Sunday, November 27, 2005

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.

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