Went up Mt. Diablo today, for a three-hour hilly ride (3000′ of climbing). I ran out of time before reaching the summit, though I did make it past the junction of South and North Gate. It didn’t help that I got lost for about half an hour before finding Mt. Diablo Scenic Road – a connector road that was on the map doesn’t seem to exist, so I wasted a good deal of time retracing my tracks.
That said, Mt. Diablo wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d been expecting, and wasn’t a huge challenge at all. I turned on the grade estimator on my Garmin Edge 305 about halfway up, and discovered to my surprise that anything less than about 10% grade feels “easy” now. Sure couldn’t have said that a year ago…so I must be getting better at hill climbing. Too bad I’m not doing AIDS Lifecycle this year; I have the feeling that Quadbuster would recede into triviality.
All this is sort of new to me. I am not a diehard cyclist of the sort who climbs up Mt. Diablo three times a week just for the fun of it, nor am I one of those blazingly fast people who can cruise up to the top of Page Mill without noticing the grade. I like cycling, but I’m neither fast nor powerful – the best that can be said for me is that I can ride more or less all day. I’m five feet tall, weigh 150 lbs, clock in at 36% bodyfat – definitely not one of those lean cyclists who pass me every day. I’m doing the Death Ride because I like challenges and I think this one is (barely) within my reach, but I expect to be solidly in the back of the pack. I’ll be happy to manage it at all.
This reminds me of the AIDS Ride in some respects – everyone does it for different reasons. I do it because I believe AIDS is one of the most serious issues facing the world today, because I have a lot of friends who do it, and because it’s tremendously fun – I get to dress up in crazy costumes every day for seven days straight, and everyone knows me. I used to do it for the physical challenge, but it’s just not that challenging anymore – I know I can do it, it’s just a matter of putting in the time. I’m correspondingly less interested in doing it.
So why am I doing the Death Ride? Well, part of it is to stay in shape. I must confess that I am not the sort of cyclist who just loves to get out and ride. (If I were I’d probably be one of those lean cyclists passing me on the way up Mt. Hamilton.) In fact I can usually think of at least five other things I’d rather be doing – today I really wanted to be weaving, I have a new project I’m excited about and wanted to work on it instead. So, left to my own devices, I’d probably just go to the gym three days a week. I’d also probably weigh 180 pounds instead of 150, since I like to eat. I like cycling, but need a reason for doing it – in the past it’s been AIDS Lifecycle. This year, it’s the Death Ride. So it’s keeping me in shape.
I also like challenges. Hills have always been my bugaboo for cycling, due in part to my body shape (short and squat). I can keep up reasonably well with people on the flats, but as soon as we hit a hill I usually fall behind. I’ve also historically hated hill climbing. So this is a way to push the envelope a little.
Physical stuff is a big challenge for me. Intellectually I’m one of the fastest people I know, but physically, I was the kid who always got picked last in gym class – shorter, smaller, and not as coordinated as everyone else. I didn’t get involved in anything physical until I took Impact, a women’s self-defense program that taught full-contact, realistic-scenario self-defense. (I wrote an essay about it, and my subsequent involvement with Impact, here. Read it; I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.) Impact blew me away – I had never thought of myself as physically powerful, but I had plenty of power to defend myself, and (after assisting several classes) turned out to be a good fighter – strong and fast. I had never thought of myself as being particularly physical before. It was hugely empowering – not just from the standpoint of not having to worry about rape anymore, but also discovering that there was a body attached to the brain. So it got me started thinking physically.
Then, of course, I did the AIDS Ride, to fill a pledge I had made to an extraordinarily courageous, HIV+ woman I met while teaching Impact. (I wrote an essay about this, “Why I Ride“, which is also worth reading.) It was a huge physical stretch for me, the more so because on my first attempt, I pulled a hamstring on the very first training ride, badly enough that I was off the bike for a good six months. For my second attempt, I had only eight weeks to train, and (again) promptly injured myself as soon as I started. Fortunately I had a great coach, who pulled me through it. It was a huge revelation to discover that I could, in fact, ride 585 miles in 7 days – something I had never thought I’d be able to do.
Now I’m trying to push the envelope a little more, with the Death Ride. If I seem kind of timid about training, it’s because I have a long history of not being physical, and of injuring myself while training. I tend to be intimidated by new routes – I had a bad experience early on with a route that was too difficult for me (got stranded and nearly hypothermic by the time I managed to get some help). I get lost a lot, because I have no sense of direction. I don’t expect to be fast, because of my build.
But by God, I’m going to get there.