Monday, December 5

The Psychology of Climbing

Introduction

This post is the second in a three part series on "psychology." The first post was the Psychology of Long Rides and the last will be the Psychology of the Descent. Not really building on my previous post, I want to explore where the mind goes when the legs are cranking against gravity.

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The nature of climbing on two wheels is interesting. Purists will not walk a bike up a grade at all. Realists will acknowledge that some hills, or some days, are just too steep. Some will use hills as an excuse not to ride at all.

The bicycle is a very efficient tool for climbing though. And if you let it a bike can help you attain heights you'd never be able to reach otherwise.

There are 3 truths about climbing with a bicycle.

1) You don't have to climb fast.
2) You can get off the bike and walk.
3) Riding down the other side is freakin' fun!



You really don't have to come out of the saddle to get up most climbs. Mountain bikers tend to stay seated while climbing because once you get your weight off the rear wheel in dirt you tend to lose traction instantaneously. On pavement you may want to stand up to keep your momentum over short hills or to power over severely steep inclines. And that's okay. But there's no written rule that says you can't just drop into your granny gear and bobble over the hill at a snail's pace. Why break a sweat, right?



You want to go to the top of some hill, ride some pass, cross some valley, but you just don't think you can do it on your bike. Could you hike it? If so, give it a go on your bike. Unless you're facing a ten mile hike while pushing your bike you have little to lose. And you might just surprise yourself.

There's a vicious steep climb near where I grew up. It's something like 700 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile. It took me three tries over a few months to finally ride it without walking the bike. There's nothing wrong with stopping to rest. There's nothing wrong with walking the bike. We all do it at some point. If you want to remain pure in your efforts you can always stop, rest and begin again where you stopped. I tend to keep walking the bike after I come off. I'd rather keep moving than cease forward movement.


I walked this one too

There are a lot of rewards for facing down a big, scary climb and then reaching the top. Whether it's a gnarly mountain bike trail or a smooth ribbon of pavement climbing into the clouds, the accomplishment can make your heart swell and a big goofy grin break through the mud crusted to your face.

Sometimes those climbs live in the shadows of your heart and growl at you every once in awhile. But once you start hacking away at them, chinking away at their bony armor, you can usually find the path to their heart and if you strike with purpose you can slay your dragons.

When I was training for the Triple Bypass Loveland Pass was my bugaboo. I refused to ride it before the big day. My wife encouraged me to just go ride the pass, but I wouldn't. I rode Squaw, Guanella, Berthoud, Genesee Mountain, I tried Evans from the plains...anything and everything except Loveland.


Approaching the summit of Loveland Pass

On the day of the ride I stopped for a long time at the aid station at the bottom of the pass. Finally I started up. And all the way I passed people heading back down, shoulders hunched, some with tears, all defeated. Many stopped along the way, collapsing off their bikes and I kept going, hoping they would get back on.

As I screamed down the south side into Keystone my heart was nigh to bursting. The beast was slain. I stopped near the top to text my wife: "Over Loveland" with tears in my eyes.


Over Loveland

Getting to the top means you get to coast (or crank) down. Getting to the top means you've fought the good fight and won. Getting to the top is cake, and sometimes its the icing too. If you do enough climbing you may eventually find that you enjoy the climbing more than the descent. Even in the midst of suffering up some long slog you can enjoy the scenery as it slowly passes by, you can let your mind settle into sweet oblivion, and you can find peace in a world of chaos. And sometimes that's all the therapy you need.

When in doubt, drop into your granny gear and plod upward. Off we go, into the wild blue yonder.

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