Monday, September 22, 2008

After a couple year break from self inflicted torture I felt it was time to go back to my roots and attempt "Hiller Than Thou" for 2008. This ride is a 100 mile race through the hills of central Jersey. In addition to the distance it's enhanced with upwards 10,000" of climbing - some incredibly steep. To do this ride you must be crazy, super fit and/or both.

I must admit that my confidence level was not the highest due to my lack of training. I currently have too many interests that prevent me from riding my bike much anymore. For me to finish the ride would take all the cycling knowledge and tricks that I have, some luck and lots of pain. I packed a map just in case I had to bail.

Started approx 8:30 with an easy 4 mile group ride (approx 100 riders) to the 1st major climb, Mt Lebanon. Passed on the temptation to push and dropped down to my fresh 39-27 and spun my way up that puppy. So far so good! Next up was Snyder rd, long and moderately steep. Same deal- spin, conserve energy. Next up - Quenby mountain. This it the 1st hill that has the caliber of steepness that will be testing me in the miles to come. There's some serious pitch to Quenby but fortunately that part is not to to long. Once up Quenby it's over to the never ending Jenny Jump climb - very long, a couple steep spots but manageable. I can see why Jenny jumped.

Once Jenny was knocked off it's over to the 1st real test of the ride, the infamous Fiddlers Elbow, home of the steepest paved road in New Jersey. At 50 miles on Foul Rift road along the river you get glimpses of the ridge that you're gonna ride over and believe me it's a disturbing sight and even more troubling once you start the climb. The bottom you start climbing up Roxberg Hill rd which is very steep and utterly terrible but this is only the beginning. After a short rest on Ridge Road a quick right sends you up the climb from hell. Not too bad at 1st but it just keeps going and going and getting progressively steeper till you reach what most call the wall. I generally weave back and forth up this stretch (some call this tacking) to avoid going straight up. Going up this stretch takes everything you got, not only legs but arms, shoulders back muscles etc. Trying to conserve energy on this hill was especially important for me as this was just 53 miles into the ride, 47 more to go. My experience of going up Fiddlers many times proved itself on this one (certainly not my fitness level) as I rode past many walkers on the steep part. The satisfaction of clearing this hill is short lived as the descents aren't long enough and its back to climbing once more. Next up is Buttermilk Bridge rd. I've been up this many times but never remember it being this long and steep (maybe Fiddlers had something to do with this).

Next up is the worst hill on the ride, Iron Bridge rd, ridiculously steep for a long, long time. An important decision must be made, try to ride up the wicked part and risk squantering the unknown remaining energy that I have and jeopardize the rest of the remaining 40 miles or walk up the darn bad part and maybe have enough to finish the race. Walking was the only logical option for me and turned out to be a good one later in the ride.

Cruising on over to Henderson then Dutch Hill/Forge Hill - these 2 normally aren't too bad but with 70 miles of hills in your legs they are agony.

At this time I was had a moment of joy that the worst was over and I had a real shot at finishing this ride. My joy was short lived with the realization that some 15 miles remained, usually not too far but this ride it can take forever and hurt real bad.

The mind games started and I started to think about the hamburgers and beer waiting for me at the finish but Mountain Top hill put me back in survival mode once again, back to steep, long and weaving just to be sure I could save something to get up Point Mountain which on a good day is a chore. I received my 1st ever cell phone call in the mist of the climb from John Friel - extraordinary mega miler who finished about about an hour ahead of me. He actually came back to ride up Point Mountain with me. That was welcome sight in that John is very chatty and took my mind off the incessant climbing. Point Mountain is very long with some steep spots through in for good luck - a fine way to finish the ride!

All in all I couldn't be more pleased with how things turned out in light of my limited riding this season. The key I think was eating and drinking lots and going easy up the big ones.

Can't wait for next year! Oops, almost forgot about Iron Cross............. Check back for report.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Extreme bicycle hill climbing

The top of Mt. Washington!

In cycling, the challenges are as follows, going faster, going longer and cranking up those hills.

It’s that challenge thing that has me looking up the road and wondering, “I wonder how hard it would be to ride my bike up that hill?” Don’t get me wrong- even though I enjoy hills and the challenge they evoke on my 180+ pounds, I don’t pretend to get up them quickly. I’ve always envied the smaller riders who seem to get up the hills so effortlessly.
Hills are simply a challenge, you against the hill. The challenge for me, especially on the “monsters” is to get up them “without touching.” My rating system is simple, 1-10 with 10 being the hardest. My personal 10’s that I use as a measure are Mt Washington Auto Road in New Hampshire and Pic D’ Paradise, on the island of St. Martin in the Caribbean. The auto road is 7 miles long, 12% average grade with extended stretches of 18%. In addition, above the tree line the winds start and can get quite stiff. The hill on St Martin is about a mile of absurd grade, it’s barely surmountable with a light road bike and a granny gear - a real test.

What turned me on to my quest to search out and get up the steepest and toughest hills was a small ad I saw in a bike magazine for an intriguing ride that sounded right up my alley - “Hillier than Thou”, 100 miles of very tough hills. The grip reaper on the t-shirt clued me in as to the seriousness of the ride. I drove up to Belvedere, New Jersey, paid my 25 bucks along with about 100 others cuckoos and off we went in one happy group. That group stayed happy as a clam until we reached the 1st climb, 7 miles into the ride: the infamous Fiddlers Elbow. After that, reality set in and realized that this is a serious ride that we signed up for and we were on our own. That ride opened me up to a whole new dimension of cycling – extreme hills.

Most of the big hills that I refer to are in Holland and Warren Township in New Jersey. There’s lots of good stuff in Lower Saucon as well.

In my 1-10 rating system, Fiddlers is an 8. It’s a very long hill and really not too bad (ok, I lie) except for the last 100 yards that gets progressively steeper and sneaks up on you. That’s where you see people falling off their bikes because they can’t keep enough speed to stay upright. The road is wide and lots of people zigzagged at the top. New Jersey trivia - Fiddlers is the steepest paved road in New Jersey, 22% at the top. I’ve done Hillier than Thou many times and always liked the earlier versions of the route, namely doing Fiddlers at the 7-mile mark when you’re fresh. The other 6 or so climbs weren’t any picnic but Fiddlers can suck the steam right out of you. The route has been revised over the years and enhanced to the point of insanity, 100 miles, 11,000’ of climbing and moving Fiddlers to the 80-mile mark – ouch!

After barely getting up Fiddlers I couldn’t imagine a hill being any harder. Yes there is! Iron Bridge Road in Warren County is terrible. This 9, although not quite as steep, is about 18% + for what seems like forever. To add to your enjoyment it’s narrow so you can’t weave at all – straight up you go. A little down the road is its brother, Ludlow Station Road, another 9, not quite as long but a little steeper - yippee.

Some other fun hills in the area that come to mind, not in any particular order are:
Rt. 579 out of Bloomsburg. Very long, deceptively steep and often in the hot sun - 8. Norton Church, Shire rd, Adamac, Pinchers point, Quenby Mountain and State park road by Jenny Jump park are 8’s, steep fairly long and painful.

Some formidable 6 and 7’s in the Bucks County area are Uhlertown, Fretz Mill (22% at the bottom), Short road, McNeil, Carversville/Wismer and Eagle rd.

The Lower Saucon area offers a plethora of long hard climbs, Dogwood Lane, Drifting Drive and Bougher hill Rd are some tough 7’s in this hilly area.

There’s also a class of hills that I consider enjoyable - long gradual climbs that allow you to get into a rhythm rather than the very steep ones that survival is the point. Some that come to mind are Loehmans Glen, Turkey Hill, Brass Castle, Millbrook and Montana rd in the high country in Montana, NJ.

Of course what goes up must come down. There’s a few that you can “let it rip” safely. My favorite is Brass Castle and Sweet Briar, both close to 5 miles long, fast sweeping turns with good visibility far ahead. On rare occasions when I feel like being a “wild and crazy guy” I’ll plunge down Carversville/Wismer hill toward Carversville, if the wind is favorable I’ll get the coveted 50mph+ on the computer that’s always a thrill

This hill report contains hills that any CBBC member can get to within 50-mile radius. Even crank some out in the morning and back so you can get back to do some yard work (yeah, right!) There’s certainly steeper, longer ones out there but require more travel.

Those are some of my favorites, what are yours?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kilamanjaro Adventure

Mt. Kilimanjaro and Uhuru peak climb Jan 27th to Feb 5th 2005

some pictures

Newtown residents Barry Brick, Ken Brask, George Hollerbach and his son Jed and Harry Betz participated on our climb. For our crew we had 3 guides, 1 cook and 14 porters. Each day the schedule would be about the same except for the last day’s assault of the mountain. Wake at 6am to someone serving coffee or tea in tent. 6:30 tub of hot water would be delivered for washing. 7am breakfast. Start hiking at 8am. We’d hike anywhere from 4 - 7 hours to the next camp. By the time we got there the porters have already set up the tents and started on tea and dinner. We generally went on acclimatizion hikes for an hour or two before dinner.

Day 1 - Sunday 2.5hr drive from Kibo hotel to Rongai Route park gate. This was mostly a dirt road, very rutted. Luckily was dry, it would have been atrocious if raining. Went through various small villages. Kids were waving ever ware. Arrive at park gate, sign in, meet guides, dump off large bags for the porters and start gradual climb through rain forest at 12:45. Reach 1st camp about 5:00. Not too bad, Gerald had us walk very slowly; “bole-bole”, he said, which means slow, slow. That would be the theme for the rest of the climb. Nice dinner of tilapia, potatoes, dessert. Retire to my own tent early. This climbing is a piece of cake! Spoke too soon, heavy monsoon rains start at 8pm and last all night. Not too much sleep.

Day 2 – Rains mostly all day heavy and light, end 4 pm. The hiking is starting to get steeper and a bit more strenuous in parts but not too bad so far. Had lunch in a cave to get out of the rain. It was a mob scene, all the people climbing trying to stay dry for a while. 2 hour altitude acclimate climb before dinner.

Day 3 – The day begins clear but starts raining again, heavy at times. Everything is getting wet. They say this is the dry season; I’d hate to see the rainy season. Going to 14,500 feet today. Clouds are below us. Clear all night finally, very cold, zipper broke in sleeping bag, couldn’t get warm all night, not much sleep again. Woke up to clear skies- yea! 2 hour altitude acclimate climb before dinner.

Day 4 – Start 8:15 am, weather sunny and warm. We hike up and over a couple ridges and descend to the saddle, an area that connects Monezi and Kilimanjaro. It’s flat, barren, looks like the moon.

Day 5 – The final assault. Start from Kibo campsite (15,000 feet) at midnight as planned, very cold but clear. The route starts uphill immediately and varies from medium to steep. Gilbert takes the lead setting the slow pace with everyone in single file behind him, but seems a little too fast. Is it me? All I see is his shoes in my light.
I follow him step by step. We take turns asking for breaks- it’s like crying uncle. A little ways up we take a break and split into two groups. Seems like it’s getting colder and harder to breathe. I’m not very comfortable at this point. Large sweeping switchbacks turn into tighter ones, a couple steps then turn and so it goes for hours.
About ¾ of the way up large rocks and boulders start to appear. Gilbert leads us through them; I’m thinking: does he know where he’s going? After 6 exhausting hours we reach Gillman’s point in the dark although it’s starting to brighten up a little. Gillman’s point is the first summit of Kilimanjaro- if you make it here, you can say you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
We rest about 15 minutes. Everyone’s exhausted. We vote to push on to Uhuru, the actual highest point in Africa. This means an additional 2-hour hike around a huge crater, sometimes precariously close to the edge of hundreds of feet drop.
More uphill climbing, and at 19,000 feet, it’s torture. I had a massive headache and was gasping for breath, but otherwise felt good. We reach Uhuru exhausted, take some pictures, and rest for a short spell. Then it’s back we go, the same way we came.
It’s downhill but still very hard. Don’t know how Jed is going to make it down, he is in dire straits. George asks me to stay close by to possibly carry him down. I’m questioning whether I can get myself down.
Everyone finally makes it down to the Kibo campsite at about 12:00 noon. I skipped lunch and crashed in tent with a massive headache and nausea. I don’t know how I’m gonna hike another 6 miles to the lower camp. I take some Advil and although I feel weak I’m a little better for the hike to the next camp. I eat very little dinner, either I’m getting sick of the food or maybe it’s the altitude- who knows. I had the first good night’s sleep of the trip; I guess exhaustion will do that.

Day 6 – Pleasant but steep hike down the Marangu route to the park gate where we board a Land rover for the short drive to Kibo hotel. We each get our own rooms, our first shower in a week felt great. I drank a number of Kilimanjaro beers. Life is good.