“So what is your objective for climbing up Palomar today?” Rick asked me.
“I’m going to try and improve my PR by 10 minutes,” I said jokingly, “Seriously all I am here is for the camaraderie. I’ll just stick with you and then if I feel good around halfway up I’ll go a bit harder”
Palomar mountain is our local hors de categorie climb, it is around 12 miles and takes around an hour to climb. In 2012, after I had been riding a road bike for a year I was invited by some of my friends from the local Tuesday/Thursday ride to go up Palomar mountain. I had come to riding from a running background where I enjoyed climbing. Going up Palomar with that group of around 15 I wasn’t able to keep up with them. It was a long lonely climb and as I approached the top I saw the group heading back to the bottom where they would wait for me.
After what seemed like forever I reached the peak and turned around to descend the mountain. Descending a mountain on a bicycle is an exciting experience particularly when you have the protective bubble around you that comes from inexperience. I descended quickly as I wanted to catch the group. I went around a right corner then a left corner and then rode straight into a guard rail at about 30MPH. My front wheel took most of the force and I instinctively put my helmet forward to stop my forward motion and cracked it on the guard rail. My first ride up Palomar ended with me being driven home in a good samaritan’s car.
I’ve ridden thousands of miles since 2012 and epic rides which are much harder than Palomar. I have improved my bike handling skills, my ascending and descending and gotten fitter and faster. Despite my improvement, every time my friends suggested a trip up Palomar mountain, I had an excuse not to go. Finally in January 2015, my friend Juan wanted to go up Palomar mountain and I rode with him and a small group which thankfully ended my Palomar phobia.
I discovered that the Palomar ride is very scenic. The climb is tree-lined and it is a constant effort. The temperatures during the San Diego spring are perfect as it is in the 40s on the climb and in the 50s on the descents.
This particular Saturday in February, I invited my friends from my Wolfpack Cycling Club to join me for 3rd time up Palomar. We had 8 people show up. Dan who climbs around 1,000,000 feet a year and his wife Jackie, Eric and Renee, another climbing couple, Travis the mountain biker and his friend Rob. And then finally my main man Rick who I ride with at least once a week.
We started the ride from Wohlford Dog park and rode to Palomar at a mellow pace that kept everyone together.
On our last Palomar ride Rick dropped me halfway up and beat me by about 5 minutes. Today Rick’s plan was to try and improve his performance by around 5%. After about 5 minutes of climbing, we had DC up the road followed by Rick and I with Renee (Eric’s girlfriend) giving chase. The balance of the group was spread out behind us. Unbeknownst to us Travis had a flat tire and Eric stopped to help him out.
About 15 minutes in I decided to go at my own pace and slowly accelerated past Rick and 2 or 3 times Rick caught back up to me and then I would accelerate again. Rick didn’t bother to try and hold my wheel as he was riding at a constant effort as measured by his power meter. Just after the halfway point I pulled away from Rick then all of a sudden I looked back and couldn’t see him behind me.
I decided to try and catch Dan who was ahead of us. Since I don’t ride with a powermeter I tried to maintain the same level of discomfort. As soon as the gradient eased I would feel that I could spin easier and I would change up a gear and do the reverse when the gradient went higher.
After a few minutes I caught up to Dan. Dan’s climbing style is the complete opposite of Ricks. He spins at a high cadence and would ride hard for 3 to 5 minutes then back off for 30 seconds. Then ride hard again. Each time he did that he pulled away from me. And then when he backed off I would catch up to him again and actually pass him. Each time I passed Dan, he said, “Good job”. Once he tried to have a conversation about our families, and I said Dan, not now!
Riding with Dan was great as I ride much better when there is someone next to or around me. The miles ticked down and we approached the top of the climb. As we got down to 2 miles to go to the top I continued to push just a little harder. With the end in sight accelerated away from Dan ultimately beat him by about a bike length. I celebrated the “win” as that was my first time to ever be first up Palomar! Ultimately I improved my time up Palomar by almost 9 minutes! Dan also had a personal record (“PR”) with his effort.
Rick came through about 30 seconds later and congratulated me. He had improved his time by around 2 minutes! I rode back down to get the last cyclists up (Travis and Eric) and rode with them to the top. It was a great ride and I look forward to doing it again in March when Rick says we need to improve again!