So yesterday during a group ride with Team in Training, getting ready for the century event in June, my coach laid out a course for us that included some thing we all in this area live both in fear of and in awe of; the highest point in Florida.
I have mentioned this climb before, both here and on the podcast, because it is one I have been dreading for a long time. Jennifer and I have driven out to it before just to view it, and that was enough for me. There was no way I was going to make it up this “mountain” on a bike. Yes, I can hear all of you non-Floridians out there poo pooing the notion of a climb in Florida, but let me tell you, there have been many a cyclist not from this area that have walked up that climb. It may pale in comparison to some, but it is no joke.
Let me quickly explain Sugarloaf as it was explained to me yesterday. There are two-way to the top, the front side is a steeper climb (11%) but has about a mile of descent before hitting the bottom (not that it will matter). The back side is an 8% climb but is longer and you are climbing before the real hard climb potion. This is the way coach took us.
And he didn’t tell us prior to going out there.
He wanted it to be a surprise.
This was within the first 15 miles of a planned 60 for the day, but most of the harder climbing was in the first 20, so my back was already protesting as we were climbing at about a 5% ascent when he made the right turn on to Sugarloaf Mountain Road. This shocked all of us, because even though we had not done this, we knew what was coming. As I said, we had already been at a steady ascent for a mile or so when we made the left and saw the climb. I looked over at a teammate and said “there is no way I am getting up that mountain”. He smiled over at me “well, one way or the other we are going to the top, so just keep the legs moving”.
Great. Very helpful.
I geared down to the small ring and just kept my eyes on the three feet in front of me and just kept spinning my legs. It was hard. Very hard. But to be honest there was no point, even when I was slowed to 3 mph, that I thought I couldn’t do it. Coach came back at about halfway up and started riding next to me, talking me through my breathing. He let me know that Jennifer had made it up the climb (which I had no doubt that she would) and just kept pace with me. One telephone pole at a time.
I made it up Sugarloaf.
But it came at a price.
The one good thing about going up a climb like that is coming down, and on the front side I hit 47.6 mph. That was scary as hell I have to admit, and I like going fast. I was feathering my brakes at one point or I know I would have went over 50 easily.
At the bottom though, as we regrouped, I knew my back was done. It was tightening badly and spasming a little, but I laid down and stretched it out as best I could and felt I could make it to the rest stop at 21.
I did make it, but once we left there for a loop of 18 back to the rest stop I knew I was done. I was next to coach and stopped him, told him I need to let the back get less angry, and I’d catch them when they came back through. I headed sheepishly back to the gas station where we had stopped.
It was over an hour before they got back, so I felt like I could at least try to get the final 16 or so in, but only lasted another 6. My legs would not lift, and the wind picking up did not help. Jennifer was also having issues but was a head of me. I walked up Buckhill Road and there was the team under a shady spot and Jennifer was on the group, heat exposure. Tapped out.
Jay told us to stay there and he’d hoof it back to the start and grab his truck and come get us. Another great reason to have strong riders with you.
I have to say this also. We were under the ONLY shady spot on Buckhill Road, at the top of a 200′ climb, but we were also in front of someones house. I kept thinking that I hope the owner was not going to freak out of they looked and say two cyclists in front of their home. Jennifer was laying on her back when I heard the leaves crumbling as someone was walking to us. Oh no.
Turned out to be one of the nicest men I have ever met.
He brought us ice, which I got Jennifer to suck on some as I cooled down her neck and head. The home owner, Angel, stayed and chatted with us for almost half an hour while we waited (and had an awesome Italian Sheppard. Pure White. Name was Nanook). The world needs more people like him. So unlike the homeowner we ran into when we scouted Sugarloaf a year ago who yelled at us because we stopped our car in front of her house to take a picture.
So anyway, the back is becoming a big issue. I can make it about 30 miles before it goes on me. Almost like clockwork. To top it off yesterday my shoulders and neck go so fatigued by the end I could not even grab the hoods on the bike. I was a mess. It’s obviously a fit issue but still having a problem finding an appointment anywhere, and with St. Anthony’s happening this weekend it’s not going to be easy now either.
As rides go, if you just say it was a planned 60 and I only went 30, it was a bad ride, but in all the badness was a climb up Sugarloaf.
So, a silver lining.