Friday, July 17, 2009

Of Steptoe Butte, Bonking and Dead Legs

In early June, I asked my riding buddy Steev (this name has been changed to protect the identity of this bike-riding captain of industry) if he would be interested in riding up Steptoe Butte. Steev is one of those guys who sees the benefit of facing a challenge in a direct and head-on manner. He is not (yet) a hill climber, so his immediate preference is to attack any hill in proximity to give him a sense of what it takes and how to acclimate to this challenge. As such, and lacking a good idea of what he was readily agreeing to, Steev said "Sure, let's go ride up Steptoe Butte".

An aside, this reminds me of a conversation in which I asked Rider 1 to train for and ride the Leadville 100 with me. His response, as a former Boulder, Colorado resident was, "The Leadville 100 is for people who don't live in Colorado. People who live there know how stupid it is to race a mountain bike at that altitude." Apparently lacking knowledge of a challenge is the best way to decide to do it.

Anyway, the short version of our long ride is this. Because of the time it would take, we decided to drive to Spangle and ride from there. We took the Old 195 Highway through Rosalia, Oakesdale and to Steptoe Butte. At the base of Steptoe Butte, we took a picture to memorialize the ride ahead.

From Rides

Riding up to Steptoe Butte there are times it lears in the distance like a mini-Mt. Ventoux. It rises somewhat oddly in the midst of the rolling Palouse Hills. I have heard that on a crystal clear day you can see all the way to Mt. Rainier from the top, but I have never been there on a day clear enough to test this. I do know that it is the highest point for many, many miles. The road up to it climbs around the butte like the swirls of a soft-serve cone. After the steep, steep ramp at the bottom, you begin making a gentle left-hand turn for the couple of miles to the top. At the top, there is a cruel joke of another 50 meter pitch that is so steep that I accidentally lifted my front wheel off of the ground by gently pulling on the bars. After that, you are on the top.

From Rides

On this day, the three cars of people and few motorcyclists standing around on top all turned to look at the odd phenomena of bike riders appearing. It is the kind of moment when you are proud of the work it takes to make it to the top, no matter how slowly.

As you can see from the photo, it was a cloudy day and while we were on top of this beast, we heard the first thunder in the distance. We turned our bikes downhill and headed back the 40+ miles to the car. On the way, we were rained on and blown around a bit between Oakesdale and Rosalia, but were lucky that the lightening headed another direction and as we exited Rosalia it stopped raining. It was cool and we were under-prepared, but okay for the remaining ride.

The way back though, is what made this ride noteworthy. Steev had completed a century the prior year, but this ride was probably a bit too long for his training this riding season. In any case, he was largely out of steam by the time we left Rosalia and still had 15-20 miles to go. Every passing mile became more and more difficult. Steev had not bonked, but just had ridden all that he could do in good shape. I have another riding buddy who says "Action is what makes a man." In this case, I think it was reaction that made the rider. Instead of taking any of the alternatives, like stopping, whining or faking an injury, Steev just gamely pressed on. Even as our pace slowed and it became a struggle to keep moving, Steev just kept his head down and pushed on the pedals. He knew that I would have been glad to ride ahead and get the car to pick him up, or that there were other options, but those weren't options in his mind. The only choice available was to do his best and get back to the car.

It was one of those days that stands out for a variety of reasons. It is a great road with a real highlight of reaching the top of Steptoe Butte. It was a day that could have turned to complete hell if we got caught in a thunderstorm or if the temperature had dropped dramatically. It was a tough ride under the best of circumstances, but the rain added to it. But mostly, it was one of those days that makes you measure yourself as a rider and as a person, and makes you glad to be a cyclist.
Rider 3

1 comment:

  1. Why did you spell Steve wrong so many times?