The Spoke November 26, 2014

Cycle Oregon 2014 - 'The Hill' - The Magnificent Seven Chronicles

Writing about this year’s Cycle Oregon week ride has been on my mind for a while, but until now I've struggled to find the right talking points. It's just come to me; why not describe some of those week-defining moments and share them with you. So here goes, this is the first one; 'The Hill'. 

Scene setting.

It's Day Four. By the end of the day we'll have ridden around 280 miles plus about 20,000 feet vertical gain which in my world meant a lot. By and large the camping experience had gone reasonably well, and much to the annoyance of everyone else I've been getting just enough sleep. Day Four was always going to be tough because about 70 miles in there's a climb that has struck fear into most people’s hearts; a circa 16% climb of an undefined length stands before us and the town of Madras. It's hot. The ride itself is turning out to be pretty tough. I struggled up to Dufur on Day Two and nothing has changed; the legs have not got anything extra available. I'm climbing but I've got no guts. Bottom line is I have not done enough training in the fun up to this year’s tour. No point worrying about it now - I'm here - in the saddle – taking in the amazing landscapes before me. Frank is in great shape. He's loving it. He's eating up the hills and has been steadily dropping me in favour of riding with (Californian) Craig's eldest, Allie. (Craig is riding the Co-Motion tandem with his youngest son, Carson). Lukey, I think, is loving it too. He's riding solidly, going at his own pace and sneaking the end-of-day run home. Fair play. So what about this hill then?

The last water stop is positioned just before the climb. I've done a piece to camera and it's really hot. We've been riding through a gorge and next up, is, well, up. As a prelude there's a 10% warm up. This ascent begins almost immediately from the rest stop. Most worryingly, it's a killer. My legs are leaden and I have no energy. I'm pissing sweat and feeling bloated from the ridiculous volume of San Pellegrino I've just consumed. Note, ditto, everyone else......but it is sooooo delicious...... Anyway, I'm going uphill, slowly. Frank and Allie are slightly ahead, Lukey slightly behind. The majority of folks are crawling their way up, mindful if what's waiting ahead. To my right I can peer into the gorge; from here it looks pretty. I eventually reach the top and free wheel over the summit. I start to descend, very rapidly. 

The descent is aggressive which usually would not bother me, but this, of course is the precursor to the proper climb. What goes down and all that. It's really steep. The legs are pleased of the break but I know it won't last for long. Moments later I see the bottom. The road bends hard left/right and crosses the river. It is Cycle Oregon’s climb of truth. It is going to find me out. 

I cross the river, change down and the resistance immediately cuts in. Click, click. I'm already in bottom gear. Nowhere to go and at the foot of the hill. Not a good sign. I look up and see many cyclists already weaving all over the road. The road disappears to the left. Maybe that's the top? No. Not at all. Nowhere near. I need to button down and grind it out. I'm blowing. I'm not yet out of the saddle, but I'm not far off. I'm passing most other riders, but it counts for nothing; can I continue? I've lost touch with Frank and I dare not look over my shoulder for fear of a terminal wobble. 

I pass what feels like a marker where the road bends back on itself and continues onwards and upwards. I ride through the corner but I cannot see the end.

I am running hot and out of the saddle.

I am doubting how much longer I can sustain this effort. 

My head is not in the right place.

I am in trouble here.

Gravity is winning. 


I'm screaming this in my head. Sweat just pours off my brow. I feel every single revolution. I push my legs but they are not responding. I tell myself the mind gives up before the body. I progress, even more slowly. It must be painful to watch. I am just able to push the pedals round. Cyclists are walking all around me. I don't want to be just another walker. You are better than them I tell myself. But this is the ride of truth. And truth be told, I am not. 

As it transpires, 2/3rds of the way up, I finally stopped. 


I unclip my feet a fraction before I fall off. 

"Awww you did really well," one rider says to me. I practically spit my response; "It's not good enough" I replied, stomping off, disgusted with myself. Looking ahead with a little more composure I see the road bends to the right and I guess there is the summit. I was right. Crossing a cattle grid, the gradient eases up just enough for me to get back on the saddle, ride over the top and towards the man who is spraying everyone down with a hose pipe. The cold water is welcome, but it's academic. Like many others, I have not earned this refreshing respite. 

I ride up to Frank and Allie who both successfully completed the climb to the top. Yes, I am extremely competitive, but I also respect the achievement of others. They did really well. The same can be said of Lukey who, in his own words, 'zigzagged his way up the hill' where necessary. Again, respect. 'Even' Craig managed to ride up it. Heaven literally knows how he did it. Talking later that night he recalled a semi-transcendental experience that gave him the energy and determination needed to get him and Carson to the top. Just an amazing effort.  

I would like to be able to say that I gave up too easily and maybe that was the case, but at the time, I had nothing left. Afterall, that is what counts. There was absolutely nothing in the legs I could call on. They were out. Anyone who knows me, will know that hurt. 

The following day the ride (Smith Rock Loop) took us past the turning where 'The Hill' was. I had been considering a second attempt the moment I had stepped off the bike the day before. Frank offered to come with me and ride it for a second time and I welcomed the company. It was morning, I had eaten and had had a reasonable night’s sleep, so this time it was more loaded in my favour. We rode down to the bottom of the gorge, meeting a couple of guys in a pick-up truck who wanted to know if we were lost. 

Starting back up the hill, I immediately felt better. Frank and I were in perfect synchronicity, riding smoothly up to the first bend. There was no talking, we just concentrated on the hill at hand. I recognised where I had stopped the previous afternoon. There was no chance I would be stopping for a second time. On reflection I could see why it had gotten the better of me before. Climbing fresh, it was still tough. At 2 miles long, it was the kind of hill that would always present a challenge, let alone after 70 hilly miles. Riding over the cattle grid, the hill was ours. We saw another rider (from Cycle Oregon? Probably), about to descend, in anticipation of another attempt we surmised. 

This time the summit was greeted with a "Yeeeeeesssss!" from me and a slap on the back for Frank. Conquered, second time around. I could sleep easy. 

Now let's get on with the rest of the ride.

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