Last Saturday, I joined my brother for a bike ride up in Jefferson County. We went up Deer Creek Canyon Road, and the mountainous route left me feeling somewhat humbled. The course we took called for a lot of climbing during the first several miles. Although I did my best to tackle the ascents, I often found myself lagging behind, and rider after rider seemed to fly past me on their way up the hill. After more than an hour of uphill riding, we found relief in the form of some great descending, but by the last 10 miles, I didn't really have anything left in the tank (fortunately the last 5-6 miles were a screaming downhill). On the final hill I told my brother that I would just have to take my time getting to the top, and I even contemplated a stop mid way. As I drove back down to Pueblo later that morning, I realized that I have a lot of work to do in the saddle before I'm anywhere near ready for HITS in about 8 weeks. I know I will be ready, and I also know that I better get used to being tired on the bike, because becoming a stronger rider is one of my main goals this summer. That means many, many more rides like the one on Saturday. The next day, I felt a little sore, but surprisingly good all things considered. I even managed to get a five mile run done in the heat of the afternoon.
Fast forward to today. I didn't have a long ride planned this afternoon as I was hoping to squeeze a quick ride in after work. 20-30 miles was the plan. After loading my bike into the back of the element, I drove out east of town to the test track road. This is usually a quiet stretch of road with some rolling hills that is a popular place for cyclists in town (I guess I forgot about the end of the day out at the Depot, as there was nearly constant stream of vehicles headed back into town). Driving along, I noticed a strong wind out of the south, the gusts buffeting the car. Great! I thought to myself. Was I ready for another ride in the wind? Not really, but what choice did I have?
I parked the car on the shoulder and unloaded my bike. Heading east away from town, I discovered after a few minutes that the wind was blowing mostly on my right side, and perhaps a little bit at my back. In my mind, I rode a little ahead and surveyed the route I would be taking. I recalled from many previous rides that after a few miles, I would turn with the wind fully at my back. While this was great for the first half of the ride, it also meant that I would get a blasted by a head wind on the return trip. Minutes later, after cresting a long, slow hill (the hills really seemed like nothing after Saturday's ride), I felt the wind get behind me and I began to race forward. Without really trying I pushed my speed over 25mph, and managed to coast along the flats between 20-25 mph. After the second hill, my pace increased even further, and I estimated that I would hit 10 miles in just over a half an hour. Fearing a long slog back to the car, I decided that 20 miles total would be a decent enough ride for today. At 34 minutes into the ride, I reached the 10 mile point, and it was time to turn around. I took a deep breath, flipped a mid-road u-turn, and prepared for the roar of the wind to fill up my ears, and my speed to drop precipitously.
But it didn't. For the next 2 miles, I rode back at a steady pace. Heading back down the first hill, I easily pushed my speed to over 20mph, with the wind slicing across the front of the bike from left to right. I rode a little further, and then nosed the bike around a turn and directly into the wind. Instead of dropping below 10mph as I anticipated, I kept riding at 15-16mph. It didn't even feel like I was trying that hard. I dropped into my aero bars, and it got even easier. For a moment I thought that perhaps the wind had shifted, and I was enjoying the benefit of this change in direction. But looking at the direction that the trees dotted along the road were bending, I realized that I was indeed headed into the wind, it just wasn't slowing me down as it had so many times in the past.
The road continued to wind its way slowly back towards the car, and I continued to push a strong pace. At every change in the trajectory of the road, I expected a blast of wind to finally come along, and sap all of my momentum away. Finally with only two miles to go, I reached the top of the last hill, shifted into high gear, and roared down toward the car. My time coming back (even with more riding into the wind) was the same as it was going out, 34 minutes. More importantly, I didn't feel completely gassed when I was done. In fact, I felt pretty good.
So maybe today was a breakthrough of sorts. I still have plenty of work to do in order to become a better cyclist, but at least I was able to see an improvement over my last few rides. I definitely want to ride longer, and faster, and feel stronger, but I believe if I continue to get on the bike several times a week, this can happen. I know that I will need to get back into the mountains again soon as well. Maybe next time, they won't seem so daunting, but then again, they probably will.