After seeing that the MS150 Royal Gorge loop seems to have a 2 mile, 10% average grade climb on it at the finish (after you've ridden 140 miles in 2 days) I decided I better start upping the ante on road bike climbs. So yesterday I headed back to my nemeis climb, Sunshine Canyon.
Sunshine Canyon starts about a mile from my office, which makes it convenient but doesn't change the fact it hurts. It hurts real bad. The numbers I've seen on it say its a 6.7% average grade for about 4 miles, with stretches up to 14%. Combine that with my smallest gear ratio of 39x25 and it all equals a serious effort for me.
So off I went, marking my laps in the normal spots. I've done this climb on my mountain bike many times, but the gearing advantage (22x34 rules) more than outweighs the weight difference. I can climb the entire climb on my mountain bike without having to stop or having my heart jump out of my chest. Not so much on the new road bike.
As I get into the "meat of the climb", my heart rate skyrockets as my pedal cadence starts to grind downward with every pedal stroke. I typically spin the pedals at 90rpm, but once I run out of gears going up Sunshine my cadence starts dropping into the 60rpm area. I trudged and trudged until I felt I needed a break, my first of two. Looking down I see I had made it about 2.6 miles before blowing up and stopping. The good news is that my heart rate was dropping quickly when the effort stopped.
So I hop back on knowing that I've got a whole lot more climbing to do if I'm going to reach my goal of Bald Mountain before turning around. I mentally have to keep myself going, focusing on breathing and turning the cranks. The sun feels like it is resting on my shoulders and there is nowhere to hide on this climb, it just never feels like it lets up at all.
Finally I come around the corner to familiar territory, the cutoff for Poorman Rd. This won't be my ultimate destination, but it is a spot I deem worthy of my next break under a shade tree. On my mountain bike, I often am coming from the other direction as I climb the dirt Poorman Rd climb quite often. But today I am on the road bike and I've got a lot more work to do.
After I get my heart rate under control, drink some fluids and wait for another roadie to get by me, I hop bake on my trusty steed and go into unknown territory for me. I had never ridden past the Poorman cutoff in Sunshine Canyon, so I had no idea what was around each corner. What I quickly found out was that around every corner was a huge dose of pain. Using the guy in front of me as motivation (and learning from how he was riding across the road to cut out some of the steepness when he could), I kept going. I got to a section that was so steep I had to get out of the saddle and literally have gravity help me push the pedals towards the ground, in a rocking, totally unfluid motion. My legs felt like huge pistons in an engine, just chugging along at max capacity, but barely moving.
Somehow, I managed to keep chugging even though I was into what was surely the 14% sections I had read about. Finally, I crested a hill that gave me a short descent, and felt like I had just found an oasis in the desert. After the short descent, I continued climbing until I had reached nirvana, which today was in the form of the Bald Mountain parking lot. I pulled into the lot and sat under a shade tree to cool off from the searing sun. Happy that I had made it to my ultimate destination, but wondering how many more times I would have to do this climb to alleviate those two stops....
As you can see from my heart rate monitor graph, I was at the upper limits. The two big dips are from where I would take my rests, and then get started. It didn't take long for my heart rate to jump from the 120s at the rests back into the 170s. The ride up took somewhere around 40 minutes, the ride down about 10.