I am a quitter. I am a master of psyching myself out. The two are related. I know these things about myself, and I battle them constantly. It's like I have those good and evil angels sitting on my shoulders, except for me one is saying, "You can't do this. You're too weak and out of shape. Just who do you think you are." The other one is saying, "That's just self-defeating nonsense. You're stronger than you've ever been. Of course you can do this." Wanna place any bets on which voice is louder?
Today was a case in point. I've been wanting for a few weeks to drive over Thompson Pass to go for a bike ride, and today the weather and my schedule finally cooperated. My goal was a long ride, 50-60 miles, with some rolling hills for added training. I didn't really want to drive for over an hour to reach a good location, however, so I ended up deciding to stop at Tsaina Lodge, 35 miles north of Valdez and just the other side of the pass.
Having just driven down the pass, I'd managed to convince myself that there was no way I was going to be able to ride up it. Instead, I thought I'd ride further north 25 miles or so.
Unremembered by me, right after Tsaina River is a long, steep hill (apparently known as Ptarmigan Drop). By the time I got to the bottom of it, I was quite convinced I'd be lucky to make it back up, especially given that I'd be riding up into a headwind. I'd only ridden less than five miles, however, so it was far too soon to quit. I made a bargain with myself that I'd turn around after ten miles. At 9.3 miles I was at the bottom of another hill. No way was I going to be able to make it up that. I turned back toward my truck.
About the time I hit the bottom of Ptarmigan Drop, my legs were finally warmed up. I dropped into my granny gears and spun up the hill, just barely keeping above 5 mph for nearly a mile. But I did it without stopping and without walking.
Between the top of the hill and Tsaina was pretty easy riding, even with a headwind. I decided I wasn't ready to be done, and 20 miles wasn't worth having driven 35 miles for. Another bargain with myself: I'd keep going up the pass until I felt like stopping, but I wasn't allowed to stop at the bottom of an uphill. No being a weenie.
Another steep up, this time at 4.5 mph. I thought about quitting, but a long, relatively flat stretch beside the river beckoned me. By this time I was near to reaching a secondary goal for the day - passing the 400-mile mark for the season so far. To reach it, I'd have to make it to the top of the pass.
Another 4.5 mph hill, another long, flat section. I passed the 32-mile marker and thought, I can do this. It's only another four miles. As I pedaled on, doubts started creeping in. I hadn't yet seen the 31-mile marker. Then, moments later, there was the 30! Only two miles to go, I can do this for sure. I kept pedaling, and as I neared the 28-mile marker, I realized that I'd misremembered. The top of the pass was at 26 miles. Another two miles further.
At this point pride kicked in. I'd been composing this post in my head, and there was no way I was going to tell you that I'd almost made it to the top. I knew Thane would say, "What did you quit for if you were that close?" And really, it was only another two miles. Another 4.5 mph hill, this one at least a mile long. Just make it to the end of the guardrail and you can stop. Crap, that pickup almost hit you - better stop and compose yourself. Pretty soon, I was able to shift into a higher gear - not quite a granny any more. Then it came into view - the sign marking the top of the pass.
I'd intended to reward myself with a granola bar (my PB&J sandwich from lunch was long gone), but the urge to just git-er-done was too great. I nearly grimaced at the thought of back-tracking 11 miles to my truck, but there was nothing to be done about it.
At this point you'd think that I'd be thrilled - 11 miles, all downhill. I'm just not that fond of going down at high speeds, however, especially when I know the road is riddled with cracks and holes. It's just a disaster waiting to happen. I kept my speed down to a reasonable 30 or less, and rode in the lane rather than on the shoulder.
(If you've ever wondered why cyclists don't like riding on the shoulder, I'll tell you the two-word answer: rumble strips. At one point I was riding at 25+ right on the white line when a rumble strip suddenly appeared. Luckily I was able to steer off of it after only bumping over the first few strips, but the potenial for a bad fall was high.)
I actually got bored with coasting. My legs were tired, a couple of minor rises proved that, but I wouldn't have minded some flat road to pedal on. Don't get me wrong, however - I was thrilled to see my truck appear around the corner. All sorts of my parts were ready to be done with this ride. I think even Madeleine was tired. She'd been giving me a bit of resistance to shifting on the last hill.
It wasn't the ride I'd planned, but I was satisfied nonetheless. 38 miles, 3 hours 40 minutes, and plenty of hills. That evil angel was lound in my brain the entire time, but the good angel and I managed to ignore him. Despite being convinced that there was no way I was ready to ride up the north side of Thompson Pass, I did it.
There's only six weeks left until the Fireweed 400. I have to be ready to ride 120 and 80 miles in two days. I foresee lots of trips over the pass for hill riding in my future. Maybe, just maybe, a ride up the steeper south side, too. (Shut up, evil angel. I can too do it!)