Timothy Lake: 7400 Feet of Glory
Mile 35: I hate Natalie Ramsland’s guts.
Not because she climbs like a scared monkey, or because she’s the primary reason I am stuck on this mountain pushing gears, but because she knows what to expect next. She’s done a pre-ride.
Who is she to know what agony lies around the next corner? Who is she to know what grade is coming put the daggers into my quads?
She is omnipotent and unflinching. Her spirit unwavering. She is indefatigable.
At least, this is how it seems. And of course she is – she has done the pre-ride after all. It seems to me the difference between my imminent failure and her guaranteed success.
For the entirety of the ride thus far, I’ve been torturing by saying, "Hey Natalie – is this the climb?" after every slight rise. I figure this is what she deserves.
Mile 36: I love Natalie Ramsland.
Four miles from High Rock and we are still talking to one another. Hate has dissipated, replaced with adoration. The hill is making me crazy.
My vision is a cone. Up ahead through the tip of this cone, heat rises off of what will surely be a false summit. By my calculations, we have at least 4 miles left to climb. I look up. No vultures.
I am tempted to ask Natalie what will happen when we make the turn at mile 40.1 but I choose to keep quiet. Sal and Javad are little pulsing forms up the road a bit, they are dancing with the heat waves where the sky meets the pavement.
This climb could be the day’s accomplishment. This could be it. It is certainly enough.
But for some reason when we get to the top, we are going to keep riding for another 87 miles. This does not make sense at the moment.
I reach for another gear. Nothing.
Two days ago, Natalie told me that pain is simply a sensation, neither good nor bad. She said, "When you are climbing, just acknowledge the sensation and then dismiss it."
I’m a sucker most of the time, but even I can smell a pile of fresh Zen Crap from a mile away.
Me: You’re fucking kidding me, right?
Natalie: [laughs] Well, maybe.
Today she says this: "When I’m in pain, I always try to focus on whatever part of my body doesn’t hurt."
My mind goes to my elbows. Then immediately back to my legs. A bead of sweat drops from the tip of my nose onto my top bar. I notice the feather that Sal attached to the front of my bars the night before.
A magic feather. I’m not Dumbo, but certainly I can be tricked into performing.
The bead of sweat expands on impact and curls down the left side of the top-tube. Mile 37.4. I change the computer display so that I cannot see the mileage. It’s killing me.
The grade kicks up and I climb into my Hurt Locker.
The boys are getting closer – they’ve stopped for a piss break. We pass them and do not wave. The road curves to the left and we follow it; feet attached to pedals, pedals turning crank, crank turning wheels, wheels clawing away at covering miles.
I give in and turn the computer display back. 37.8 miles. That was a bad idea.
Food and drink. I have swallowed my roadie pride today and brought along a small Camelback. Faster, stronger, sexier and roadie-er riders will scoff. Screw it. Our inter-cycling style judgments can bite me.
Get on a bike. Ride it. That’s all there is.
Natalie is riding effortlessly. I’m sure she’d think that’s overstating the case a bit, but that’s how it looks from my vantage point. She becomes even tinier when climbing.
Memories of every meal that has touched my lips in the past two months rush through my mind. I am not a big girl, I’m a medium girl. But here on this grade with this bike and this sun, I wish I was a small girl. I curse every excess calorie. I vow to be more diligent. I swear off beer. I make promises I can never keep to a higher power that I don’t believe in.
A hill like this will do that to you.
Mile 38.9: Progress. And a new sensation.
Looking out from the dark pit of my Hurt Locker, I recognize a feeling of happiness encroaching. I’m still suffering, but I’m starting to actually like it.
Another summit ahead, most likely false. The boys have still not come back to us. Another tilting upward. 1% more. It’s an excruciating addition to the current grade.
"Boiling frogs." I say to Natalie.
"This grade. It keeps increasing ever so slightly. Just enough so that we might not notice it right away. Like boiling frogs… they never know what’s happening to them until it’s too late. By the top we’ll be dead."
Natalie and I climb out of the saddle for a few strokes to pull the summit closer. False or not, we want it. I tell myself it’s not the top. I can’t risk the disappointment involved with hope.
I’m wrong. It is. And as we crest, we see the colors of bikes and people through a stand of trees to the right.
They cheer. We look at each other.
"Is this it?"
Michael Wolfe, the organizer of this torturefest, greets us: "You’re at the top! This is it! All the major climbing is over!"
The result is almost anti-climactic: having primed myself for at least another few miles of teeth-gritting, I’m as surprised as I am relieved to be suddenly standing in front of a secret Rando Control, staffed with volunteers bearing boxes of goodies.
SALT! The craving hits me as soon as my eyes pass over the V-8 cans and potato chips. A man takes my bike out of my hands and parks it for me.
"They call me slug." he says.
We eat. The boys round the corner a minute later and join us. Cookies, water, sandwiches, sun-chips, crackers, and soda. Lawn-chairs. Sal pulls the turkey-and-bagel sandwiches that I prepared for him out of a red lunch box that is strapped to the front of his carbon racing bike with zip-ties.
The legs rest as the belly digests. We linger and receive instructions that there is only one more climb that we will remember – a four-mile ascent near mile 60. Sunscreen, aspirin, sportslegs, bottle refill and we’re off.
Bolstered by our successful ascent of the 15-mile grind, we’re refreshed and zippy. We head off down the road for long, sweeping descents and gentle rollers. We are the Rookie Randonneuring Bicycle Assault Gang. Spirits are high. Everything seems possible.
We fly and make it to the Clackamas Lake Historic Ranger Station in no time. Mile 58.8. Not quite halfway, but this is looking do-able. I might make it.
A quick stop for more sunscreen, more chamois butter, and bottle-topping. As we pull out I say, "OK, I think this is where they said the second climb was." We ready for another battle but spend two miles on rollers before it appears in earnest.
When we hit it, there’s no doubt. It’s the kind of hill that presents itself in total right from the start – you stare up as it shoots away from you. It dares you.
Climbing. The four of us move like fish in a pod. Shifting positions, trading locations. Traffic is light. Sal compliments Natalie and I: "You guys are riding well today."
We are. I’m proud of us. Considering the fact that I nearly pulled out the day before, I’m riding with good form. I’m happy, even. Unbelievable.
We reign in the top of the climb and coast a recovery. A left turn reveals an 8-mile downhill assault from hell. Javad and Sal disappear down around sweeping curves and we bring up the rear, cautiously but with the glee that only free miles can bring.
At the bottom of the hill, we stop the bikes and tramp off into the woods where we have hidden a cooler. Mile 76.9 – time for a Red Bull. Brilliant.
It’s here that we pick up Ned and Salvador, two men who’ve been a little ways behind us for the past 20 miles. We share the contents of the cooler and take a right on NFD 46 to begin a blistering assault on the next 11 miles. Sal and Javad go into workhorse mode and we form what I like to call a Front Loaded Sort of Rotating Pace Line.
Which is to say that the two Velo boys pull like donkeys and the four of us sit on the back and enjoy near effortless progress.
There is a reason I call that Sally-boy Shecko (Sicilian for donkey).
Two abreast and flying. It’s like riding on a chariot.
"I wish I had a whip!" I say to Natalie. Ned and Salvador are generous with gratitude and recognition. The PV Locomotive Boys wave it off and keep the pace rolling high.
The rest of the day is an exercise in rollers and descents. Not even the headwind on Highway 224 can stop us.
At mile 100 I shout "Century!" and a cheer goes up.
At mile 111 I note the point where I came unraveled during the previous 200k. Today I feel great.
At mile 116 Natalie and I have decided that we are definitely going to survive so we move up front to pull for the last 11 miles. Skimming along Faraday Road, it’s hard not to smile.
We pull into Fearless Brewing, turn in our brevet cards, and beeline for fresh clothes and good beer. Sally eats a burger the size of his head, I kill a porter and we begin the mandatory post-race glory stories. Natalie is off with Michael Sylvester (who incidentally "won" the brevet – we forgot to tell him it wasn’t a race) to retrieve the stashed cooler.
By 7:00pm I am curled up on my couch at home, watching the Tour de France and wondering what on earth I’d been so worried about the day before.
Give me 7,400 feet of climbing over flat, windy farmroads any day – Timothy Lake was one for the ages. My legs have learned lessons that can only come from hills that seem to never end. My heart is big and full French words I do not completely understand.
Now, bring me 300k!