Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's like a drug....

This past week, the stars aligned and my schedule worked out such that I was able to join the group for the Tuesday evening Diablo ride.

As I left work I noted that it was a perfect 76 degrees with only a slight breeze...couldn't have picked a better evening for my first ascent of Diablo this year.  The only problem was, as I headed up the Dublin grade and then down the other side, I noticed that the temperature continued to climb....until eventually stopping at a decidedly warm 87 degrees when I pulled in to the parking lot where we were to meet.

Evidently, I wasn't the only one motivated by the nice weather. Jim showed up along with Larry who not only hasn't been up Diablo this year, but hasn't been riding much at all since last year.  They both stated that their goal was modest, Larry wanted to make it to the first ranger station and Jim was keeping him honest...I mean keeping him company.

I on the other hand, known for making bad choices and stupid decisions, had decided I needed to make it to the summit even if it killed me.  Diablo, in my mind anyway, can be broken down into 4 distinct sections.  The first section to the ranger station/entry gate is not only tough, it's pretty much full sun the entire way.  With the breeze that had picked up, I'm pretty sure the temps had gone down from the 87 I saw on the dashboard of my truck, but it was still hot and I had finished almost an entire bottle of water by the time we got there.

At the beginning of the second section, after the ranger station, you enter an almost flat (4%) area that is in the shade and allows for a nice recovery. This doesn't last too long though and soon enough we were climbing again and although we were in and out of tree coverage, I still sweat like crazy and by the time we hit the junction where the north and south roads meet, I had almost emptied both bottles.

It's not like I haven't been riding at all this year. I've done a couple of 40+ mile rides and had been trying to make sure every ride had a decent amount of elevation, Diablo though is a different beast. It's basically an 11 mile ride that gains 3500ft with almost no relief.
After regrouping, resting for a couple of minutes and filling our bottles at the junction, we faced the third section.  For me, this is usually a lot harder than the first portions.  This evening though, I felt way better than I expected and although my heart rate definitely stayed high and my legs were feeling the effort, I actually felt pretty good.  I'm sure the fact that the temps had dropped and I wasn't cooking in the full sun helped, but I was able to get in a rhythm, shut off my brain and disappear inside my head for a bit.

There's one part that I always dread. It's a consistent 8+% and although it's probably less than a half mile, it always kicks my butt.  This evening though, as soon as we got to the beginning, I actually upshifted, stood and concentrated on trying to make smooth strong circles with the pedals.  I wouldn't say I attacked it, because that would imply I was fast, I wasn't.

I did though give it a good solid effort and by the time I turned the last corner where it mellows, I had worked in the red zone for a few minutes and was both puffing like a freight train and sweating to the point that it was running in to my eyes.  The best part about efforts like that are when they stop.  And sure enough, as I sat back in the saddle and backed off, I could feel the flush of endorphins flooding through my system. 

I remember this feeling happening a lot more frequently when I used to run.  There was almost always a point where you would be making long easy strides, your breathing would be smooth and you'd feel the endorphins flowing into your system as if you were on an IV drip. They call this the runner's high and for many, it becomes a drug forcing them to push farther and faster in an effort to get there.

On the bike though, this feeling is rare. I'm not sure why, you're putting good effort into both, both are exercise and both push your body.  With biking though, it seems like the efforts have to be much more extreme to get the same level of endorphin kick.

The rest of the climb is more of the same. A mix of steep, fairly steep and just kind of steep sections until you make the turn at Devil's elbow. From here you know you only have a few more turns before you get to what I'm referring to as the 4th and final segment. The driveway....(I put it in italics because it's supposed to impart drama...and believe me, the driveway IS drama. I would have put the "duh, duh, duh" sound effects if I knew how)

If you've ever been p Diablo, you know the driveway as the last hundred yards of hell. If you've never been up Diablo, you need to. The driveway is a short, narrow section that ranges from 15-20% and knowing that if you stop, you'll never get started again, forces you to either continue or arrive at the top walking.

Today though, knowing that I had burned all my matches on the way up, I, for the first time (probably ever) made a good decision and skipped the driveway.  I knew, had I tried it, I would have cramped up and I just wasn't ready for that level of suffering today.

Of course, as soon as the decision was made and we began our descent, I regretted it. I've never ridden up this mountain and not finished. Not done the driveway....today was the first time. And, while it may have shown good judgement and could even be seen as a sign of maturity, it bugged me.

Of course, the reward for any climb comes in the descent and today didn't disappoint. The weather was perfect, the views were amazing and I do love me some downhill....descending, along with the endorphin rush from ascending has once again left me feeling sane and almost normal....

One of my  favorite quotes is by Bill Phillips that says,
Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent yet underutilized antidepressant

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