Monday, May 21, 2018

Climbing Hills or Mountains: The Ride to Jamestown

My personal history with climbing on bicycles is a tempestuous one. I have had years during which I've tried to force myself to climb, even when I didn't desire it, and other years when I've avoided it entirely (or at least as much as is possible while living at the base of the Rockies). No matter my intent for the season or year, there's a reality that some amount of climbing is going to take place on just about any ride; but as stated in the past, I am surprisingly skilled at avoiding climbing in a place that has quite an array of opportunities to head upward.

My reality, however, is that I am a horrible climber (is there a term worse than horrible to use here, probably - perhaps, 'appallingly shameful' is better phrasing). One would think that with the terrain surrounding our geographical locale I would improve at riding uphill, but that never seems to quite happen.

I believe this is due to a variety of factors that include my lack of regular, concentrated practice, riding heavier-than-average bikes, having knees and hips that frequently decide to quit on me, and of course, the extra meat on my body, which certainly doesn't do me any favors when fighting gravity.

Since acquiring our tandem, I believe Sam has made a purposeful attempt (though he will likely deny this) to cajole and sometimes nearly force me into riding places that I have managed to avoid during our 15 years in Colorado. The thing with riding a tandem is that two people have to agree on where they are going because where one goes the other must follow.

Often times I leave planning the ride to Sam (with some exceptions) because I frankly don't enjoy the process of thinking about where we'll be going. Sometimes, I request an approximate distance maximum or have a request not to climb much if my body is being uncooperative on the given day, but other than that, it's kind of a happy moment to not have to plan the route.

There is another reality though in that our weighty tandem is not truly set up for road rides. Positioning is such (out of necessity due to its large size and our vertical challenges) that we sit quite upright. While it can be comfortable to ride upright, long climbs or traveling longer distances on roads can become more painful in this position, we've found.

Still, we've attempted to not allow this positioning to deter us from using the tandem. Although we've found that there is a maximum distance that is realistic on this bike, we've done a fair amount of riding on it in our relatively short time owning it. So, when Sam wanted to join a group ride that was heading up (meaning, we were going to climb) into a local, tiny town called Jamestown, I was on the hesitant side of the coin.

"As long as the group understands that they can't wait for us because we'll be slow," I replied to Sam's idea. In truth, I've wanted to ride to Jamestown for a number of years, but haven't. Initially, I didn't feel that I was capable, then we had flooding which destroyed the road to this little hamlet, and then -- well, there's just the fact that I have continued to make excuses. While the road still isn't completely repaired since the 2013 flood, it's repaired enough that others have continued to ride it.

The descriptions I've overheard from other cyclists make the climb to Jamestown sound difficult, and the thought of riding a heavy, slow tandem up something like this did not sound appealing in the least. But, it's also true that I tend to push myself more on the tandem than on my single, so I figured this was as good a time as any to give it a try.
This is what the ride looks like. Some might love the looks of this, but I fear it - though it is admittedly not nearly the elevation (or steepness) that could be gained in our location.
The ride itself consists of climbing to Jamestown and then, assuming one is returning to Boulder County, a descent back down. So, from the moment we leave our door, it's an uphill battle (literally), but the good news was that we'd have (hopefully) a fun down hill all the way back home, which would make up for the extremely slow speeds ascending.

We met up with the group that was riding and prepared to be left behind. I wasn't entirely sure why we were riding with the group because we both very well knew there was no possibility of maintaining the speeds they would, but still we stood, waiting for the ride to begin.

As predicted, we were left behind at about mile 5-6. It's just a reality of riding this way, but I was actually happy to be alone. I was not feeling the ride at all. My knees were cranky, my whole body felt tired, and before we'd even really begun the route, I felt mentally over this little adventure.

Sam, sensing that this might not be a good day to attempt this ride, suggested that, since we were on our own now, we could head in another direction that wouldn't have so much climbing, but we'd have to get up the road we were on in order to do so... and so, we cranked on with me whining about how incapable I felt.
The road we were riding to get to the base of the mountains -- looking back down at the steady, though not-as-horrible-as-it-seems-while-riding incline.
The road we were on is one of those that just tends to be irritating. It's not particularly difficult necessarily (though there is constant climbing for the approximate 7 miles), but it just mentally gets me each time. We'd been on that road a few too many times in the weeks prior as well, and I don't think it was helping the situation. The thing is, I actually do better oftentimes when it's a short, steeper climb than when it's a long, drawn out one that isn't quite as brutal - but, I knew what I'd signed myself up for, so we kept on pedaling.

Eventually, we reached our decision spot: We either continued on the path to Jamestown, or we could head another direction and away from the climbing.

"Well, we've already come this far," I said to Sam, "Might as well keep going. Besides, we can always turn around if it gets to be too much, right?"

Sam responded in the affirmative and off we went, continuing our quest to ride to Jamestown on this beast of a tandem.

By this point in the ride, my mental state had improved. My body was not as cooperative, but I didn't expect it would be. We had a short bit of travel on a somewhat busy highway and then a quick westward turn to head up into the Rockies.

As we rode, Sam pointed out all the cars parked at the base so that they could ride from that point instead of riding to the base and then starting the climb. I somewhat envied them, but there is something to be said for pedaling to the destination and then completing the goal. Plus, it would feel like cheating living so close, at least in my mind.
Indication/warning that the road is still not completely repaired from our nearly-5-year-ago flooding
The ride was pleasant and the temperature, while cool, was actually nice for the climbing portion of this ride. Other cyclists came and went, passing us without much effort. Some waved as they went flying past us down the hill, others who passed us going up the hill asked where we were headed (apparently, we look like complete fools decked out in lycra yet riding this upright bike on the roads, so I'm supposing that's why we received so many inquiries).
A brief stop on the climb up to Jamestown - I still haven't mastered drinking while riding this tandem.
My mood had improved tremendously from the beginning of this ride and the climbing really wasn't bothering me, despite our incredibly slow pace. Occasionally, I'd inquire as to how many more miles we had to cover to arrive at our destination, but it was out of curiosity rather than out of need to stop.

We still hadn't seen our group head back down the mountain, and I reiterated to Sam that I genuinely hoped they weren't all waiting for us at Jamestown. Just about the time the words had come from my mouth, the front of the group came racing down the hillside. "Hey! Have fun!" we yelled out as they went tearing past us.

One of the last riders came back to check on us before heading the rest of the way down with the group, and we assured him that we were fine, just slow on climbs.

Truthfully, I was enjoying this portion of the ride. It was not remotely as bad as I'd anticipated it would be from stories I'd heard. While there were brief moments that were a bit more difficult, on the whole, it was pleasant and doable, I thought.

Soon after, we pedaled our way into Jamestown, an adorable, small little pocket in the mountains. We took a few moments to appreciate the change in scenery from the low lands of home and then decided we'd better not spend too much time as it had taken quite a bit longer than we'd anticipated to arrive.
Trees and other foliage were just starting to bloom, but I can imagine how beautiful it would be when everything turns. Guess that means we'll be heading up again soon!

Standing outside the post office in Jamestown
For some perspective, it took us a bit over an hour and a half to climb to Jamestown and about 20 minutes to come back down (and that was with riding the brakes a good portion of the way down).

One of the things I realized during this ride is that I have such a tendency to talk myself out of climbing because I hear stories about certain places and make assumptions about how it will feel or my belief that I am incapable of completing the ride to whatever the destination. This ride was nowhere near as bad as I'd expected and I actually enjoyed it. I have a tendency to forget that with climbing often comes a great view of surroundings, and a sense of accomplishment. It's much easier to distract myself when there's something of interest too.

Although this ride is not in a category I'd term epic (though climbing on our HHH tandem can make any climb feel "epic"), it was a good reminder to self that, especially when we're pedaling together, anything is possible. Sam may make a climber out of me yet - particularly if we keep heading to such beautiful end points.


  1. GE, your post reminds me of how just getting out there is entirely worth it! Riding-wise, I have modest expectations as I grow older. It doesn't mean I don't have goals, but I've learned that being able to ride, no matter how slow, is worth the journey. Like your tandem, my Clementine is heavier and riding style is upright - maybe more than I would've initially liked - but in the grand scheme of things I think it's still a good climber, and if I allow myself extra time the bike should satisfy me for years to come.

    1. I think that is the important thing that I keep forgetting - I need to just allow for the extra time to get where we're going. :)

      Sitting a little more upright can be nice, but I've found sometimes too upright causes it's own issues. It took me awhile to find my happy spot with my single Rivendell, but now that I have, it works quite nicely (despite being a bit on the large side).

  2. Very impressive! I’m a terrible climber too. Living in the Mississippi Delta, I don’t get a lot of chances to do sustained climbs. When I do, though, they’re never as bad as I expected them to be. It’s shocking how much of the ride happens in my head. On the other hand, I’ve never done anything like your climb to Jamestown!

    1. Sometimes I dream of living in a flatter place, but then I think that I'd miss having the option to climb too. We humans are a fickle bunch! :)


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