Monday, August 26

Allez! Allez! Or, How Mark Got Suckered Into Riding Cobhill

BREAKING NEWS: Cobhill Sees a Record Four (and a Half) Ascents in a Single Day!!!

First off, I'm super proud of my wife for giving Cobhill a solid attempt.  She and Casey had planned to ride on Friday.  Earlier in the week Casey told her Friday was Mandy's day to do the Furnace Mountain climb.  Then our lovely KYTC started repaving the road late in the week and the ladies were thwarted in their plans.

Thursday Mandy texted Casey:

So they are paving furnace. Think they'll be done by tomorrow?

Casey replied:

That's ok. Lets just go knock out Cobhill instead.

Mandy's hilarious retort:

Yeah, wouldn't that drive Chris insane?

Late Friday morning I texted Mandy unaware of the Cobhill development:

How's your morning going? Still riding?

At 12:13 she replied:

You were supposed to get this text at 9:26: "Off to do Cobb hill. Seriously."  Just got back. We are beasts.

Jeff texted me at 12:15:

You just got pipped on cobhill.

I wasn't sure what "pipped" meant, but it didn't sound good.  I talked to Mandy on the phone and she said Casey finally got Cobhill clean (reportedly after two previous attempts) and Mandy rode about half of it.  That's pretty good considering how Jeff and I have been talking it up.  Like I said earlier, I'm proud of her for giving the steepest road climb in the area a serious go.

After thinking about it for 0.003 seconds I decided I needed to go ride Cobhill when I got home.  I sent three texts at 1:30:

To Mandy: I might go do Cobhill tonight...depends on when I get home

To Mark (we'd already made plans to ride): Think I'm going to go do Cobhill tonight.  Been putting it off too long.

To Jeff: I think I gotta go do Cobhill tonight. I gotta.

Mark responded:

Yeah? What are the details on the ride?


30 mi RT from Stanton...


Sounds intimidating.


With a name like Cobhill?

To Jeff later:

Okay, taking mark to do the cobhorn at 5:30. Parking at sister-in-law's and leaving from there.  Feeding him applesauce now.

Mark and I drove up to my sister-in-law's house where we began our ride to avoid the ongoing paving work.  Jeff met us at Furnace proper and we struck out for the hardest road climb in the area.

The Free Range Librarian was somewhat hesitant before the ride, and as we rode out to the base of the climb he chatted semi-nervously asking lots of questions about tactics for the  climb and specifics about Cobhill.
Here's all you need to know about Cobhill...
I was pretty cool about the whole thing.  The big difference over my last two attempts was having witnesses.  Knowing Casey got it that morning and that Jeff would get it, and that Mark had a 32 or 34 tooth rear cog on his touring bike to my 25 tooth sporty sport cog put a whole lot of pressure on me to succeed in my fourth attempt on the Cobhorn.

We three paused at the nadir of the hill.  Jeff and I gave Mark his final encouragement.  I stowed my sunglasses and clipped my helmet to my handlebars.  It was hot enough I wanted my head free.

Mark fretted over which gear to start out in, but, spoiler alert, he rode it like a pro.  There was some loud breathing and gasping, but by then he'd thirtysome toothed his way out of my field of view and out of earshot.

Below the crux Jeff and Mark pulled away from me.  I intentionally kept my cadence low.  I let the bike move one pedal stroke at a time.  I kept the fire in my lower back at a smokey smolder.  Around the first crux curve I felt really good; much better than in the past.  I was all alone when I reached my previous high point.  It was there that the pain flared brightly.  But even still, the pain was much less than it has been in the past.  I eased off the pedals as much as I dared.  There's a fine balance between enough force to keep climbing and not enough to stay upright.

I resisted standing up for as long as I could, but at the steepest point I stood for some relief for the fire in my lower back.  Then I went back to the saddle.  Then I stood.  I powered through another insanely steep section.  The angle eased.  Then it kicked up again.  I stood, stomping down each pedal in turn, my shadow on the road in front of me slithering side to side in a sinuous serpentine dance.  Sweat fell hard from my face.  My hands were slippery with sweat on the tops of the brake levers.  When I looked down at my legs I saw rivers of sweat disappearing into the tops of my shoes.  The pain faded to the background after the last right turn.  I was going to make it.

As the pain faded my breathing started to ramp up.  My legs still felt full of power, but as my lungs began fighting to fill I wondered if I'd make it after all.  I crept around the last left bend and faced the finale: a straight on, super steep climb to a horizon line far above.

"C'mon Chainring!" Jeff growled over the top, looking down like a rescuer at the top of a well.

"I'm gonna do it," I mumbled wryly.

Mark called out encouragement as well.  He'd made it with Jeff.  I took my sweet time, enjoying a dose of good pain as I claimed my new local cycling feather.  Then I was over the top.

It was ten rolling miles back to the car.  We parted ways with Jeff back at Furnace.  As usual, the closer I got to the end of the ride the more I wanted it to be longer.  But the sun was falling fast.  Mandy had a dinner of homemade pizza waiting for Mark and I back at the Red River Regional Bikeport. 

I had worried earlier in the day that if I couldn't climb Cobhill on my fourth try I might have to begin writing The Cobhorn Saga.  I didn't want to go there.

Remember, Cobhill Road (KY 1182) gains 560' in 0.8 mile*. That's an average 14% (per Strava) with a max grade of 39%!?

If you don't believe me, if you don't think it can be so bad, if you think I'm making a mountain out of a Cobhill...then just go ride the thing.

The Cobhill Chronicles:

And of course, the infamous "I Love Bikes (But Not That Way)" post.

Here's what we're talking about:

In case it's not obvious by the elevation profile:

* You might be wondering why every time I give stats for Cobhill (or any other climb for that matter) that they don't seem to be consistent.  I have two sources for the elevation, distance, and grade: Strava and Map My Ride.  I've also checked them against the USGS for Cobhill because I just couldn't wrap my mind around the reality of it's wicked steepness.  I think Strava's numbers fluctuate depending on how much space junk is bombarding the satellites, and Map My Ride can be wonky sometimes too.
The short of it is that Cobhill gains approximately 600' in 0.8 miles.  I measure the distance from the bridge over the creek at the bottom to the driveway shown on the map on the right side at the top.  Those are two distinct landmarks and also reflect the lowest and highest points.


  1. Sounds like its time for you to bike that thing that trail that people have only run (or whatever it was!)........Yeah, I'm saying that from my comfy office right now.

  2. Now that Leadville is out of the way I'm going back and ticking off the local cycling problems, both road and mountain. I've got a few to do. Cobhill was the hardest road, but there are crazy hard dirt climbs out there, like anywhere, to do.