Sunday, August 12, 2012

Barker Pass: More than a Workout, It was a Mindshift

I drove up to Lake Tahoe to see my boyfriend of five years, Steve, this weekend. I was feeling lonely and depressed and Tahoe seemed, and seems, the only remedy for those feelings lately. 


The beginning of Barker Pass Road, where I parked just off Hwy 89. The rest is a steady climb until pavement becomes dirt .

I can't express the strange sort of loneliness I've been feeling lately in the Bay: it's inexpressible, in part, because there's no reason for it. I have a great job where I'm learning new skills everyday; I'm constantly writing, which is what I want to do; I train with a Master's swim team, which has an "awesome-ness factor" that I can only relate by saying I can do the butterfly stroke across the pool (even the 50 meter distance) after a year of practice with them... a fact that astounds me, still since my swimming technique before joining was more like an abstract interpretation of the sport; I ride with a group of talented and friendly cyclists who've shown me the beauty of the San Francisco Bay area and who've taught me the value of cycling; and I'm (sort of) running again. Yet, I'm sad.

Honestly, I feel as though I've accomplished nothing with my life. This mere months after a graduation from a graduate program I was all but drooling over for years, that I finally went to, loved and completed. Still. I feel as though I've done nothing. My actions: wasted. My athletics: gone.  Why on earth I feel this way, I'm still not sure of. Maybe I need therapy.

So last night when Steve and I talked about the rides he does up here, and the topic of Blackwood Canyon (Barker Pass Road) came up, Steve mentioned there's a guy up here who rides up to Barker Pass not once like most people do, but instead, four times. It sounded a bit like torture to me, because I was one of the one-time climbers. After all, the beauty of a ride that climbs a mountain is that you get to stop once you get to the top, ride down and call it a day, right?

But the idea of riding up Barker Pass doing what would more or less be long hill sprints stuck in my mind until morning. Could I ride up Barker Pass road more than once? Say, even three times?

The question is ludicrous if only because the rides I do with the Diablo Cyclists in the Bay are not only much longer, but offer more change in elevation than would doing Barker x three. However, the lovely thing about long rides is that you are not climbing the same hill over and over and the visual stimulus of a varied landscape can, at times, be enough to push you forward. And there's also that thing about progress, about seeing how far you've come.

But you lose all of that when you do a  hill-repeat type workout. You aren't covering more ground-- you're covering ground you already covered. And then there's the worry that you just won't make it up the hill you've already climbed-- maybe from not enough rest, or (more likely) not enough motivation.

The road construction and traffic up here, though, forced me off the main roads where I would normally ride to either attempt hill repeats on Barker or to ride it once and call it a day. So, despite my worries I couldn't do it, I did.

Three times up Barker Pass road.

The first time, I timed myself from the car, which I parked along Highway 89 that runs along Tahoe's West Shore. It took me 36 minutes to the top, the fastest time I'd ever clocked going up that hill, though it's been a while since I'd ridden it.

For the second and third repeats I didn't ride back to 89 since that section is mostly flat. I began my ascents at the base of the climb, so my times for the second two were much quicker. I'm (slightly) upset with myself that I didn't keep more accurate time of myself, but I gauged my effort by heart rate.... for the first two, I kept myself in the 165-174 range. On the last one, I let it all out, getting in the high 170s and finally peaking at 182 near the top where I thought I might throw up a lung since I can feel the altitude when I come up for these short weekend visits.

What can I say? I did the ride I didn't think I could do. I passed everyone else riding up the hill, sometimes seeing them on my way down only to catch them before they made it to the top.

I wonder if I could have done more repeats, even just one, up that hill.

You know, I probably could have. But that pesky voice in my head said "you can't." So I went back to the car.  I know now, however, that multiple climbs are not beyond my reach. It might even be the type of workout I should integrate into my weekly training cycle in order to become a stronger cyclist.

As for the issue of loneliness, or more aptly, lost-ness, I don't know. I guess I'll just have to keep riding until I find the answer.

For more information on the Barker Pass Road Ride, read this:

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