Winter Training Begins – Auburn and Iowa Hill

Well, it’s been a long while since I’ve updated my blog.  I’m happy to announce that I’m still alive and kicking (and pedaling for that matter).  A long race season finally came to a close this past fall, offering me a much-needed break from cycling.  I spent some time camping and exploring, and I made sure to always Instagram the shit out of everything fun I did.  Someone out there has to try and compete with all the cute babies and pets, and that person is ME.

Typical annoying pet photo on Instagram.  Oh that's mine?  Shit.

Typical annoying pet photo on Instagram. Oh that’s mine? Shit.

Even though it still counts as cycling (and not resting), I also got a couple months of mountain biking in this fall season.  Where road biking almost always has some sort or training focus, mountain biking still feels purely recreational, and it keeps me from getting too slow on the road bike.  I purchased a lightly-used 2013 Felt Edict Nine LTD, and it’s the most obscenely awesome thing I own.  So far, I’ve been able to ride really great trails in Tahoe, Santa Cruz, Reno and Auburn, and I’m hoping to get more riding in this winter and spring until road racing really kicks off.

In the mean time, it’s already time to start training for road racing again.  There are a few races coming up in February & March, and I’d like to start off the season with a bang.  Reno has been … well, seasonably cold and snowy this year.  After a couple weeks of storms with some decent snow, it has been pretty tough to ride outdoors, and I haven’t really been enthused about putting on my thermally insulated codpiece.  I’ve been spending some quality time on the indoor stationary trainer and at group Computrainer rides at Velo Reno to try and maintain some semblance of fitness, and it’s actually starting to pay off.  Nonetheless, the indoor riding will eventually drive a man insane – you can only stare at a wall for so long.

Fortunately, a few pals and I made it out to Auburn, CA this past Saturday for what turned out to be a big ride.  Auburn is generally 15-20 degrees warmer in the Winter (and only 1 hr 15 min away), so it’s a pretty well sought-out destination for us Reno folk.  Pete “The Meat” planned a route, and I, along with Coffman, Glenn and the Boss (Bosco), set out to conquer it.   When Pete plans a ride, you generally multiply all the statistics by at least 1.75 – so a 2.5 hr casual spin converts to a 4.5 hr monster with 7,000+ ft of climbing.   We started at the Raley’s parking lot in Auburn and set out toward Colfax.  The route paralells I-80 for a bit, and we actually got lost several times during that section, but Pete did a decent job keeping us away from any Deliverance re-enactments with the Sierra Nevada hill people out there.  We gained quite a bit of elevation in the first ~20 miles, but the rolling hills and winding, tree-covered roads were distracting enough that I didn’t really notice it.

Once outside Colfax, we found the turn-off to Iowa Hill Road, and this turn definitely pushed us into a bit of a climate change.  We dropped into a steep, narrow canyon which hadn’t seen much sunlight, and the temperature quickly plummeted.  We called out patches of snow and ice to one another as we came to them.  Even so, we had one casualty when Glenn lost his front wheel and completed a low speed, clipped-in somersault on his bike.  He’s a tough fella, so we straightened out his derailleur hanger and his handlebars and got back on our way.

Glenn, Casey, Bosco and Pete, chilling (literally)

Glenn, Casey, Bosco and Pete, chilling (literally)

At the base of the sketchy descent, and before the start of the Iowa Hill climb, we had a brief respite and some scenic views of the North Fork of the American River.

North Fork of the American River

North Fork of the American River

And with the nice pretty views out of the way, Iowa Hill begins.  For most people, it’s a 15-20 minute climb, but it is STEEP.  It ranges from 10-16% grade for the duration, and that was steep enough that I often had to ride side to side (with a standard crank and a 11-26t chainring) instead of aiming straight up.  It’s basically 20 minutes of doing the StairMaster really awkwardly on a bicycle.  To make it a little more interesting, we hit a ~20 ft patch of black ice about 1/4 of the way up, and that took some careful negotiation.  Bosco and Pete crushed it completely, and Coffman, me and Glenn followed up the rear.  Glenn also crashed one more time, probably just to bolster my mood during the soul-crushing climb.   I had a good chuckle watching him scramble on the black ice like a baby deer.  I even chortled once, but I didn’t guffaw – I’m not a total dick, OK?

The start of the Iowa Hill climb on a brisk December day

The start of the Iowa Hill climb on a brisk December day

The top of Iowa Hill, with Pete and Bosco

The top of Iowa Hill, with Pete and Bosco

The hill itself is only 1,100 ft or so of climbing, but it’s definitely a leg burner.  Fortunately, you are rewarded with several awesome views of the American River’s North Fork along the way.  We weren’t done climbing just yet, though – it’s another 2,000 ft to get up to Forest Hill Road, peaking at 4,100 ft.  We crossed a lot of snow patches along the way, and one hill in particular caused half our group to get off the bikes and walk.  We certainly didn’t see any other tire tracks, so it seems pretty evident we were the first cyclists to come this way in 2-3 weeks.   Still, this was a hell of a lot better than riding in Reno in December.

Four full hours had passed by the time we reached the summit at Forest Hill Road, and I was surprised to see we had only gone 40 miles.  However, we had dealt with a few mechanical issues, several dead-ends and one flat tire.  On the plus side, we had only encountered one car, so this was an ideal ride for some people like Casey and I who have a particular aversion to being run off the road.  We were pretty much all out of food and water at this point, but we were not too concerned since it was all downhill to Auburn.  And what a downhill it was too – almost 3,000 ft of gradual -3% grade.  If you ever get a chance to let Pete pull you around at 38 mph for a full hour, I really recommend it.  As we got closer to Auburn, traffic increased, and with the shoulders full of gravel and rocks, we had little choice but to ride the white line along the side of the roadway.   The Auburn folks weren’t all cool with that, and we had to deal with a few car horns and one-finger salutes, despite the abundance of space on the road.

I had been food-less and water-less for quite some time, so when we finally we got into town, I sprinted for the Burrito Shop to pound a carne asada burrito and about a half gallon of horchata as quickly as possible.  With the fog of hunger and dehydration removed, I realized it had been an exceptional ride indeed.   We had a tough, fast group; no one really whined about the cold, the snowy crud, or the steep climbs. A ride like this would have been impossible for me maybe even a year ago, and I think the real difference is a mental one.  I don’t think about being DONE the whole time, now.  I just think about the next landmark, whether it’s the next summit or just the next bend in the road.  The red line that marks something as “impossible” is being steadily pushed further out, and I’m not sure exactly where it lies anymore. Anyway, this is a ride that I think many moderate to advanced cyclists could handle, and I will definitely be back for more soon myself.

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