This is it.
My "training" for the Tour of Tahoe is done. I logged a 50-miler yesterday, which included a trip up Mile Hill (which is actually 1.25 miles long, go figure!) about 20 miles in. That climb was followed by a long, slow, grind up another hill on Route 13.
As he mapped out the ride, TC noted that it would be a good last ride before the Tahoe trip - pushing me up two decent-sized hills and getting some good mileage on my legs.
Just add another 20 miles somewhere in the middle and I'd have my Tahoe ride, more or less. Oh, and raise the route about 5,000 feet to add the extra challenge of riding at higher altitude.
I mounted my bike Sunday morning with 100 miles and change left in my personal challenge to ride and run 2,010 miles in 2010. I'm certainly more excited than I thought I would be (or perhaps should be?) as I've ticked off these last few hundred miles. That "finish line" is finally in sight.
The plan was to knock out 50 miles - not my highest mileage to date, but certainly the most I'd planned in a while. I felt good to be out for a distance ride.
I looked forward to completing the miles, but I felt a rush of butterflies and stomach flip-flops at the thought of Mile Hill. I'd never ridden it. I'd never even thought about riding it, actually. I was familiar enough with the long, steep climb by car that it made me sufficiently nervous to even think about riding it on two wheels.
It was the third leg of the stool - the third of three hills TC had planned for my You Better Get Your Butt Up Some Hills If You Expect To Survive Tahoe crash training regimen.
I'd already made it up Mountain Road. Just the its name gives you a sense of this 2.5 mile climb. A few days later, I went up and over another nearby climb. Both were big confidence boosters.
But Mile Hill was still out there. A 1.25-mile steady incline, ranging between 6-10 percent incline. What made Mile Hill a little bit different than the others was that it did have any breaks along the way. Even the other big climbs flattened out briefly in spots to give my burning leg muscles a break.
Mile Hill's elevation chart ranged from red to purple. As TC described it, "You'll get a rest, but it will be at six percent grade, so it's still going to hurt. It's just going to hurt less than the other parts."
I mentally prepared for the long haul up - but I had to get there first. We spent the first 20-so miles of the ride in relatively familiar territory. It was a picture-perfect day with bright-blue skies. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could, but in reality my mind was focused on that monster ahead. Eventually, I knew, we'd reach the bottom of Mile Hill.
And it was up to me to reach the top.
We rounded the corner that brought us to the base of the hill and we were off. Or up.
The climb started almost immediately. I knew it would be slow, steady grind. I found my groove (a very slow groove, mind you) and kept cranking. The cool breeze that I'd felt for the first shady part of our route had immediately disappeared. The sun shone down on me hard.
I pushed and pushed. I could feel the force of the bike and gravity - or whatever it is, exactly, that makes going up a hill do darn hard - working against me. That force clearly wanted me at the bottom of the hill.
I fought and pushed. And realized that, hey, this isn't quite as bad as I was expecting it to be. Don't get me wrong. It was hard. My leg muscles were working overtime and I was practically moving in slow motion. (At moments like these, I often wonder how slow you can actually go on a bike and remain upright.)
TC rode beside me, encouraging me all the way. He did all the talking. I remained essentially silent (at one point I muttered something about feeling as if I was going to catch on fire) as he navigated me up the hill.
Finally, I crested. Totally and completely out of breath, sweat pouring off me - and smiling. I couldn't help but feel relief and pride at the top. I'd done it. I'd knocked another "question mark" off my list. Oh, and I hadn't even needed to click down into my Granny Gear.
TC held out his hand for a high-five. I lightly - ever-so-lightly - tapped his hand in celebration. I realized just how wobbly I still was from climbing the hill and my bike unexpectedly veered to the right, nearly onto the gravel shoulder. A gravel shoulder and my skinny road bike tire - combined with my shaky post-hill balance - would have resulted in disaster.
Luckily, I remained upright and we began our decent. A quick stop for a water refill at a local store and we were off for Climb Two, a less-steep but still-long climb that was a good test for my tired legs.
Once at the top, we enjoyed the last dozen miles of fast descent on new pavement. My speedometer ticked up to 34 mph. I'm sure TC's was much higher. We'd agreed to meet at the stop sign a few miles down the hill, and he was almost instantly out of my line of sight.
By then, the temps had skyrocketed. As we made our way through the city, where it always seems warmer, it was nearly unbearable.
We entered our parking lot with 50.1 miles on the books. And a great confidence-boosting ride before my next big challenge. Next stop, Tahoe.
After a few relaxing days in Napa, of course...