There are rides that you sometimes see on tv or in Graham Watson coffee table books, the ones with the mythical climbs and hot descents. Rides that look as if they should have a disclaimer "Do not try this at home". Rides that deliver as much pain as euphoria. The Redwood Road - Pinehurst - Skyline ride is one such ride.
It was to be an afternoon that we would attempt the ride. Rollout time was set for 2:00pm and we'd need to be back by 4:30pm because, my guide Larry, had a prior engagement to attend to. He told me that we'd need to 'elevate the pace a bit.' So, there it was, set before me, a high intensity ride with mythical climbing... Starting off on Redwood Road through the flat valley floor was at an easy pace. Each turn of the cranks warmed up my quads, gluts and hams for what I expected to be a marathon of mountain climbing.
Just a few days earlier we had done the Marshall Wall and Roaring Mouse Team had decimated my legs on a "Casual Ride." Now, here I am beginning this ride, set for an "elevated" pace, trying to raise the intensity with the Roaring Mouse Team Manager. A few gradual climbs along Redwood Road falsely prepared me, mentally, for what lay ahead. These soft climbs had me psyched up to find my cadence, only to give way to a light downhill.
Larry intoned, "There will be four serious climbs in this ride."
All at once it began. Redwood steeply inclined and the world of pain began. We cut a gnarled, twisty line up the sheer climb that switched back and forth nibbling at the the hearth of the mountain. As we spun wordlessly with an occasional grunt, we passed yellow cautionary street signs with curvy black squiggles and the words "Next 8 miles" on them. The sign doesn't warn us whether those treacherous curves ascend or descend. It was the first serious climb of the day, which would account for several hundred feet of the approximately 3600 feet we'd be climbing during the course of the ride.
Soaked in sun and sweat, our first "serious" climb had scorched away the sins of a previous life in which I had undoubtedly been a much lesser person and thus in need of such a repentance, or was that this life? Small lizards skitter through the sand which embraced the shoulder of the road only to disappear into the low canopy of desert plants comprised partly of short scrub trees, deciduous brush, and spiny succulents. Finally, after more minutes then I'd care to count, we crested the summit of the first climb. Being at the peak seemed oddly like standing on the blade of a butcher's cleaver... There was no where to go but down, down steeply through jagged, dangerous, turns that hold imminent demise as the reward for any err in handling.
I found myself barreling headlong down the mountainside, descending swiftly at a steady 35-40mph with my weight shifted to the inside through each sharp curve. At first I nervously hugged the corners. But slowly I gained the confidence (or abandon) to pedal through them at full speed. Doing a veritable cat and Roaring Mouse chase the entire way, I judged how much speed I could pile on by watching Larry burn through each banked turn. As my hubris grew, I began to push through harder to see if I could close up some distance.
In straight-aways the cars that followed behind us would almost catch up but then we would pull away through the turns, the agility of our light two wheeled vehicles far exceeding that of the four wheeled, petroleum fueled carbon monoxide spewers.
Amidst the last of the four major climbs we rolled past a weary cyclist, who sat leisurely beside the road in the shade. He motioned to us that he was ok and merely resting so we pedaled on. Minutes later, digging in for another desperately long climb, that same cyclist passed us by. Riding off into the distance around the steeply burnished curves he gained altitude along the wall of the valley. Several minutes went by and again, we passed by the same cyclist, sitting quietly by the side of the road as before. Later as we swapped the lead once more, we had gone from cat and mouse to tortoise and hare. The mountain grew steeper, we strained to hold pace and push ourselves up the ever more vertical roadway. We approached a stretch of road whose pitch was so wretchedly steep that it hurt to anticipate climbing it, yet we lumbered forward.
I half expected to see that same weary cyclist one last time, passing by me on this torturous climb but, he was no where in sight. This climb turned out to be the last and worst of the day. At the top, the two tortoises stood taking in a breathtaking view while, minutes later the hare made an appearance. As is true in all the fables, slow and steady wins the race.