Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Sound of Gravity

In the last five miles of the climb, the road tips sharply skyward and bends back upon itself like a long piece of asphalt spaghetti draped randomly over the mountain by an ill-humored god. It's about this point that the music that had been playing in my right ear stopped, the end of the hour long album having been reached. It is here you discover what gravity sounds like.

Having started early, the beginning of my ride began in bone chilling shadow. Occasionally in the climb up Hoosier Pass I reached a point where the morning sun had crested the surrounding ridges and streamed down into the valley through which I was climbing. In the sharply slanting light, steam rose off the headwaters of the Blue River and the beaver ponds.

But with five miles to go, the music stopped and I heard gravity. When the rise is moderate, say 3% to 5%, gravity sounds like the gently gurgling water in the drainage ditches and and beaver creeks alongside the road. It sounds like the rhythm of your breathing and the whisper of your tires as you move aerobically skyward. But when the ride tips above 7% and reaches 10 and 11%, it sounds completely different. The gurgling of the creek becomes a torrent and a rush. Breathing is faster and more ragged as you have to stand to whip the bike around a hairpin switchback approaching 15%. And then there's the groaning--as the internal combustion engines downshift and complain in an effort to climb.

And once you're over the top, having smirked to yourself at the folks who waddle from their minivans to snap a picture of themselves in front of the sign marking the Continental Divide, gravity is a scream. Your freewheel whirs like a cyclone of angry hornets as the valley floor on the other side comes up to meet you. And you'd scream too, only your heart is in your throat. You know you're supposed to relax and flow with the descent, but the warmth and sweat of climbing in the morning sun has given way to the bone chilling sweaty terror of descening in the shadows on the other side.

You can see the demarcation point where the shade of the mountain ends abruptly in bright sunlight, and you hope you can hold on with your rapidly numbing fingers until you get there. You start to wonder whether you got the headseat of your bike assembled correctly, whether everything is tight enough, whether your tires are sound, whether feathering the brakes will cause your rims to overheat and blow the tube, whether the road is in good enough condition to be going this fast . . . and how relaxation is possible when the windchill must be in the 20s.

But finally, Alma, Colorado comes rushing up to meet you, and you pedal downhill through town with the wind at your back, matching the speed limit for cars. And you continue to warm and hammer your way over to the Brown Burro in Fariplay, Colorado, the location of the object for today's ride.

A hot latte enjoyed at a picnic table in the warm sunshine.


jtrimom said...

sure sounds different from your Tx posts. hot latte in the warm sunshine?...can you imagine THAT after a ride in Houston?

1HappyAthlete said...


Tiggs said...


Captain Cactus said...

That's just so not fair. Wish I was right there with you.

Richard said...

Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. I felt like I was completely with you.

I'm a big latte fan too, you see.