Tuna Canyon. My estimates for the route were about 50 miles and roughly 5500 feet of climbing.
Prior to my accident I have ridden Los Flores a number of times and gradually increased my climbing ability to the point that I could climb the canyon without taking a break. Los Flores is a challenging ride with an average grade just shy of 9% and some sections top 19%. Thankfully you only see the 19% in a couple of hairpin turns, and because the traffic is very light, you can take off some of that grade by cantering.
However, sections which stay between 10 to 15% grade are much more of a challenge than the few very high percentage grades. Well, let’s get back to today’s ride; getting down to the coast and riding the 9 miles up the coast to the Los Flores turnoff was easy. But once I turned inland, it didn’t take me long to realize that this climb would hurt.
As you turn inland from the coast the first 300 yards are an easy climb at a 3% grade, then you pass the school and the roads turn up to a relentless 10+ %. That’s when I first knew that I was in trouble. My legs felt like lead and jelly at the same time. A very weird feeling and clearly not what you want for a 5K climbing ride. About one mile into the ride on a particular steep pitch of the road my body said:” today we are doing matter over mind”! – and with that I took a break.
Yes, I know, shame on me! I rode up this canyon at least 5 times without having to stop, and now I can’t get up the road without having to stop? Clearly I lost my legs! Or even worse, I turned into a wuss? I mean come on – I have done it, I know I can do it, so, why I can’t I tell my body today to do the same again?
OK, so once I took my first 30 second break and admitted to myself that I am simply not in the condition I was four weeks ago, and I remembered the time when I could not make it up that road the first time without having to rest. So, I admitted that I just might have to start over to regain the level of fitness I had.
With that mindset I started turning the cranks again and slowly made my way up. I took another two breaks before I got to Rambla Pacifico, a turn, which promises more steep climbs but also the first look at Piuma pass, a welcome sight. Once on Rambla, you seldom face less than 8% grade, and unfortunately, more often then not, more than 10%. But for some reason this mile is easier to ride. Maybe it is because the road hugs the mountain side tightly and when you look down all you see are the lower hills and the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, whereas climbing up through the narrow Los Flores Canyon you are closed in by the canyon walls?
In any case, I finally made it up to the pass. The climb from the ocean to here was 4 miles and 2200 feet. My legs wanted to quit a long time ago, but getting to this point was a must. At the same token I have to admit that halfway up the hill my mind was already made up that this would be the turn around point, except I would backtrack down a mile and then climb back up Schueren Road to Saddle Peak road to the peak, which sits at 2500 feet.
When you reach the top of Piuma and go a couple of hundred feet past, you will find a gorgeous pepper tree to your right which casts a beautiful circle of shade. Clearly I was not the only one who knew about that since I met a group of riders sprawled about, a perfect excuse to stop, eat, drink and shoot the breeze.
After a good 10 minute reprieve it was time for me to move on. A glorious mile of fast downhill, followed by another 1.6 miles up with 700 feet of gain were ahead. Once at the top, I decided to just sit for a bit and admire the 360 degree views of the ocean and the valley. The tough part was over, except the realization that my fitness level is considerably less than a month ago. I have a feeling that Los Flores will see a lot of me in the weeks to come in preparation for the Eastern Sierra Century, which is loaded with climbs and runs at altitudes above 8000 feet.
Today’s tale is one of failure, realization and reorganization. I clearly overestimated my ability of sliding right back into where I left off a month ago. Realizing that ‘mind over matter’ would only impede my progress, I chose to take a step back and rebuild the endurance and power needed for a good climb. Consequently I had to put my pride aside and will work on conquering the hill again in the weeks to come.
On the way down I had more time to reflect on today’s ride and I was wondering:
“Can you relate to my experience, and what did you do to regain your climbing legs?”