This was my third year climbing the “Rock Pile”. In my first year, I finished in 1:40:17, riding my old trainer bike, a Bianchi Giro, using the a 30:32 bottom gear. Even though I think I did great, I immediately recognized that “There is no such thing as a ‘low enough’ gear for this climb.”. A fact that I let my friends know repeatedly, during the months prior to my 2nd climb up the Rock Pile.
I returned the next year on my carbon bike, using factory gears, as my Bianchi frame around the bottom bracket cracked a month after finishing the first climb (how did that happen?..). My friend rode on factory gears the year before and I didn’t want to fiddle with my carbon bike, so I rode on a 39:34 bottom gear. I apparently forgot all my advice to my friends about using low gearing for the climb. Strangely, the climb didn’t go so well for me on the 2nd year and I had to get off the bike a couple of times to walk & recover. This hurt my time and I finished in just over 2 hours (but I felt great at the finish, thanks to my “rest periods” on the climb!)
This year, I built a bike for the climb from scratch, taking a 32 pound GMC Denali bike & stripping it down to the fork and frame. I kept the rear derailleur & brakes (who needs them anyway?), but replaced the bottom bracket & crank with a 44:32:22 triple and my 32:11 tooth cassette. I also added alloy handlebars, Sora STI shifters, and my Vuelta aero rims. I didn’t replace the seat (but perhaps I should have, as we shall see next). After my upgrades, the bike was a svelte 22 pounds.
The night before the ride, I had a bad headache. I drank some water & took some ibuprofen, but did not drink a lot of water. Therefore, I believe I was slightly dehydrated before the climb. Even so, I started the climb strong, averaging about 5.2 mph after mile 2. From my calculations, I averaged 4.5 mph in year one and every 0.5 mph faster than this equates to a 10 minute time savings. So, 5.2 mph is good, as I needed a buffer to stay over 4.5 mph at the finish. I find the first two miles are the hardest, as I need to find my pace for the climb. After then, the ride gets easier; at least for the next 2-3 miles. I continued to do well at mile 4, still averaging around 5 mph. I had some trouble on the dirt, as my seat was starting to bother me and I wanted to stand up & stretch a little. Unfortunately, my idea to put a hybrid tire on the back wheel was never fulfilled and I didn’t want to risk slipping on the down stroke. So, I remained seated until I got back onto the pavement. Now, at mile 5, I started having difficulty, as my butt was getting sore and I was experiencing stiffness in my gluteus maximus muscle group. I was still averaging more than 4.5 mph, though. So I thought I was still OK (I couldn’t have been more wrong…).
Just before mile 6, with about 1,000 feet of climbing left, my butt started to hurt a lot. I decided it would be better to get off the bike and rest a minute and possibly walk a little, before finishing the ride. I was 1:20:00 into the ride at this point; averaging just about 4.5 mph. I knew there were a short flatter section at the cow pasture, so I reasoned I could make up a little time, if I had to. When I got off the bike, my leg flared and I found I could barely stand. The gluteus maximus was locked into place and I literally could not lift my leg back over the saddle. I tried to take a step, but was only able to shuffle a little; each step more painful than the last. After several minutes of leaning against the bike, going nowhere, I shuffled over to a large rock and leaned/fell onto it. I stayed there for about 20 minutes, before a SAG crew came by. They gave me some water and helped me stand, but I knew I was going nowhere. Finally, I said I would wait until the SAG wagon came by and either get back on the bike, or hitch a ride. I went with option “B”. I recall thinking “never again” on the way up. Even sitting in the car was painful and I had to recline the seat all the way back, so I could keep my legs as straight as possible. I got to the top just in time to hitch a ride back down.
By lunch time, I was a little better and could walk around, but sitting & especially standing back up were very “ahem” challenging.
At first, I thought I was just dehydrated, but my gluteus remained sore for several days and now, two weeks later, I still feel a little twinge when I climb stairs. I believe I pulled a muscle on the climb. That, combined with (due to?) my getting dehydrated before the ride, caused my issues. Though I failed to conquer the mountain this year & did not beat my PR, I am happy to say that I also failed to remember how painful it was to sit on the side of the road, watching the other riders pass me by while my legs screamed at me. I will be back next year, if for no other reason than I refuse to finish this challenge with a “Did Not Finish” on my shoulders. I will train a little harder for next year and more importantly, I will make sure I am fully hydrated. Also, I might want to put a better saddle on the bike, just in case the cheap Denali seat caused me to pinch a nerve…