When I try to explain where we live in the remote Utah canyon to others, I suspect they envision a little cabin in the woods. Some sort of ‘off the grid’, no running water, solar power setting is perhaps pictured. We do live in the back country but our house is far from off the grid. It is a four-season home with all the comforts of a city dwelling. However, we do depend on back country things like a working septic and power that comes from down below. Transmitters are placed in the lower canyon to bring the power up high to our house that sits over 7000 feet. Much of the basement is taken up by the 7000 gallon water holding tank that ensures a water supply for much of the winter. It’s like an indoor contained lap pool.
As I mentioned and photo documented before on this blog, we get up and down by snowmobile in the winter season. That said, when something goes wrong in the winter, it’s difficult to get a repair person up to fix the problem. Like last night when a transmitter blew. We woke up this morning to no power in the house. Who knows how long it will take to get someone up the road to fix the thing and get the houses up high running again.
But the point of this post is not our house, it’s the subject of power. Power, every cyclist knows, is the most important thing when it comes to going fast on the bike. Well, let’s just say one of the most important things. Power in the legs and power in the battery when you ride Di2 like me. A few weekends ago in Tucson, Arizona, at my training camp, I had a reminder as to just how important it is to make sure you keep check of the level of juice in the battery. I’m hyper-focussed on fueling my body and not so good at keeping an eye on my equipment. Not anymore. Not after that Sunday in Tucson.
I met a group of guys to ride up the infamous Mount Lemmon climb. I overheard them talking about this on the shootout (for the uninitiated into Tucson training, the ‘shootout’ is the Saturday morning training ride/race that local legends are made from…) and proceeded to invite myself on the group ride. Not sure if that was okay but I really wanted to make the climb up to the famous monster cookie joint up over 8000 feet. Mount Lemmon is a 25 mile ascension that has a mellow grade, making it a ride most people can do. I’m not saying it’s easy but it is something that most people can suffer up. I believe it runs through 5 or 7 different ecosystems and lends spectacular views.
Peter was in town so the two of us rolled out of the hotel with plenty of time to meet the guys at ‘le Buzz’, a coffee shop close to the base of Lemmon. I’d never heard of the place and we had to ask a cyclist on the way just where it was. Seems like everyone on a bike in Tucson knew of the place but me. Yes, I’ve been doing winter training camps in the city for over twenty years, but failed to really ever do any group rides or even the shootout until this past year. I’ve always been on a pretty specific and self-contained (with the people there with me) regime that didn’t necessitate looking outside of our crew for others to ride with. Or perhaps I am just socially inept.
When we finally found ‘le Buzz’, we discovered the caffeinating mecca for all of Tucson on two wheels. The scene was something else.
Soon enough, the crew of guys from all over America and a few Canucks rolled out of the shopping plaza to tackle the climb. Rolling along with a group of racing guys was just what I needed. To get my ass kicked all the 25 miles up the climb was what I hoped for. I tried to shift into my big ring and nothing happened. What? I tried again and again, nothing. Next attempt was the rear derailer. Okay, this was working, but why not the front? And then it dawned on me…..the battery….when was the last time I checked the battery for the level of juice it had? Never! I received the bike at team camp back in December and just assumed it would work fine. Assumed the next time I saw team mechanic Olli in, oh, say April in Europe, that he would check things again. I’m embarrassed to say that it didn’t even cross my mind to check the battery power. I did the battery power check with my shifter and it came up red. Red = almost dead.
There I was with the 25 mile climb ahead. All I hoped for was enough power to shift going up the climb. Silently, I accepted the fact I may be climbing in my 39×11 towards the top; silently, I vowed to make it to the cookie joint no matter the gear selection.
What I really dreaded was the descent. Oh how painful it was going to be in the 39×11 with a group of guys, some nearly half my age, faced with a ass-hauling drop down to the Tucson valley below. Why go uphill if you cannot dive-bomb the entire descent? Considering how much I love to descend, fast, I knew damn well these guys were not going to soft-pedal down. It would be all-out war and my butt was in for some torture with the gear selection, or lack thereof.
We made it up the climb into the snow-lined roads up high. Peter had to bail at 8000 feet after losing his hat and mittens somewhere on the bike path en route to el buzz. It was cold up there and a long break for cookies, hot chocolate and pizza, the latter two I partook in with gusto, was not only welcome but necessary.
The proprietor of the Cafe offered garbage bags for under our jerseys after hearing a few skinny guys talk about how they ‘should have brought more than a vest and arm warmers’ for the descent. Ironically, it was the Canadians who were all under-prepared for the cold up high, including me. We faked toughness in a ‘I’m Canadian and used to any kind of frigid cold….gloves are for sissies’ kind of way. I know inside we were each cursing ourselves for being so dumb as to not be more prepared and thus, destined to freeze. Lucky for me, I weighed more with insulation than these little climbers so didn’t suffer too much on the way down. At least not because of the cold.
The suffering came from a mix of a low battery and a high level of stubbornness on my part. Yes, I could have easily just gotten dropped on the descent and cruised my way down to the warm valley….but no, instead, I had it in my head that there was NO WAY I WAS GOING TO GET DROPPED. I came to see the descent as more of a challenge than the climb. I was ready to suffer not because of the gravitational laws that made me hurt more going up than the lightweights I rode with, but because of the 150-or-so-RPM I would endure on the plunge down.
Each mile marker was noted and each elevation sign was checked off as we fly down the mountain. I went between intervals of maximal RPM to sitting in, tucked into a little ball behind whoever I could draft, to pinning each and every corner like I was on a motor cycle racing for the win.
I learned a lot about my descending skills that day down Lemmon and am proud and pissed at the same time that I got dropped only a half mile from the very bottom. All of a sudden, my central nervous system just said NO MORE and stopped working to generate the revolutions per minute I’d been doing to keep contact. I was kah-put, just like my battery.
Here at home, there’s nothing we can do but wait for someone to come and fix the transformer and get the power going. I can guarantee I won’t be waiting ever again for my mechanic to check my Di2 battery. That is my responsibility and that I’ve learned this the hard way makes it all the more concrete in my head. As important as ensuring I have food or money to keep my engine going on long epic races and rides, ensuring the battery is charged to shift the gears is up to me.
My butt will forever remind me of this with memories of 150 + RPM down the long, winding road of Mount Lemmon.