Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fixin' to Climb Mt Equinox

The pixie fixie has seemingly been in hibernation for a while, but all that changed recently. After stoking the tandem for a week, I wasn't sure I could handle going back to doing my own steering, braking and shifting all at once. So I decided to leave out shifting for a while. I pulled down the road fixie and just reacquainted myself with steering and braking.

Then I pulled down the pixie fixie (note the difference here - pixie fixie is the pink bike with the teeney fixed gear. Fixie Pixie is the small gal with the pink jersey and braids who rides the pixie fixie). Anyway, I pulled the pixie fixie down from the hook where it spends most of the year and starting prepping it for the race up Mt Equinox. First up was changing the rear cog. I've used 20/20 gearing for all my previous (successful) races, but decided this year to throw caution to the wind, and step it up a notch by using a 19T cog in the back! I also decided it was time for some new tires. Not that I have ridden the bike a lot, but apparently the tires had quite a bit of use before I put them on the bike last year. So I treated the pixie fixie to its own dedicated pair of brand new tires. Finally I moved my super-light pedals over from the geared hill-climber. I double checked that the wheel was on nice and tight. Last year, I had a incomplete (DNF) on Mt Equinox when, after changing the cog, I didn't tighten the wheel enough and it came loose on the descent. I did not want a repeat!

Descent, you ask? Yes, there is a screaming descent at around 2.3 miles in. For non-fixies (OK, everyone but me and the unicyclist), it's a chance to coast, rest or use the big chainring. For fixies (like me and the unicyclist) with a wee-tiny gear, it's one of the biggest challenges. Fixed gear riding on the road is all about finding the right gear that works for both climbing and descending. But for pure hill climbs, it's about having a gear one can comfortably push all the way to the finish line - of course, assuming no descents. For me, this is a pretty darn low gear, which means that even a wee little descent is a big challenge, requiring some braking to maintain some control. In this sense, Equinox is not really a good climb for fixed, but it's still a good test for me before Mt Washington. Mt Ascutney is another good fixie climb, but the timing and logistics this year put us on the tandem. So if I wanted to do a hillclimb race on fixed before Mt. Washington, Equinox would have to be the one.

I rode my road-fixie all week leading up to the race, but I did bring a bike with gears for my warmup and for post-race rides. It was already quite toasty and sticky when I started the warmup, so I didn't have to do much to get warm. I'd had some thoughts of a fast-ish time leading up to the weekend, but this humidity pushed all those thoughts right out of my mind. Besides, I had to remind myself how to use shift levers for the warm-up. And then forget all about them again for the race. Too many things to think about at once!

I wished John well, and watched his group take off 15 minutes before my start time. Then I got to stand around and get nervous. What's to be nervous about? Just point the bike uphill and pedal...

Eric Scheer and I lined up next to each other at the back of our group. Eric rides a unicycle, which is kinda like riding a fixed gear, although there is no disguising his insanity. He commented that we were in the same position last year. I just thought to myself that I hoped for a better outcome this year.

A friend recently asked me what I think about on a hillclimb. Usually my mind is pretty blank and focused. Stay upright, keep pedaling. I wonder if I can catch that person 10 meters ahead of me. Keep pedaling. Is my GPS busted? Why isn't the distance number changing? Why is time standing still and flying by at the same time? Stay upright. Is this climb 5.2 or 5.4 miles? Oh and I usually come up with a solution for world peace, but then forget it by the time I finish!

But for the first 2.5 miles of this climb on this day, all that goes through my mind is that I hope I tightened the wheel enough and I just need to get past that effin' downhill. There's a fellow ahead of me in a cream colored Rapha pro-team jersey. He's riding at my pace, so I don't gain any time, and I try not to lose any time either. Then the descent and he's gone. But the climb gets tough again after the descent, and I quickly catch him and go past! Yippee - passed one person. Then I reach the spot where I had to get in the van last year, and go past it! Yippee!

There are volunteers handing out bottles of water, but I'm not comfortable letting go of the handlebars. It's a flattish spot - ideal for the bottle hand-ups, but my cadence is so high now and it's just not good for me. I have a small flask in my back pocket if I really need water, but I'm well known for not drinking on long rides, so I should be able to get through an hour.

But it sure is hot and sticky, and darn, I should have taken water. I also realize that I still have my sunglasses on. I need some breeze on my eyeballs! I manage to get the glasses off and safely tucked into my helmet. Hmm, I was able to let go of the bars with one hand and maintain control. I could have taken water! Next time, I will. But before that I have to finish this one.

Now here's where it gets surprising. I start catching people. I think this is all my endurance training. I start slow and stay steady. I could go all day at this pace - well maybe not all day, but I am riding at a pace and rhythm that I should be able to maintain for a while. And I can push this gear. In fact, maybe next year, I could go for an 18T!

Still close to an hour goes by...

photo courtesy of Bruce Hiltunen

I come around a corner and hear the tell-tale signs of the top, bell ringing, cheering and Andy announcing folks as they cross the line. Some dude I had caught earlier, sprints by me, but he went too soon and fades and I come back around him. I see folks with cameras and instinctively smile. I just can't seem to do a suffer-face for the camera. I'm still seated. I haven't stood at all. I sprint across the finish line at 5mph, still seated!

photo courtesy of Bruce Hiltunen

1:01:23, my best time ever on this mountain!

With the construction taking place on the mountain top building, there is a big fence right after the finish line, meaning no chance to ride around and spin out the legs and cool down. Just sprint across the line and STOP! Well this is certainly good prep for Mt. W.

I stand over the bike for a while trying to figure out how to get away from it - well not so much get away from it, but how do I get to where I am not straddling it anymore! I'd really like to collapse, but the bike is in the way. I eventually realize I have to lift my leg and swing it over the saddle.

I'd also really like some shade and a pool full of ice, but neither is to be found. Someone brings me a bottle of water, half of which I pour on my head. Then I drink the rest. Wow, it is brutally hot and humid. I soon find some shade, as well as John who didn't have his best day on the mountain, but is still pretty chipper. We replace our toxic waste that passed for cycling clothes a short while earlier, with dryer less smelly clothing and hang out talking to everyone while the last folks make their way to the top.

Then it's in the car for the ride back down and sitting in the shade enjoying the picnic and awards ceremony. It was so hot that we ended up just going for a swim in the afternoon. We always go back out for a ride, but I had zero interest. That's how hot it was.

I'm happy with my gear choice and am looking forward to getting the pixie fixie to the top of Mt Washington later this month.

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