The view from the top

3 09 2010

Fueled by Thursday’s consumption of rabbit, and with cyclists’ logs of serious climbing for their Gran Fondo training ringing in my ears, I set out on Friday’s ride with one goal in mind: climb.

And in the Lower Mainland, the most serious climb is the road to the top of Seymour Mountain.

It’s probably the closest climb we have to a classic European ascent; 12 kilometers, just over 1000 meters of elevation gain, for an average gradient of around eight per cent. It’s toughest slopes are at the bottom, where the road tilts upward at ten per cent, with the occasional section touching 12 per cent. The middle part wavers between seven and nine per cent, and the climbing becomes gentler near the top.

It’s been more than seven years since I last tackled Seymour, when I was preparing for my cycling trip to the ’03 Tour de France. Then I put my old steel Cramerotti on the roof of my car, parked on a side street near the base and basically just rode the mountain.

Friday, I was a man on a mission; Seymour would comprise just a portion of my 100 km route, that also took me up and over Burnaby Mountain.

All told, I achieved 1954 meters of climbing in 96.46 kms. That’s just a little shy of the total climbing on the Gran Fondo.

But it wasn’t easy.

For one thing, it was hot, much hotter than I expected. By the time I finished Burnaby Mountain, I could feed my skin roasting. So I made a pitstop to get sunscreen. Instant relief.

After a lunch stop in Deep Cove, I set out for my ascent.

A sign of the next hour to come.

As I churned my way up the steep lower slopes, the kilometer markers passing veeeeeeerrrrrrry slowly, I marveled that we used to ride this climb on our mountain bikes to access the legendary North Shore trails. This is one of those mountains where shuttling actually makes sense.

The road goes up relentlessly.

And I was passed by a few pickups doing just that, the front wheels of big 40-pounder downhill bikes hanging over the tailgates. But otherwise the road was pretty quiet; I passed only one other cyclist.

The first lookout was a welcome opportunity to get off the bike for a moment to check out the view east, high above Port Moody, Mount Baker rising up the haze shrouding the Fraser Valley.

From there the road levels out somewhat to five per cent.

But still the summit seemed interminably far away; the last time I tackled such a major climb, there were tens of thousands of crazed, and mostly drunk, cycling fans alongside the road up Luz Ardiden, awaiting the arrival of Le Tour and cheering everyone on two wheels in the meantime. That sure salved the pain of some of the crazy switchbacks on that 20 km climb.

The transmission towers near the Seymour summit seem so small from sea level.

Alas, Friday there was just me and my own thoughts, which veered wildly from ‘Holy Crap, I should have been doing this long ago; I’ll never be ready for the Gran Fondo’ to ‘this ain’t so bad, just keep my rhythm.’

I sure was glad when the trees parted and the road widened towards the parking lot at the Seymour ski hill. I celebrated with a Larabar.

On a clear day, you can see forever.

Now, you’d think after more than an hour of grinding climbing, the descent back to the bottom would be a piece of cake; sure there was barely any pedaling required, but coasting for 12 kilometers and 60-75 kmh presents it own physical hardships. Like watering eyes, cramped fingers as they hovered just above the brake levers ready to squeeze when needed, and burning thighs. O my, the thighs did burn from keeping the cranks level!

Oddly enough, my maximum speed for the day, 77.5 kmh, didn’t come on the descent of Seymour; it happened much earlier, down the Cariboo Rd. hill in Burnaby. I think I caught a draft from a car.

Home, showered and fed, I know this; the Seymour climb was my last big ride before the Fondo. I’m now officially in taper-down mode…

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