In order to race up Log Hill, Leon and I must first ride 16 miles of county backroads—from Ouray, through Ridgway and beyond, to a brightly labeled "Danger: Natural Gas Line" post that serves as a makeshift starting line at the base of "the Hill."
We agreed that, since it was our first ride of the season at "elevation," we would forego the usual stopwatches, odometers and chest-thumping smack-talk, you know, competitive Type A (for Ape) behavior distilled from testosterone and the previous nights beer that courses through the average male's bloodstream at any given time. Nope, this was to be a non-competitive get-ready-for-summer "training ride," fun, if you will.
|Leon grinding out the one hillclimb on an otherwise downhill ride to Ridgway on County Roads 17 and 23. It's longer and steeper than it looks...|
Having already put in considerable miles and several hills, Leon and I pause at the start line for a breather before taking on Log Hills' serpentine switchbacks. Of course there's always a headwind, no matter which direction you're riding. What else is new?
Next thing I know, Leon is shedding his jersey...an act of aggression in macho-macho man-world. Hmmm. I counter by shedding my "easy-bake oven" helmet, make sure he notices me clipping it to my handlebars. Leon then slips a sugary caffeinated "Shot Blok" cube into his mouth. Uh oh, this is getting serious. I pull a Gatorade Frost from my bottle-holder and chug it half-down. There's noticeable tension building...sidelong glances replace idle chit chat.
We circle like boxers in the ring, derailing chains into "granny gear" before toeing the line. Leon fudges by half a bike length.
Hey cheater. Back the fuck up.
I zero out my watch chronograph.
Leon zeros out his odometer.
In past races up Log Hill, Leon doesn't waste much time putting distance between us. He's around the first switchback while I'm waiting on my first wind. I can hear his trademark, and rather weird, psych-outs...yelling at trees, cows and assorted wildlife, singing corrupted versions of oldies and barking like a mad dog on a short leash. It's not uncommon to hear Leon scream at his legs: Suck it up, legs...get to work now cause we're doin' this whether you like it or not. Barley able breathe, I marvel at where he finds the wind for such extemporaneous speaking while pedaling up 10 percent grades.
His trash talk works. I'm disheartened, riding alone in my own little chamber of horror, sneaking furtive glances at my chronograph and wondering why in Devil's Hell we call this fun.
On this day, however, we stay together...taking turns at lead just like Team USA in the Tour de France. Leon leaves the flora and fauna alone for now, but hollers at legs that don't seem to be fully cooperating (thank God). If they were, he'd be out of sight. I surmise that training in Grand Junction's 4K elevation is not serving him well at 7,000 feet.
Two thirds of the way up I notice Leon isn't taking his turn at lead. A quick glance back reveals he's no longer drafting my tail and still having a conversation with his legs.
I hold steady at a 90% PE ("perceived effort"). Breathing is fierce; heart rate 160 to 170; sweat beginning to pour.
With less than a mile to go, Leon makes a move. I hear him creeping up, barking like some mad dog. I try to fend him off...break his spirit...and dial up the next gear, mashing pedals till I'm in serious oxygen deficit mode. Oh what I wouldn't give for some pepper spray, or thumb tacks...
Everything's fare in love and war. In a tit for tat exchange, Leon calls me out. "You blood doping" SOB." I holler back, "Caffeine cheater," a sentence that pretty much throws me into anaerobic distress.
With every perceptible ease in grade I chain up a gear, sometimes two, keeping the rubber to the pedal. I'm averaging one gear higher than ever before, which should translate into a better time, maybe even a PR. I glance at my chronograph. Pouring sweat blurs my vision such that I can't read the tiny fricking numbers.
Nearing the top, Log Hill's grade eases. Upshift-mash pedals, upshift-mash pedals. I sprint (relative term) the last hundred yards, hitting the "Stop" button on my chronograph as I cross the finish line (a sign post). I'm temporarily incapacitated...too whipped and winded to give a shit about time, let alone nukes in North Korea. Finally, consciousness returns...and along with it Ego and curiosity. I wipe sweat from eyes with my jersey sleeve and have a look at the readout: 24 minutes, 5 seconds. Huh, a good minute and a half slower than my personal best. Leon rolls in, groaning and cursing his legs.
It's a couple more uphill miles to Pleasant Valley Overlook, a just reward for macho Geezers dumb enough to push their hearts into the danger zone.
We lean our bikes against a cedar and plop whipped asses down on a log bench at the edge of the escarpment...a front row seat to the "show." Caught up in the joyous afterglow of a serious endorphin rush, we exchange congrats, fist-bumps and a rare, sweaty man-hug.
Pleasant Valley's panorama and snowcapped San Juan Mountain backdrop is a sight to behold.
Ridgway looks so far away, like some H-O scale train town. Beyond, a carpet of green points the way home to Lovely Ouray, all tucked into the creviced bosom of her Mount Abram mama. Our legs tremble and spasm as we wonder out loud at the wretched prospect of pedaling 20 mostly uphill miles home against an ever-maddening headwind.
One last forced-smile selfie...proof of the power of perseverance.
Tucked, chin literally resting on the handlebars, I race down Log Hill's switchbacks. I can't help celebrating life's goodness, that Leon and I survived another "stress test." It can't get much better. I doubt Heaven can match this view, feeling, experience.
In a moment of weakness...high as a kite under the influence of endorphin overload...I agree to run the Black Canyon Ascent with Leon this coming Saturday. What's it been, thirty some years since I last raced up that mountain? Sheesh, Leon!
I crash pretty hard post-endorphin rush. Slumped in my chair, beer in hand, staring out Imax Windows, I reconsider the days' events. The more I think about it the more likely it becomes that Leon "sandbagged" me to victory. Hell, his Log Hill PR bests my PR by nearly 4 minutes.
What a sly, kindhearted dog you are, Leon...