Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Monday, April 9, 2012

Done and Dusted

Last week I mentioned that I was taking part in a climbing challenge through the Strava website. Those who know me well know that this sort of challenge suits me to a T, since it has nothing to do with speed at all. I could ride along smelling the flowers, stopping to take photos and sampling the offerings of cafes along the way. All that said, a few of my riding buddies have been surprised by some of the gratuitous climbs I've thrown in on recent rides.

The challenge has been a bit ...ummm... challenging to do in this area, because it's so far to get to real mountains. What we do have nearby is plenty of short steep little hills, which can actually be much more painful than a long climb up a proper mountain. It's not too hard to create a route with 50 feet per mile of climbing, but it does take all day to get 3-4,000 feet of climbing! Those lucky folks out in California can easily get two or three times that climbing in a day ride :-)

I am quite fortunate to have a bit of time on my hands these days, so I can take all day to get my stravas, but I did throw in a few shorter (easy) days, where I went for more condensed climbing in the Arlington hills. John teases me for calling these my recovery rides. I told him that it's all in how you ride them! The water tower sits at 377 feet above sea level, while the low point in town is about 4 feet. And there are dozens of roads to get up to the tower. So I could go out and do a 25 mile ride with 2500+ feet of climbing and not go up the same way twice, even though I climbed to the same dramatic view of the Boston skyline multiple times. But more so, as long as I wasn't trying for QOMs, or doing the Wednesday night group ride, or riding up School Street, I could actually do this without maxing out my heart rate!

Now maybe this is what Strava and Specialized had in mind with the competition. Get people climbing so much that they stop thinking of climbing as hard. Nah, Strava actually includes a suffer score as part of each ride logged! I hear the racers talk, and it's always about the suffering! But for me, it really was about getting some lovely views and enjoying a day out with friends, or when I couldn't find victims, uh, I mean riding buddies, just rolling along, alone with my own thoughts.

But I admit that as I neared the target of 105,312 feet (32,100 meters), I was feeling a bit tired and I began plotting a rest day. I've only taken two days off in the last 25, one to pack and run errands for our vacation, and the other was the travel day at the end of the trip.

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, I had planned to go out on a local club ride led my one of my regular riding buddies. It was to be a long hilly ride, with a bonus long ride out to the start for me. It would be another full day. But then our friend, Roy, from Connecticut phoned and wanted to come up a retrieve his wife's bike from our garage. We had brought the bike back after New Year's, and John had done some work on it. Now that it was spring, Susan was eager to see if John is really a proper bike mechanic. Well, sort of. She is actually out in California on vacation, but sent Roy up to go for a ride with us and bring her bike home. I was quite relieved that we could just go out and do a shorter, easier ride with Roy on Sunday. 

But with completion of the challenge within reach, I sat down with my mapping software and tried to plot a rolling route out into the suburbs to a nice cafe for lunch, that would be open on Easter Sunday, which would also get me to the magic number. But even with various gratuitous climbs, every route came out to 60 miles, so I just stopped trying to plan a ride. Roy is quite fit from lots of activities, but I didn't think he'd been riding much and wouldn't want to do 60 miles.

I could finish the challenge off on Monday. Have I mentioned that the challenge goes on for 47 days and there is plenty of time left to complete it? The obsessive compulsive side of me took over when I found myself atop the leaderboard for the gals, and I just kept chipping away, trying to reach the goal first, and after 24 days, I just had another 3500 feet or so to do. Get it done in half the time...

Anyway Roy arrived, and then my friend Dena showed up with the most awesome cheese scones. John made coffee. Cocoa made herself at home on Dena's lap, shedding as much fur as she possibly could, and I asked Roy how far he wanted to ride. He said 50-60 miles at a moderate pace. And the die was cast.

After drinking espresso, eating scones and watching a squirrel on the back fence peel and eat what at first appeared to be a Cadbury Cream Egg, but once we figured out which end of the binoculars to use, turned out to be some sort of red flower, we decided to head out the door for a bike ride.

With no route loaded in the GPS, this would be a nice-relaxed-follow-our-noses ride. But John and Dena quickly figured out what was up, when a block from home, I turned up a side street for a quick extra 30 stravas, uh I mean feet of climbing. My internal GPS was ticking away, thinking about nearby climbs, as I led us up toward Lincoln. When I took the turn onto Tabor Hill Road, John commented on my OSD. I claimed a nice view was to be had, but in reality, it was just 150 more stravas. No real view, but at least the descent back down was great.

Do my legs feel like this?
Dena, Pamela and Roy
Next stop was for photos at the twisted tree in Lincoln and then the portaloo at Gropius House.

John knew I was cooked when I said Bayley Hill next. This is a little not so well known climb across from Walden Pond. We're not sure whether it has a proper name, but when we introduced it to the Sunday morning crowd a few years ago, I called it Bayley Hill. They call it Mt Stupid - because that's how you feel after doing it. It's short, but brutal. I had decided if I really was doing a climbing challenge, that I had to do a few proper efforts, where my heart rate would go through the roof, and indeed it did on this one.

John sprinted ahead to get photos as Roy and Dena paced me up the climb. We headed back down and on towards Concord in search of another gratuitous climb, this one in the form of Annursnac Hill. I kept going on about seeking out views, but they knew that wasn't what was happening. By this stage, everyone knew they were just pawns in my obsession.

When we left home, the thermometer read 50F, but since then the temperature had plummeted, the sun had disappeared and in fact, precipitation was spitting, and it was white! Fortunately, it stayed in the spitting mode, but the snow did add character to our adventure. 

We rolled along through farmland and horse country to reach the next climb up and over Vose Hill. This one, at least had a proper view. Our legs got a break along the bike path and back roads of Westford, before we took on a few more leg-burners in the form of Heald and Judy Farm. We rolled up into Carlisle center to confirm our suspicion that the store there was closed for Easter, and then decided to aim for Lexington, where we knew Ride Studio Cafe was open, and I could get some stravas on Page Hill and Meriam.

Dena left us there to head home, and we warmed up with some great hot chocolate and scones and fine company in the cafe. It is so great to have a cafe where we can always find other cyclists! Jay, from the racing team, asked me how close I was. I said I thought about 800 feet, and if we diverted over to the water tower a couple of times, that should cinch it. John suggested he and Roy could go straight home the downhill way, but I said that Roy said he wanted to see the water tower. Roy didn't betray my claim and was a great sport about the whole thing!

Now at this stage, John decided that I really needed to earn those final feet. Having sat around for a hour or so, I wanted to warm back up gradually. So we compromised on one easy way up, and one leg-ripper. First we headed out to do Marsh, the easiest way up, then down to Arlington and back up School Street, the nastiest way up. I suppose it's only fitting that the climb that put me over the top also had my heart and lungs leaping out my throat and my legs screaming for mercy. But as we reached the water tower and took in that awesome view of Boston, I looked at the numbers on my GPS and knew it was Done and Dusted. We took the downhill route home.


  1. Inspiring and amazing!

    Jim Duncan

  2. Ballad of the CHC (compulsive hill climber)!

  3. I sought out Arlington's School Street last night and nearly lost my lunch the 2nd time up. Thanks for the tip; going to look for Bayley Hill/Mt. Stupid next!

    1. Uh oh, so not only is the climbing obsession addictive, it is contagious!

    2. And if you like that, you have to try Wolcott Road in Woburn, just north of Horn Pond.

      Virally yours,

  4. Congratulations ... climb, climb, climb!

  5. Trying to accumulate elevation right now near Port Jefferson, which is just hilly, compared to my mountains near Los Angeles, shows how big your accomplishment is. I'm still trying to finish my last 25'000 feet while travelling. It will be a challenge even having 17 days left (I will spend 10 of these in Houston, TX).

    Anyway, this is just the lengthy way to say: Awesome. Congratulations.

    1. Helge, Good luck with the climbing in Houston. I do recall finding a few hills in Texas many years ago, but also remember some pretty nasty wind too.

  6. Fantastic Pamela! I am really enjoying reading your blog and your climbing stats are making me wince!!
    I've only just pipped the 50% mark in the Strava challenge - the weather has seemed to be very much against me (gusting winds, snow and sleet every day I seem to be able to get out and ride the little sharp climbs round these parts!) - so I can appreciate just how much work you are putting in!!! Chapeau!! Go girl! :)) Keep it up!!

  7. We've been very lucky with weather during the chalenge. Although I have been hoping for a rainy day to have an excuse to take a day off! Rains finally came today, much to the relief of local farmers. I managed to get out before the heavy stuff. My garden is quite happy to finally have the rain, but I won't get any stravas pushing the lawnmower around!

  8. My advice: forget the lawnmower for a few days and indulge the OCD side of you John commented on! You're still poised at the top of the leader board this morning!! It's gripping stuff!!
    P.S. Our poor garden is looking sorry for itself at the moment too! Was in the middle of creating a willow archway when the challenge started ... have got no further forward ... and now I see there's another Nuun challenge on the cards - will it ever be finished I wonder !!!!!!!

  9. Indeed, the garden has been neglected in the last month. Fortunately it's quite small, so I should be able to catch up with just a little effort.

    Virginia is *supposed* to be tapering this week for her 20,000 foot day on Saturday, but even her taper rides dwarf the climbing I can do around here, so I think your going to see a massive surge as she definitively roars past me. That said, I am close enough to 200,000 that I'll at least aim for that.

    47 days is a long time to keep going. I am pooped! BTW, I've started into your blog. Really enjoying it!

  10. 20,000 foot in one day - now that's something! Certainly couldn't do that here!
    Your 200,000 is an amazing achievement - I have every thing crossed that you make it!!
    I'm just hoping it stops incessantly raining here, so I can at least venture out for a couple of decent and enjoyable rides (with some nice tea and scone stops!).
    I'm glad you are enjoying the little blogs I kept - they were for last year's challenges set by Rapha (as you've probably guessed!) - haven't felt inspired enough of late to write any more, also haven't much time - work is taking over!!! :(