Friday Group Ride #307

Friday Group Ride #307

Climbing. Going up hill. Let’s all put on leotards and go hurt ourselves! Honestly, it’s ludicrous. Cycling. Is it really any different than any other cult, like the Hare Krishnas, the Kardashians or CrossFit™?

But before you get your chamois in a knot, let me say, I love it, too, the going up, the long, hard climbs of mid-summer, that one horrible bead of sweat swaying off the end of your nose, your heart settling in at something like 4,000rpm, and the up, up, up. If you’ve gone really hard, you reach the top and let the pedals go slack, rolling along at who-cares-what-speed while your head lolls around and your chest heaves.

What is good about it? I don’t know.

I mean, I could say it’s the challenge, the getting-to-the top, but I don’t know that’s the part I enjoy. I think I like the rhythm of it. I like finding the edge of my red zone and trying to find a calm, quiet place to work from.

Of course, when you don’t have the legs there is no darker place to be than stuck on the side of a long, unrelenting steep. At least year’s D2R2, I was struggling to get any good riding done, and the days longest, sustained hill nearly killed me. I stopped and put a foot down two, maybe three times. When I got to the top where my friends sat waiting, I climbed off and sat down in the sand at the edge of the road. Someone said later that they knew what I will look like when I’m dead. So yeah, climbing.

This week’s Group Ride asks, what do you love/hate about climbing? What was your best ever climb? Your worst? What do you think it is that drives so many people to seek out the most difficult terrain? Is it as simple as finding places to test oneself? Are we crazy? Or really, really crazy?

, ,


  1. ScottyCycles

    I LOVE CLIMBING! My best was Palomar South Grade 1:06 (It was a good day, unfortunately PS – Pre Strava) My worst? Probably Kitchen Creek at 110F

    If I’m crazy then I will embrace the craziness!

  2. Chris

    My best/worst was Hedley Nickel Plate Road. We had decided to change our route at 10pm the night before. My buddy sent a link to a Strava route, but it was late and I didn’t even look. We ended up climbing almost 1500m over 21km… on dirt. The first 5k averaged about 9 percent but reared up frequently to grades which defied measurement. I was on a 53-39 crankset. I didn’t have enough food or water. I started fantasizing about calling a Taxi from the nearest town, Keremeos, to get me a water, coke and Snicker’s bar and drive it the 50 kilometers out to me. Would it have cost $80? $120? I would have paid it. I started cramping badly late in the climb and everytime the grade went above about 5% my quads would seize and I would yell out to nobody except my friend who would dutifully wait for me at the top of every ramp.

    It was my hardest day ever on the bike. There’s another dirt road on the other side of that valley, which we plan to do next. I can’t wait.

  3. Scott

    What do I love most about climbing? DESCENDING!

    Best short climb: Mt Diablo sub-hour. On a tandem.
    Best all-day climbing: Cascade Creampuff. On a tandem. And AFAIK still the only tandem to ever finish the race. Seriously, what in the hell is my problem?
    Worst day climbing: Anything recent unfortunately. My fitness is crap.

  4. maxwell

    Twice I have been stung by a bee in rides when I could not stop. Both times the pain went away when climbing, and came back when not climbing. That’s why I like climbing.

  5. Ransom

    Hills are worthy adversaries, often with rewards proportional to the work in views, descents, and the feeling of accomplishment. They are consistent targets to measure oneself against.

    Headwinds just suck.

    1. Harris

      Ransom: I thought I would be the first to board headwinds. Climbing sucks, headwinds awesome. I live in windy Mississippi delta, no hills, flat as a pancake, no cover from winds. Wind is the business. The hill goes down, but the wind goes nowhere. Embrace it, make it your friend, but don’t think it is stopping cause it’s not. But it really does teach you how to get over some hills.

  6. Geoffrey

    I used to hate climbing. But then, I discovered that climbing will make me stronger, regardless. Best climb: Nate Harrison Grade. Partially dirt. Steep, except when steeper. Worst climb: Palomar with a sore back. Ride. Stop. Stretch. Repeat.

    Also, climbs of a given steepness are great fitness tests. Too shallow, and wind and drafting matters too much.

    Finally, climbing being considered crazy doesn’t make that much sense, as it results in tiredness, but recovery comes. It isn’t like DH, which I also enjoy. A climb gone badly is soreness-inducing. A descent gone badly is far worse.

  7. AG

    I think for every rider there is that tipping point where we go from setting the summit as the goal, to wanting to ride the climb for the sake of the process of riding the climb. It takes years to get there, but that is the point when you become a cyclist (for better or worse). “Relishing the pain” is certainly a cliche, but as with all cliches there is a grain of truth. My best climbs are oftentimes the old standbys. They are kind of like old friends I visit when I need a good dressing-down to keep me honest. I know every turn, every bump and their sneaky false-flats. Getting to the top is less a victory than a kind of culmination, and of course a reason to fly down the other side. And yup, we are crazy.

  8. Margaret

    Coleman in Sonoma. The first time I went up I was new to cycling and when someone paperboyed in front of me I had to stop. I couldn’t clip back in on hills then so I had to walk the rest.
    A year later I knew what to expect, had better training and went right up. Very satisfying.

  9. Lyford

    Satifaction. Earning the descent. Views. Getting somewhere worthwhile under your own power. Proving that you can’t cheat physics. Almost going into the red and then finding your rhythm.

    I hate it when people tallk about “conquering” climbs. The mountain certainly doesn’t feel defeated, and it’ll be there unchaged long after you’re gone. What you’re conquering is your own weaknesses, doubts and fears.

    Best climb recently: Smuggler’s Notch both ways as part of the Darn Tough ride.

  10. Michael

    i’ve had the good fortune of climbing in the rockies, the appalachians, the cascades, the maritime alps, the dolomites, the andes in Columbia and a few other check the bucket list type locations.

    best climb ever? the small, 4%, 300m long rise in front of my grandmothers (RIP) apartment building.

    as a child it was my everest. I’d push my bike up that hill, walking all the way up, and starting down from the top it seemed like my world would end if i tried to descend it. scared shitless.

    then i’d climb aboard, take my feet off the pedals and coast down at what felt like warp speed for an 8 year old.

    that climb now? I big ring up that mofo and don’t even notice it. and I can feel my grandmothers watchful eyes beaming down on each and every time.

  11. Bruce

    I HATED climbing. Coming from Florida to Carson City, Nevada I almost quit riding. Every direction was climbing and not just a freeway overpass (a climb in Florida). Gradually, since I loved cycling, I learned to love climbing. For me the key was to stop fighting it and just go at the pace at which I was not seriously hurting. As I did more and more climbs, that pace increased bit by bit. I never got good at climbing, I have to loose a ton of weight, but I got not miserable at climbing.
    BTW, I never got much better at descending either, something about liking to keep my skin attached to my body and remembering the “great” deal I got on my tires.
    Still had fun.

  12. Peter Leach

    What do I love about climbing? Like Scott above: “Descending!”
    I recall an incident not long after I took up cycling (as I was approaching 50, I probably should have known better). Riding with a group from the ACTVets on a ‘recovery ride’ I was obviously the slowest rider in the pack. A seasoned, far stronger rider dropped back to pace me. When he heard me lamenting about how: “I hate climbing”. Reinhardt turned to me and said something I’ve never forgotten: “Stay positive. You have to stay positive”. I’m sure that he was channeling his countryman Jensie. My reply: “I positively hate climbing!”.
    I’ve learned to accept it since. I even enjoy it. Most of the time.
    My best memory of climbing – the ascent from the Thredbo River to the Guthega Gap during the Hartley
    Challenge a few years ago. 14kms. Over 800 metres of climbing. 1 hour and 4 minutes. The best bit, the descent of course. I wasn’t the quickest, but I made the descent in just under 12 minutes. In light rain. And I’d climbed another 1200 metres before getting back to the descent. Somewhere, there’s even a photo of me during the climb. Riding in sleet. Ice in my beard. Grin on my face.
    Thank you, Reinhardt.

  13. Michael Hotten

    Fav local climb: Encinal in the Santa Monnica Mountains
    Fav Euro: Col Du Telegraphe. It’s overshadowed by the beast in the immediate area but the pines and switchbacks are a nice distraction.
    Fav dirt climb: Sugarloaf @ Leadville. Really pretty on race morning.

  14. Andrew

    I love to climb, even though I’m not great at it. Not terrible, but not as good as I think I should be. I’m a good descender though, and it makes it worthwhile. I can’t remember my best climb, but I remember my most miserable. The Gavia on a freezing cold, rainy, then snowy day. Uncontrollable shaking for the last stretch to the Refugio. Never had a fire looked so good!!

  15. Still lost in the Gorge

    One of the Best: The Markleeville Death Ride (aka: Tour of the California Alps), sometime in ’03 or ’04 … a day after the organized ride …..when it was just me, unsupported with a hefty registration fee still in my pocket and the peace of the road. A wonderful day of climbing and obstacle free downhilling… and I included the additional climb up to Pacific Grade….

    Another Best: Haleakala, Maui – 1984. Awoke early one morning in Honolulu. Hopped on my bike and rode to the airport. Bought an airline ticket and flew with my bike (no bike box required) into Kahalui. Arrived, grabbed my bike and began a glorious climb up the slopes of Haleakala. I was riding an old steel C. Itoh (made in Japan) bike with 42/52 chainrings. About 3/4 of the way up, I smiled and waved at the early customers of Haleakala Bob’s as they rolled by (and froze) on their cruiser bikes going downhill. A fine climb indeed. and the descent was just as fine – into Hawaiian tropical weather. Later in the afternoon, I caught a flight back to Honolulu, arrived, and rode my bike home….. No cars needed…

    and another: Climbing the passes from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu. Back before the Chinese were colonious enough to pave most of the road to the border. The climbing was a great way to stay warm at those altitudes. The ride from the Rongbuk Monastery to the north Everest Base Camp was a great challenge, trying not to dab on the rocky roadfill… and later, descending from Nyalum into Nepal…, with the oxygen increasing the further you descending…. Euphoria ! It was a fine feeling…

    Not so great: Some long grinding grade in Baja California…., in January…., when you think the weather would be great in Baja….. But it wasn’t…… It was cold (in the low 40’s), it was raining…., and the road surface was freshly tarred gravel. The tar has the consistency of thick honey…… It would stick to your tires and adhere to the bottom of your frame, panniers, etc. (25 years later I think my panniers still have tar stains on them). The tar was also aromatic… As we rode, our nostrils, eyes and other soft tissue areas began to sting from the “fumes” from the tar….. Later that day after cresting the plateau of the long climb we had endured, we enjoyed setting up wet tents, partially wet sleeping bags, and marginally edible food before shivering all night in our sleeping bags…. We awoke the next morning to find that most of the water in our water bottles had frozen. But we soon discovered that the desert sageplants would burn profusely….. Eco-minded at the moment we were not, but ready to warm ourselves around a desert bonfire we were…..

    1. Eamonn

      I’m doing the Lhasa to Kathmandu cycle in September.

      I live in Ireland.

      Any tips on a training plan for the trip?

      Many thanks!

  16. Brian Feltovich

    Worst climb ever: Mortirolo. Disgusting beast of a climb, made worse by watching the rest of the group slowly pedal away from me. I’d come around a corner, expecting relief, only to find another steep section. No relief, just more up. 17%, 20%, 14%, 22%. I made it to the top and all I could say was F**K.
    Best climb: Gavia, later that same day. Nearly as difficult (that tunnel is stupid!) but somehow made easier by the brutality of the earlier climb. Better views helped distract me and the summit had a bar with espresso and cokes.

  17. Patrick Cassidy

    I am not a speedy climber, though I am persistent! 5.July.2013 marked my best day on a bike and included three ascents of the Mont Ventoux along the paved roads. I have been very fortunate by orchestrating a plan to earn entry into the “Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux” (#5149). The weather was perfect and I was well prepared and super stoked to have picked up a rental BMC GF01 Di2 Ultegra from La Coquillade. Bedoin to summit from 6am was glorious and slow and “relatively easy,” while taking in the sights and experience. The descent to Malaucene was fantastic; the return up that road very tough as the full sun greeted the day. Down to Sault was a very pleasant descent that I forced in order to complete the task. Sault back to summit was difficult and slow that got faster as the 3rd summit became certain. The final descent to Bedoin was absolutely brilliant. It was the beginning of a very strong interest in riding (slowly) the famous climbs that I have watched on TV for years during the Grand Tours. Thanks POG- Haleakala perhaps this year.

  18. Les.B.

    Living near the Santa Monica Mountains, there are a lot of “fave” climbs for me, like Decker Cyn Rd, in addition to its sadistic grades it teases with its 6 false summits. Nice views of the canyon and ocean, if you care to look.

    My favorite-favorite climb of all is from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point via Wawona Road and Glacier Point Road. Views don’t get any better than this.

    I like a grade that does its ascending, then quickly levels out at the top. What I hate are the grades that graduuualllly level out at the top. Get the ascent done and over with and move on, I say. I don’t have the patience.

    In kinda the same vein, my worst memory of climbing was a 1% grade (“misprint”, you say). In the last quarter of the old Solvang century there is a 1% grade for 10 miles. On one particular year the headwinds followed us around the circle route so they always stayed in our face. By the time I reached the 1-percenter my legs were thrashed, and I moaned through that 10 miles. And as a testament to how much I hate low-number grades, I was, I kid you not, I was relieved when at the end of this grade was “The Wall”, a ~1KM double-digit grade. Yep. Hit the grade, dig in, feel the pain, see the top, and bask in the payback down the other side.

  19. Tom in Albany

    Locally, my best performance is called Touareuna – . it’s kicker is nearly 14% and it was the first time I’d ever hit something like that. Seasonal road so, paved by gravelly. At one point, my rear wheel slipped but I managed to save it and made the climb. I never worked so hard in my life.

    The climb at the very beginning of the Monarch Crest trail in CO – You feel like you can see the whole world from up there.

    I like to climb. It hurts my back but I still like it. (Does that mean I’m insane?)

  20. James

    I was just discussing on how sometimes a simple 7% grade can ruin me. And it’s not until a nice 10%+ grade makes the 7% feel a whole lot easier. That is part of the allure of climbing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *