Day 1 was a 35 mile jaunt on the pavement. Day 2 was close to 50 between mountain and road. Day 3 was one of the days I was looking forward to the most: road biking, on a mountain.
Day 3 called for an ascent of Mount Figueroa. The route directions called for a 53 mile ride with 4,300 feet of climbing. Being the flatlander that I am, we don’t have much call for climbing in Illinois. And yet I’ve come to love climbing. With my relatively light weight, I’m pretty good at it. Perhaps more importantly, climbing is very compatible with my personality. You just tune into the climb, shut everything else out, and go. Cycling can be the purest form of suffering, and climbing is the purest form of cycling. I didn’t have anything to prove, except to myself.
To our benefit, the weather was overcast and a few degrees cooler, with a chance of rain. Chad and I packed our Gore Oxygen jackets in a jersey pocket, and rolled out. The road back to Mount Figueroa had a few little climbs, and some foothills that concealed the climbs to come.
The roads were a little crumbly at times, but still flat and pretty smooth.
I had my Garmin, and my cue sheet tucked into the brake cable housing.
At the base of the Mount, the road narrowed and became tree-lined. The first few miles were the steepest.
I was watching the grade on my Garmin. At their worst, the grade hit just over 20%. I wasn’t taking many pictures, focusing instead on riding. When I was taking pics, it was always in a flat spot where I could lighten up a bit.
Around every corner, the road unwound a bit further.
Chad and I had an early start. When we got to the base of the Mount, we split up just by virtue of pace. Chad knew I had a demon inside that wanted to come out. My first goal was to complete the climb. My second goal was to climb fast. My third goal was to climb without stopping.
I completed the climb.
We didn’t start in a group–but no one passed me on the climb. I was the first one to the top.
As for the ‘no-stopping’ goal, I stopped once, two miles in. I stopped a second time, mid-Mountain, for a refill on my water at the Trek Travel van. I stopped at the Road Closed sign, to hop the fence. I stopped at the top.
If you’re going to ride Mount Figueroa, the first 3-4 miles are the worst (best?) part. They’re the steepest, hardest, most intense climbs. Once you’re up to mile 5-ish, there are still climbs–hard ones at that–but not as hard and not as steady as the bottom. Climbs at the top are closer to 10%, with a few going up to 15-16% grade. On the worst of grades, I was geared out, furtively pushing at the brifters trying to find that elusive 21st gear. On the 5-6% grades, I felt like a hero, dropping a few gears and pushing up the hill.
(Smiling while trying to catch my breath).
After the Road Closed sign, if you hopped the fence, there was a single-lane road that went up to the summit.
The road to the summit was one of the best parts of the whole ride.
Having summitted, I turned around and descended. For my first real descent, I felt pretty comfortable. The road wasn’t closed, so you couldn’t go all out…but you could move right along. On those corners where you could see the road ahead, you could flat boogie by starting on the outside, clipping the corner through the apex, and rounding out on the outside. While I don’t Strava, I’m advised that Taylor Phinney has the Strava downhill segment KOM, at around 35mph average. Let me tell you, 35mph is plenty fast, on the downhill. I cannot imagine averaging that speed.
I’ll finish the ride review here, first: arriving back at the bottom, I snarfed down some grub and considered my options. I had been told that no one on the Trek trips had done a double-ascent of Mount Figueroa. That became my goal. I wasn’t sure if I had the time or the legs to do it, but I wanted to try. I hopped back on the Madone and pointed uphill. I didn’t finish a full second ascent, but I did make it 6 miles back up the mountain–more than halfway, and through the worst of the climbs. I did more climbing than I’ve ever done in a day–which was pretty amazing for me, personally, as a rider. After my partial second ascent, I screamed down the mountain with considerably more confidence in my cornering, just barely touching 50mph at one point (despite the skinny tires, it is amazing how much traction a road bike has when angled over, hauling through a corner). I then rolled back to town, through the beautiful Ballard Canyon route.
Here’s the other important part: Trek Travel rocked. Their people were awesome. At the base of the Mount, Jen and Hershey had a delicious lunch spread including a delicious quinoa salad and a gluten-free pasta salad that were amazing. On a lot of bike adventures, I have to subsist on energy bars because the available food isn’t gluten/dairy free to accommodate my Celiac’s. Part of the pre-trip prep for Trek Travel is advising them if you have any dietary issues. I told them of my concerns, and they were amazing in meeting my needs. It was nothing short of totally awesome to get back to the base after my first ascent, and be able to eat real, delicious food. I cannot give enough praise–and thanks–to Trek Travel (and Jen and Hershey) for taking the time to come up with recipes and make food that I could actually eat.
I’m going to dwell on that for another paragraph. For any cyclist, being able to eat and fuel your body is necessary to be able to ride your best. Trek Travel accommodated my unique dietary needs and enabled me to have an awesome ride. Perhaps the bigger takeaway for you, if you’re considering Trek Travel, is what this means for you: it means that Trek Travel will do whatever it takes to make your ride successful. They pay attention to the details, to make sure that you will have a fun, successful trip. I was blown away by the care they put into the trip–and it’s one of the reasons that I recommend Trek Travel wholeheartedly. Their effort and care made my trip possible, and made my trip enjoyable. It allowed me to set new personal records for climbing–but more importantly, it allowed me to just focus on my biking instead of worrying about feeding myself. They sweat the small stuff, so you don’t have to.
I’d like to do a little shout-out to Dave, as well, for his stoicism and sage advice on the weather, the wind, and the descent. As the day went on, the wind picked up substantially, making the descent a bit harrowing. Dave gave me a few pointers that made the descent far more enjoyable, and controlled.
Finally, I want to pass a word of thanks along to JV. I had a chance to talk with him on a number of different occasions, and he passed along a ton of great advice. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the routes, the bikes we were riding, and both Trek Travel and Trek the company. He was a genuinely personable tour leader, and he offered both wisdom and encouragement. My thoughts on him may be slightly colored by the delicious mid-Mount banana he offered at the rest stop, or by the support he offered when I talked about going back up the mountain a second time. But throughout each day of the event, he helped riders in every way imaginable, whether it was helping find a spare tube for my seatbag, or providing ‘been there, done that’ guidance on route selection. He was an excellent ambassador for Trek Travel and Trek, and an invaluable part of my trip experience. He had a way of getting knowledge across to you, without seeming like he was reciting a marketing brochure–he gave riders a chance to be informed and to understand the days’ events, and quite simply made the event more enjoyable. He’s a great asset for Trek Travel, and I hope he continues to be successful in his endeavors.
Those words of praise ring out for anyone from Trek Travel that I dealt with. Ordinarily, in a group of people that large, you might expect to find one or two that you just don’t jive with. That wasn’t the case. Every person, from the mechanics to the tour leaders, was kind and gracious, helpful, knowledgeable and fun. They improve the quality of your experience by being great people to be around, and by identifying, predicting, and meeting your needs.
Day 3 was overcast. It wasn’t as scenic, because of the rain, the wind, and the clouds. Much of it passed in a blur of burning legs and never-ending ascent. But it was awesome, despite the weather and lactic acid, because of what I was able to do, and because of the support I received from Trek Travel.
(If you’re interested in finding out more about Trek Travel, get in touch with Tobie at North Central Cyclery).