Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Snowbowl Road and Birthdays

Looking back up at the main gate to Snowbowl, the usual stopping point for climbing Snowbowl Road on a bicycle (it's often closed). As you can see, storm clouds were building over the high peaks so I was glad to get in my ride before the storms started. The elevation at the gate is over 9,200 ft above sea level.


My annual fitness goal is to be able to ride my bicycle up the road to the local ski resort, Arizona Snowbowl, no later than my birthday. Since I usually take the winter off of bicycling, this is always a challenge.

Last year I had already achieved it early in the year (albeit with insufficient fitness, resulting in a suffer-fest), so instead I went hiking at Skunk Canyon. But I gained weight last winter and lost even more of my aerobic base than usual. Ok, I pretty much lost all of it, and it took longer to build back up, so I arranged for a day off from work on my birthday to hit my goal.

Over the last few months, I have been training steadily for this, but spring wasn't easy. I rode half of Snowbowl Road two weekends ago and it didn't go very well. I came home and didn't take adequate time to elevate my legs, and was horrified to step in the shower and see both legs covered with a blue net of what looked like varicose veins. It's happened before but I still took the time to Google search and reassured myself that it is normal for a cyclist who has just done a particularly taxing climb. It isn't a sign of vascular disease or anything. It's just a sign of a very hard workout.

Today things went better. I avoided "burning" my legs before getting warmed up, and pedaled steadily. Paradoxically, the fastest way to climb on a bicycle is not to charge up the mountain, but to stay just off your stress point. You should feel like you are spinning easily and should neither get short of breath, nor feel as if your leg muscles are straining, though going fast means being near these limits. Pro cyclists use power meters and set wattage goals, but I go by feel. And even then, the wattage goals of pros are ultimately dictated by how they feel. If you push too hard, you will either burn out, or run out of cardiovascular capacity and start to black out.

Before I was diagnosed with asthma, I actually pushed myself into a "grey out" scenario a few times while riding uphill (as opposed to a blackout). If you don't get enough oxygen, your vision will start to narrow and a circle of grey will rim your vision. If you keep pushing, the circle of grey will expand until you get down to tunnel vision, and can only see narrow view of what is in front of you.

I inherited excellent cardiovascular capacity from my dad and was in denial that it might be a shortage of oxygen for a while. Unlike most people, usually my legs fail before my cardio does. Eventually I decided to get a spirometry test and found out it was asthma, probably a result of years of exercising outdoors in one of the worst places in North America for lung health: Chattanooga.

Putting that aside, I had a nice ride up Snowbowl Road today. I've been faster, but that was when I was lighter, so I'm happy I made it all the way to the top. As a testament to increased experience, I got a couple of PRs on the descent. I still got a couple of 3rd bests on the climb. Not great but not terrible, and I feel like I'm recovering ok, though my Garmin watch suggested 4 days of recovery, lol.

It was a pretty good birthday. After I got back I elevated my legs to drain them for 20 minutes, then went out to one of my favorite local restaurants, Tiki Grill, for a salmon salad.

The view from where I stopped to rest before riding back down the mountain. Even though I've held an annual Snowbowl pass for several years now, I kind of resent the construction of this huge parking lot, which replaced beautiful forest and alpine meadow with a plain of cinders.


I was feeling pretty good and self-satisfied until I remembered it was my birthday, and my Dad, who died in 2018, used to call me every year and recount the story of driving my mother to the hospital in the middle of the night back in 1973 and it made me cry. It doesn't help that we shared the same birth month.

As Paul "Bono" Hewson said about the loss of his father, "There's no end to grief," but as he also said later in the same song, which is the song's subtitle, "There Is No End to Love."

But it was still a good day. I'm another year older but I can still ride a bicycle up a mountain.

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