Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mini-Malabar for a Maxi (weight) Rider

Some of the East Side's big engines, the relative beasts who sometimes kindly wait up when I get dropped on climbs, were heading out this evening for some serious hill hammering to prep for one of NEO's hardest races, Saturday's Tour of Malabar Farms.
I knew, and they knew, that I wasn't really invited to this evening's throw-down. Nobody has to be that blunt with me. I can't climb with the Cat 3s and should-be 3s who were going to go beat the crap out of themselves. I can't even climb with the good-climbing 5s. We all know this. So there was only a brief bit of awkwardness Tuesday night when Dave said to me, "See ya tomorrow night?" and it became clear I didn't know what he was talking about because I was carefully not invited. Thom fumbled for a second before telling me what was up, with a subtle but polite warning: "Uh, it's going to be fast. It's going to be hard."
Enough said.
I might eventually get back to good crit form this year. But I doubt I'll ever be a climber in this lifetime.
Nonetheless, I decided to go off and do my own mini-Malabar on a long lunch hour.
I have on many occasions ridden down Gorge Parkway thorugh the Bedford Reservation, but never up it. It always seemed intimidatingly steep. So it struck me today as a good place to go punish myself for not being worthy of chasing Dave, Pete, Thom and Ray up and down the Chagrin River valley.
I drove out to the Canal Visitor Center in Independence and rode over to the bottom of the gorge, then up the parkway. It was a strain because I wasn't really warmed up, but I found a steady rhythm up the steepest grade (which, I was surprised to discover, was only about 1/2 mile long). Then I barrelled up and down the few miles of rollers to the golf course at the top, at Hawthorn Parkway.
There I doubled back over the rollers but hung a left before the plunge, onto Overlook. That brought more rollers until Egbert, where the road dropped downhill to Dunham.
There I turned around again, back up to Overlook and then back to Gorge Parkway. That steep drop seemed a bit less steep now, having gone up it; I barely touched the brakes on the dive back down to Dunham.
It was getting close to time to head back, but I'd only ridden about 15 miles. So I turned left and headed south up the hill on Dunham for a mile or so until I saw six deer staring at me; I u-turned to chase after them, then rolled on back to Tinkers Creek and back to the visitor center.
I was about to stop there when I saw another hill on the other side of the railroad tracks, which is Hillside Rd. It is a wall - only about 2/10ths of a mile, but straight up for half of that, then there's maybe 50 yards of rest before a steep switchback. Then there's a mile or so of false flat; I saw a stoplight and wondered what road it was, so I kept going until I confirmed it was Brecksville Rd. at the top.
From there I turned around and headed back to the start at the visitor center. But the CuyValley train was parked across Hillside and cars were backed up. So I turned around and started up that short, steep grade again. Halfway up, the train started to roll, so I turned around.
I wasn't blowing myself up trying to hang with the Cat 3's -- I think my average was a mere 16 mph. And it was only 20 miles. But close to half of that was uphill. That makes for a good little workout. For me, anyway.
Oh, and it was enough to drive home that I'm not about to go spend $25 to get dropped a few miles into the Malabar Farms race on Saturday. Good luck, team!

- JN

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