Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mc**** Canyon

I am not quite sure how to start this particular post.

How about "I can think of lots of names for McNeil Canyon that are fairly obscene . . ."?


"If you wanted to track me then you could follow the puddles of sweat I was leaving . . ."

I think I'll go with the second one.

This was one of those rides that I was "convinced" into doing by one of my more persuasive friends. I think she can persuade anyone to do anything, certainly she can me (she is already working on me for a 50K). It was she who told me she was following my sweat up the canyon. Ha!

This was one of those rides where I have to remember not to listen to other people. Suffering and challenge is all relative but there is also a certain amount of good natured exaggeration amongst my training partners, exaggeration that, I am afraid, I am prone to take on board. It doesn't help that one of the faster and stronger guys says "Ohh!" when we start talking about riding this on the day after the triathlon.

I don't need to do it. I am scheduled for 20 easy miles and was thinking of just riding from Chelan to Manson and back along the main road. But McNeil seemed more interesting and certainly less trafficked so I signed on.

We left at a civilized time, 7:30-ish, and headed east out of Chelan. This was, of course, a nice uphill followed by a fast and curvy descent down to Beebe Bridge and across the bridge. The drop was so much fun. The sun was warm with the promise of heat later on and it was just so nice to riding out in the scrub. A bit more desolate than the Santa Barbara back country but I'll take it, seeing the contours of the land is something I enjoy as is smelling the dry creosote scent of the bush.

For me this was a recreational climb if there can be such a thing. For Sj and Pa this was critical prep for the Richter Pass climbs in the upcoming IM Canada. Then we stopped and took a group photo at the "12% grade for the next five miles sign" and this all became rather real. Let's see, what was the steepest I had climbed of late besides the last hill from the BG Trail to my house? Snoqualmie Repeats where I did 3 mile climbs of about 1000 feet I think. This would be much longer.

Side note: turns out they calculate road grade using that good old rise over run thing. Who says that math doesn't come in handy? I was thinking about this on the ride and then M researched it as were driving off to a winery.

The climb started off fairly easy and I quickly settled into a nice cadence. Pa passed me pretty quickly—she is a really good climber and pretty soon she was a half-mile, then three-quarters of a mile, and then a mile ahead of me. I could see the red of her jersey, a speck in the distance and marveled at how fast she was going.

I wish I could say that I put my head down and climbed but I didn't. It was too pretty not to take notice of what I was seeing. Still I worked hard for the hour and seven minutes it took me to make the climb. Passed by a dead rattlesnake slowly enough that I could see various parts of its anatomy not crushed by whatever vehicle that had killed it. At one point some flying bug went into my ear and started tickling me as it tried to escape. This startled me so much that I almost went over the guard rail. Someone had painted mile numbers on the road and I was counting down the distance. Pa simply disappeared around some bend and I could see no one behind me. I was alone in the quiet of the morning, the silence broken only by breathing, the occasional whoosh of a car going past (with a welcome gust of air), and the barking of various dogs. It was so quiet that I could hear small pebbles coming off the "cliffs" above the road set loose, no doubt, by some small animal.

Sweat was pouring off me. Streaming off me really. Running down my face and into my mouth and then spraying out with my breath. My jersey was opened all the way and soaked with sweat—Sj could indeed easily track me from all the drips.

I made sure to drink as much water and electrolytes as possible while still making forward movement. Not easy given the steepness of the road but I just shifted into my "MTB fire road climbing" mode of long ago and spun on. Stopped a couple of times just to see where I had been and put my shaking legs down on the ground.

I discovered the reason why Pa disappeared. There is a series of curves going towards the summit. It is always steeper towards the summit too and the climb started getting steeper in that last mile.

Made the summit in a little over an hour and waited with Pa and our support truck (yes it is nice to have a SAG). Pretty soon Le, Sj, and Je came peddling up. A bit of a res and pictures—Le took this picture at the summit sign— and then it was a time for the descent.


No time to take pictures on the way down. :-P

Fourteen minutes to undo an hour's work.

Averaged 28 mph on the way down with a max speed of about 45 miles—not the fastest I've ever gone on a bike but darn exhilarating.

Just a blast. Started singing on the way down, a little elephant power ("Ganesh is Fresh" by MC Yogi), until another flying bug hit my face and I figured I had best close my mouth or else.

Je passed me on the way down cranking as fast as she could but was a little slower on the turns and I passed her again, spinning my hardest gear as fast as I could go. It was then I realized that my bike is just not geared for the kind of speed that the others were capable of. Sure I have a triple and they don't but there is an upper-limit after which pedaling just becomes a waste of time. I hit that limit on this descent. Still fun but I could have gone 50 mph with the addition of just one more small rear cog. Let me also blame the engine too. I am not actually used to pushing the hard gears because I focus on spinning. Makes me wonder what I could actually do once used to a harder gearing?

Anyway, we regrouped at the Beebe Bridge and climbed back up SR 150 and Chelan Falls Road on the way back into town. Work, but not as much as I had thought.

Seems my sense of steep has now been recalibrated, a very good thing. :-)

The rest of the day was devoted to eating, blueberry picking at Blueberry Hills (brilliant hash browns), winery tastings, eating, and having a beer (and Sj's traditional Stella Artois in the appropriate glass).

Speaking of which, since I enjoyed this ride so much I apparently owe Sj a Stella. Somehow this became the bet but I am not sure that was the original set of terms.

Hmm, see, she can convince me of anything. ;-)

Oh, and I think I'll just call this McNeil Canyon and nothing else.

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