Sunday, November 27, 2005

Waimea Canyon An Odyssey in Three Parts. Part One

Waimea Canyon, an odyssey in Three parts.

Part One: The History

ZenLC is a sadistic man. He should have been a chemistry teacher.

That should set the framework for the events to follow. ZenLC recognized a part of my personality that has difficulty in resisting a challenge. He used this to inflict considerable pain and torment, both physical and mental upon my person.

Last year, ZenLC and his family took a vacation to the beautiful Hawai’ian island of Kauai. As all must do when visiting this gem of the pacific, they enjoyed the splendor of Waimea Canyon described by Mark Twain as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." Having traveled to this same place a few months prior, we had some discussion about it. There is much to note that while I marveled at the spectacle, ZenLC began thinking of how to torture a new cyclist with the idea of climbing this monster on bikes.

The challenge was posed. Ride Waimea Canyon. Not just down, like the tour groups do, but up. Way up. With the completion of my first century ride behind me, and the elation that success brought, I agreed. I had a new challenge and with all the optimism of a green rider, I began to plan out my training rides for the year. Hills. Lots of them, and many times. Of course, as could be predicted, forces beyond my control dashed my plans, but I did a fair job of damage control. I would do less than a third of the training that I’d planned.

ZenLC, a few months out from the ride, poses the idea of adding 60 miles to the Ride and making it a century. I voice my concerns about my fear of not completing the Climb itself, let alone an additional 60 miles, but he simply says, “You’ll do fine.” Over the next few months, I commit to trying to add the miles to turn the Ride in to a century, but without the experience of that type of climbing, my limited training, and bathmophobia, my heart just wasn’t in it.

My training for climbing and improving my power to weight ratio met with mixed results. Other factors in life gained a higher priority, but progress was made on both accounts. Five weeks prior to The Climb, I quit my job. Three weeks prior, I started a new job. Nutrition and training were put to the back burner, future income had to be secured.

I will leave out the details of trying to pack down my recumbent, and the poor timing of my lovely wife inviting people over the night before the trip. It’s too much work to censor out all of the profanity. I will not be shipping my recumbent to any more off island rides. Period.

ZenLC and I had become very good friends over the last year or so, and it was interesting to meet him face to face. The familiarity of knowing a bit about this person, mixed with the lack of familiarity of talking face to face was quite odd. I had the opportunity to meet his lovely wife and adorable son.

Waimea Canyon, an odyssey in Three parts. Part Two

Part Two: The Climb

The morning of the ride was filled with electricity. The feeling of Christmas morning as a child was all around. We set off before dawn. ZenLC drove as I had a fascinating conversation with his son about pickles and toads, not to mention counting how few people were awake at that hour. As we drove the route in reverse, I became a bit alarmed at the grade and frequency of the climbs. Nothing epic, but I was also trying to place these climbs on the route map… a climb is considerably different in the first 20 miles of a century vs. the last 20 miles. The route looked daunting. Eighteen mile climb of 4000ft in the first 20 miles aside, just doing a century ride on this route would be a challenge. If I survived, it would be a miracle. Fear has now entered into the mix of emotions of exhilaration, anticipation, and desire...

After a nice breakfast in Kalaheo Coffee to fuel up for the ride, we drove to the base of the climb. Parked in the lost of a mini-mart, we set up our bikes. ZenLC finished first and spotted a rider setting up his rig as well. As it turns out this rider was planning on doing a bit of a training ride and agreed to ride with us. There was a bit of confusion on the route that he was taking and what we were calling Waimea Canyon. There are two routes up the canyon. The route that he was planning on taking was also the route that we were taking. When ZenLC said “up Waimea Canyon” the rider thought he was taking the other route. This rider shared with us a few insights on this climb, things like how no one rides past the 550/552 junction because it’s too steep after that point, and how some pro triathletes had to walk up some sections. I was a little worried looking at this light, nimble, experienced local rider say that he’s only riding to the junction, and ZenLC and I had plans to ride about 10 miles farther. I had temporarily stopped worrying about the remaining 60 miles that ZenLC had tossed on to the ride a few months prior. As the conversation between ZenLC and the rider was going on, I had finished putting my bike back together and while doing the preflight, noticed that the rear brakes were a bit on the mushy side. I moved the wire nut up about an inch and everything seemed good. He said he would meet us at the bottom of the climb and drove off. I gave ZenLC the thumbs up and we set off. The brakes still felt mushy. On any other ride, I wouldn’t have paused to give this too much though, but we were going to be doing 18 miles of descent. This is not the time to not follow your gut. Further inspection revealed the cable was worn nearly through. Bad bad. Panicked, I borrowed tools from some guys hanging out in front of the mini-mart. It took us 45 minutes to “MacGyver” my brakes into submission and we were good to go. We hoped. The local rider was nowhere to be found.

This was it. The Ride that I had feared, dreamed, and obsessed about for almost a year had finally begun. After a quick fuel dump and a little conversation with FSM, we were truly off. We climbed slowly and focused on conserving energy. We joked and talked and climbed at a nice steady pace. ZenLC, being the stronger rider, would ride next to me as we climbed and drop back when the odd car came up. It didn’t take to long for my legs to start burning, but I’d anticipated it. I could deal with it. Heck I had even trained for this, a little. My cycle-puter has an altimeter function, and I left in on that setting to watch the altitude pile up. So far, the ride hadn’t been any more difficult than my training rides, but my training rides were not quite this long. I’d communicated with ZenLC about my training rides and their different levels of difficulty and distance. ZenLC, even though he’s evil and is trying to kill me, was there with a bit of encouragement. When we’d gone about five miles or so, he asked me how long my longest climb was. I responded with “thee and a half miles or so”. He countered with “See, you’ve already done something that you’ve never done before.” Man, he’s crafty. Trying to lull me into thinking that I could actually finish the climb. Keep in mind that, at this point, I had put out the “century” portion of the ride completely out of my mind. I was focused on summiting, and that’s it. Funny how the mind can just push things to the side like that. It raised my spirits a bit when the tour group can flying down the hill. Twelve tourists and two guides, that took a van to the main lookout. I would have loved to hear what was going on in their minds when they saw us climbing the hill that they couldn’t. I made a rude remark about their abilities, or lack there of, and continued my suffering.

The local rider caught up to us. He’d waited at the other road for awhile and figured that we’d gone the other way. His pace was a bit faster than mine. By a bit, I mean double. ZenLC and he rode up a bit and talked. I just plugged away at my 5.5mph. Local guy was on a double. I guess he realized that I had no intention of speeding up and he slowed down. (Hey, I wasn’t going to tell him that I was at max climb speed.)

After what my legs would tell you was a week of climbing, we reached the junction of 550 and 552. 2400ft of climbing. Most difficult climb I’d ever done. Good time for a rest. I was quite proud of myself at this point. Heck, I was starting to think that I’d make it to the top. Again, I really wasn’t thinking about the 60 miles that followed the descent. I sensed a bit of astonishment from the local rider that I had made it this far. On a recumbent. Looks like even he had heard that “recumbents can’t climb”. ZenLC and I said our goodbyes and the local rider said good luck, and we headed off, up the hill, again. The main lookout was only a few hundred feet from the junction so we decided that it wasn’t worth the stop. And we both recalled that you had to go up a path to get to the lookout. I, for one, was not interested in breaking the rhythm I had developed so far.

We continued the climb, legs slightly refreshed from the break. A mile or so up the road was a nice view.

We started at around 30ft above sea level. Back on the bikes, we were both feeling a sense of accomplishment; we’d done some serious climbing, and had a spectacular view to show for it. I cannot figure out why someone would not ride the few extra miles to get to this view and just turn around at the junction. Odd. The road was a fairly even grade and we just pushed on. Pain had become an intimate friend. I was no longer angry. This would change.

One of the most challenging parts of the climb was yet to come. Maintenance responsibility of the road changed. So far, the road was in pretty good shape. No shoulders to speak of, but the surface of the road was smooth. This new section looked like a war zone. Horrific repair attempts. This must be where they train new road workers how to repair potholes. ZenLC, with his carbon fiber bump eating bike was not happy, and even though my back side was on a nice reclined and cushioned seat, the bumps and jolts were driven through my body. My sunglasses were bouncing on my face, and at times I couldn’t read my cycle-puter. Atrocious. Hell. This is not something that I had prepared for, or even though of. Miles of crap road.

We passed Kokee State Park and the road took a serious upturn. My speed dropped to under four mph, which is no easy task on a P-38. I’m not sure what the grade was, but after sixteen miles of my legs being on fire, it was just a bit more than I could do. The road was narrow and full of switchbacks. I cracked. Right there. That quickly. Hit the wall and came to a dead stop. I had nothing left. I was afraid that I would fall over, so I stopped. Quietly, I was surprised to have made it this far. We took a break, right there in the road, on a turn, because it was all turn. Water and fuel into the system and a chance to regain my breath, and let the legs refresh was all that was needed. Be damned if I’m going to let this end so close to the summit. ZenLC missed his chance to torment me. Heh, maybe he was in pain too. Doubt it. Evil knows no pain. When I felt that continuing would not kill me, we started off again. I had bonked pretty hard, but my mind was set on summiting. The steep section didn’t last too long and we were rewarded with a nice little descent on the same crap roads. No speed records set there. Another steep section followed by an easy descent landed us at Kalalau Lookout, elevation 4000 feet.

The Summit.

There was no more road to follow.

A brief walk up the path to the right yielded a spectacular view.

Notice the look of pride and joy on my face, contrasted by the look of “I’ll have to kill him on the descent” on ZenLC’s.

We took a short break to eat a bit and rest. Surprised tourists marveled at our accomplishment. I was thrilled, and can still remember that feeling.

Around half way back through the crap road section, my right calf started to cramp. Attempts to stretch it out on bike failed and I had to stop. ZenLC gave me a banana and we headed out again. When we made our way out of the war zone, the road felt as smooth as glass. The descent had begun. The reality of climbing Waimea Canyon was beginning to sink in. Another major goal accomplished and the thrill of flying down that hill at 25+ mph had me literally shouting with excitement. (Just another crazy recumbent rider). My aerodynamic and mass advantages launched me down the hill, carving curves as best I could. The failed brake cable still in my mind. The climb seemed to take all day, but the descent seemed to zip right by. In no time at all we were back at the junction. This alternate road was a bit steeper and followed the edge of the canyon. Brilliant views and breath taking rollers, all with a steady downhill bent. I spotted a fairly straight section and let off the brakes entirely. 25mph. 30. 35. 40. 45. The P-38 steady as a rock. 50 mph, double the posted speed limit, and a new personal record. Steady braking brought my speed back into control. I was on fire. I’d done it! Waimea Canyon was done. Recumbents climb just fine, thank you very much. ZenLC caught up to me, being much more sensible about his speed, and surly just waiting for me to kill myself so he could be spared the trouble. We rode together to the bottom of the hill, which seemed incredibly flat and headed off to the store to replenish our bottles.

We called our respective wives, whom I’m sure were both happy that we’d not gone off into the canyon. We were a bit behind schedule, but still doing ok.

Waimea Canyon, an odyssey in Three parts. Part Three

Part Three: Take Me Home

With bottle full, and our energy up, we took to the road again. The road out of Waimea consisted of nice rolling hills, of which none were scary. I was along these next 10 miles or so that I realized that I was in for another sixty miles. Part of me did not think I would make it this far. The other part was screaming profanity at me for thinking that I could finish 100 miles after 4000 feet of climbing, on a recumbent. We headed out of Waimea in into Hanapepe. The roads became little more rolling, and it was taking its toll on me. I was tired. I think it was in Hanapepe that I started to complain, merely echoing what my legs were telling me in mile three. Mentally, I was breaking. I was beginning to think that I would not make it back. I had never failed to finish a ride before; but then again, I had only been riding for two years, and this was way beyond the scope of anything I’d attempted before. Every uphill lasted forever and my body screamed. Every downhill seemed to last only a few seconds. Just enough time to give me a moment of relief before the pain began anew. Not sure how, but ZenLC had finally killed me. I was in full wuss mode. If I listed all the parts that we in pain, or had surpassed pain to enter the realm of dead/numb, it would put you to tears. The ride began to be not fun. My thoughts seemed focused on the pain. “How could I make the pain stop? Call in for the Sag? Maybe I will have a ‘mechanical’ and I could stop and not have to reveal how much pain I am in. It could be that I just need another break. A flat tire would be nice.“ That seems so ludicrous now. I wont even say the word ‘flat’ and there I was thinking how nice it would be to have one. Bad place.

We took a side road to make sure we had the miles to complete the century and along this stretch ZenLC stopped to get some gunk off his tire. I motioned for me to keep riding, but I needed the break. Badly. He could see in on my face. We talked a bit about how I was doing. He asked if I had though about calling it ‘quits’. I admitted that I had, but I wasn’t dead yet. Part of me, way deep down underneath the fear that my toes were bleeding and the pain in every part of my legs, was a desire to finish this damn ride.

The road heading off to Koloa had a few less rollers, and my focus shifted ever so slightly to making it to Koloa. The next scheduled rest stop. After a few miles of slight incline, we were rewarded with a nice descent into town. We parked the bikes and headed off to a special part of the ride. Ice Cream. We sat on a bench, tired and sweaty, eating ice cream in cycling clothes. It was the funniest thing to enter my mind in a long time. I was that far gone. We stayed in Koloa for a while. We were behind schedule. I wasn’t sure how far behind, but we were in serious danger of not getting back before dark. The time off the bike, and a scoop of mint chocolate chip gave me a moment of respite. I began to realize that my mind was the part of me that was failing. My body was in pain, yes, but unlike where I cracked at the top of Waimea Canyon, my body still had the ability to continue. I was not sure how far, but I knew I could go on. The term ‘paradigm’ is over used. But I had a paradigm shift; a mental revolution. I would finish this ride. I would not fail at this. I had not committed to ZenLC doing the century ride before. Partially because I wasn’t sure I could finish. It was so beyond the scope of what I’d done before. I made that commitment then. Not verbally. I stopped focusing on the pain and agony. This was supposed to be fun. And the reason the last 20 miles or so had not been, had only to do with my thoughts. Pain is a part of cycling.

To be a cyclist is to be a student of cycling's core lies pain, hard and bitter as the pit inside a juicy peach. It doesn't matter if you're sprinting for an Olympic medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you're missing the essence of the sport. Without pain, there's no adversity. Without adversity, no challenge. Without challenge, no improvement. No improvement, no sense of accomplishment and no deep-down joy. Might as well be playing Tiddly-Winks. -Scott Martin

I changed how I was looking at the next 55 miles.

We grabbed some fuel restock from a gas station and set out. The Tree Tunnel on the way out of (or into) Koloa is a very cool thing. To see it from the seat of a bike is a very very cool thing. ZenLC and I rolled through Lihue and made some good time into Wailua. At some point he mentioned something about me catching my second wind. I didn’t have the brain power to focus on riding, holding back the pain, and go into the transformation so I told him that I found out that I had the “Wuss Swtich” on my bike set to ‘on’, and just set it to ‘off’. I remember him laughing, but deep down I could see the disappointment in failing to kill me by now.

Our average speed started to climb as we hit sections of road with few and less steep hills. Kapaa passed in a blur, though I remember seeing my cycle-puter displaying a speed of 26mph. We were booking. Anahola had some nice climbs, but my legs knew that they could just shut the hell up until they carried the bike up the stairs to the condo, and to do that, they had to make it up this hill, and the next one, and the one after that too. The rest of the hills and ride are mostly a blur. Until it started to get dark. We were running out of time, and our estimates of how far we needed to go to make this a century, and how far we had to go to get to the condo were not jiving. We pulled up to the condo five miles short, and the sun had gone done. I swapped out my sunglasses for my regular glasses, and we headed out to finish. It was hard to be at the stairs of the condo after 95 miles of pain, only to turn around and get back on the bike. We rode off out into the dusk. The area around the condo had surprisingly few streetlights. Darkness hit hard, and we were lightless. The main road was entirely too dangerous so we headed back to the side roads. Full darkness now. Riding became like a dream. Agony had retreated; simply a dull shadow. Every synapse was focused on not riding off the side of the road, or into a pothole, or into ZenLC.

Back at the condo, and climbing the three flights of stairs, my bike weighed 100 lbs. My legs had been reduced to Jell-O. My bones hurt. I was too tired to be as happy as I should have been.

Ride Stats:

Distance: 101.5
Ride Time: 8:39:26
Average Speed: 11.69
Max Speed: 50.1 MPH
Elevation gain: 10,323 feet
Calories Burned: 4949
Thrill Factor: Outstanding!

ZenLC recognized a part of my personality that has difficulty in resisting a challenge. He used this to inflict considerable pain and torment, both physical and mental upon my person. With the passing of pain and torment, I emerged gloriously reborn. Stronger in the faith of my abilities, and understanding of what a ‘limit’ is. All comments about him wanting to kill me are purely subjective on my part. I am considerably grateful to ZenLC for posing this challenge and the help, support and sadism that allowed me to complete the most difficult thing I have ever done.

So far.