Geof put out the word that he wanted to do some hill training to prepare for his Texas Rando Stampede 1200K ride, so I suggested the classic Triple Hump in Stokes County. I modified the route a bit, but kept the 3 major climbs: Sauratown Mountain, Pilot Mountain, and Hanging Rock. I've never attempted any serious climbs like this, so I was nervous. Would I even be able to do it?
I couldn't get to sleep Saturday night, my mind wouldn't stop fretting about the next day's climbing- not to mention the descending! One of the things people forget about riding mountains is that sure, the climbing is hard but the descending is more dangerous. I'd had about 2.5 hours of sleep when we left Cary early Sunday morning to meet David in the parking lot on top of Hanging Rock at about 9am. I brought the Specialized Allez instead of the LeMond rando bike- perhaps saving a pound and a half would make the difference between survival and utter failure. Geof brought Claire, his newly built custom randonneuse, and David was riding his Soma Stanyan.
It was chilly and foggy atop Hanging rock as we prepared to set off. I put on arm warmers, but elected to leave behind the jacket and knee warmers since I wasn't running a bike with bags to stash the layers once peeled. The forecast was for mid to high 70 degree highs later in the day. The ride starts with a screaming descent of Hanging Rock and it was COLD. Pretty sure all three of us were experiencing some shiver-induced speed wobble! Once down the mountain it was still cold and foggy, but at least we were traveling at a more reasonable rate of speed. A short ways down Moore Springs Rd. we passed a convenience store and noted their sign that advertised Hammer Nutrition products- made a mental note to stop on the way back before the final climb of the day. The ride over to Sauratown Mountain was chock full of "rollers." Of course, back here at home they would be classified as big hills! The climbing served to warm us up a bit, but inevitably we'd crest the hill and go speeding down the other side again.
Before we knew it we were at Sauratown Mountain, which on paper looked worse than it turned out to be. MapMyRide had it as a 5 mile climb with an average 4% grade, but that was taking into account the 2 miles leading up to the turn onto Sauratown Mtn Rd, so when we thought we were starting we only had 3 miles left to the top! Also this road is mostly straight, with only 2 big turns so it's easier to maintain a climbing rhythm. I kept Geof in sight for quite awhile, and in this fog that meant that he was probably within 50 or 100 feet of me! Eventually he gained enough of a gap that I lost sight of him, but when I suddenly broke out of the fog into bright sunlight near the summit I could see him just ahead. At the top he had maybe 2 or 3 minutes on me. David was just behind us. Climbing and sunshine had warmed us up so the layer peeling commenced, and everybody had a snack before we set off for the day's second screaming descent.
When we re-entered the fog on the way down Sauratown the temperature dropped drastically. I was wishing I still had my warmers on. My companions disappeared into the mist as my shivering caused me to have to slow down to avoid the wobbles. Thank goodness the organizers of the Three Mountain Madness had spray painted "SLOW" on the road just before the big curve because in this thick fog we couldn't see that far ahead! As I came around the curve I spotted Geof & David on the side of the road and I worried that something bad might have happened. It was hard to stop on such a steep slope, but when I got to them I discovered that it was just that Geof had flatted his rear tire. Turns out it was a cheap tube, and the heat from heavy braking caused a leak. He patched it while I held Claire so she wouldn't get too dirty and we continued on our way.
The first serious climb was behind us and I was very happy with my performance. I'd read about climbing and descending techniques, so I was just trying to find my rhythm and keep my heart rate from getting too high. It worked. Now we were on our way to climb Pilot Mountain. I've driven that road before- it's the quintessential mountain road with steep twists and turns and switchbacks. The kind of road that you drive up in 2nd gear and overheat your brakes on the way down. MapMyRide has it as a class 2 climb: 3 miles at an average 7.1% grade, and in that 3 miles you climb 1,100 feet! I've ridden centuries with less elevation gain than we were about to do in just a few miles.
The roads between Sauratown and Pilot were more of the same rollers, with at least one really good grinder thrown in for good measure. The chilly fog had been replaced by sunshine and warm temps, and the arm warmers came off again. As we approached Pilot Mountain I got away on a downhill and built up some speed, came around a bend and saw the Surry County line. Geof and David were way back, so I took the sprint without challenge. They were starting to catch up to me about the time I made the left turn into the park to start the climb, and I saw Geof stop to have a nature break. I thought I'd take the opportunity to get a bit of a gap since he'd most likely pass me very shortly on the climb anyway. The first bit wasn't bad at all, but then the grade really kicked in and I had to find my comfort zone again. I figured I could go a little harder than I did on the last climb, so I tried to keep my heart rate below 180 (about 90% for me.) I was running a compact crankset (50/34) and a 12-26 cassette, so pretty much the whole way up I was in a 34-26! I used all the tips and tricks I've read about; alternating sitting and standing, taking the outside line since it's not as steep, relaxing, and controlling my breathing. It all worked. It was very hard, but I never felt like I was pushing beyond my limits. At one point I saw Geof behind me but I didn't try to speed up or worry about getting caught, just kept riding my comfortable pace. I reached the parking lot at the summit and no one had caught me! As a matter of fact it was a little while before Geof came along, seems he had been having shifting problems and couldn't go all the way down to his lowest gear (not sure I would've even made it to the top with that issue!)
At the top I wasn't too far behind, I still had him in sight when he turned into the parking lot. All in all I had a great day on the bike and found out that I can actually do this climbing stuff!