Climbing Hills Slowly on Bikes aka Arizona Hill Climb State Championship

Life is like that – you go up and you go down! So, seemly fully prepared, and after a 3 am wake up to get to the hill in question, I am at the foot of Mount Graham in a very sparsely populated area of Arizona. Looking around at the view, it seems okay and assessing my physical and mental state, it seems reasonable to believe I’ll do okay in this event.

It’s a Time trial, but one thst uniquely starts in a race format. This year is its 40th running and a State Champion Polka Dot Jersey seems to me be very much achievable…until…well, really the wheels fell off! 30 km of climbing is something I actually like, but not this time or rather not for the second half of this particular nut job race. After the field was sent off, I got into the leading pack, and I kept an eye on heartrate to make sure I didn’t go over threshold. All went well until about 5km where our peloton fragmented, and the real hurt began.

The road entered the forested area, and it also ramped up in percentage to 10% or more. I usually love switchbacks since the gradient is less, it’s possible to accelerate out of the turn and to throw the bike at the next part of the climb. That’s not really the case on this beastly climb where the corners meant harder gradient and, consequently a higher heart rate.

This climb started at 1,110 Meters and at about half way (1,800 Meters), the lack of oxygen started to hurt. Legs were saying “Hey, give us some fuel; we can't do this anymore!.” Cardio was saying, “Screw you! I’m used to 300 Meters attitude and that’s all the juice you’re going to get!” Well, really! I’m pretty good at adapting to this situation, but not for this climb! My friend and professional mountain climber swears by Viagra of all things to help combat attitude problems but… well, for me?.. just NO!

So, the body was not really working well and instead of nabbing riders ahead of me as per usual, it was a case of looking back (yes, that is not a good sign ever!) and seeing how crappy I was doing in relation to others. Needless to say, I was zonked by about twenty riders from this point onwards; something my brain was trying to process rationally. Am I too old? Nope, as a guy in his late 60s came past me like I was riding a concrete bike. Am I too heavy? Nope, as a rather rotund German guy I know devoured me in one bite and with a lot less puffing than me. All of these physiological mental exercises are classic justication excuses of course, but we all exprience them at some point whether we are newbies or more practiced.

I started to try to remember the list of excuses that cyclists use so I could get through the last ten km by having something to preoccuppy my mind, because I really was not enjoying this at all. And this despite riding a great climb on a seldomly used road and breathing fantastically clean (though thin) air.

I eventually finished in two hours anmt yhe heady heights of 2,800 Meters in altitude! No chance at all of the Champions Jersey - next time! A quick Coke was drunk, and I realized that my attitude-induced headache would be best cured by a quick descent back down through the forests.

I had relearnt a few things that really do mean these sports are a never ending learning cycle and that you forget things at your peril. It only then struck me that perhaps my biggest error was gearing and being stubborn enough to ride this damned mountain in a standard 53/39 chainset while at home there was a lovely easy to change compact in the garage!

Yes, I know!

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