Sunday, July 15, 2007

Climb to the Vista Point for the Clouds

The Charles River Wheelmen (CRW) organized an excellent ride today called Climb to the Clouds. The name is a bit of an exaggeration: the highest point in the climb is Mt. Wachusett, a ski station in central Massachusetts. But it is a ski station; the hill gains about 1100 feet over four miles, though this hides a few ridiculous pitches. That, combined with the warning that the course was very hilly and definitely not for beginners, made it undeniably tempting.

I have a confession: I wasn't sure I wanted to do Wachusett. Not the ascent, which I definitely wanted, but the descent, which—like many others in New England—is riddled with narrow roads, tight curves, frost heaves, and cracked pavement. Combined with how much my bike has been rattling lately (and rattled especially vigorously the last time I came down that way), I wasn't looking forward to doing it in a bunch.

So when I set out my gear last night, I laid out my very flash Nalini bike shorts, a bright red. My reasoning was simple: I felt morally obliged to negotiate Wachusett on account of (a) being in a ride called Climb to the Clouds, and (b) knowing I'd spend the rest of the day sacked out watching the first real mountainous stage of the Tour de France. And I knew that once I'd worn the Nalini, I'd really have no choice in the matter. Once you talk the talk, that is, wear the wear, you've got to walk the walk, that is, ride the ride.

It proved to be an exceptional ride. It was hilly as promised, and with the odd mile of awful pavement, mostly on very good roads. By taking it early on a Sunday morning I was able to avoid most of the traffic. There were two or three very fast descents, one long and screaming (the Wachusett payback). Some of the climbs were long hills that demanded that you settle into a steady tempo, others were short, widing roads whose length you couldn't estimate; there were a few genuine quad-busters.

Aside: someone in the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has a perverse sense of humor. At one point on Wachusett, coming out of a false flat, the road turns to the left and pitches upward sharply; it rises up and touches you in the nose, as Phil Liggett might say. And just there this humorist has seen fit to inscribe the instruction, SLOW.

But perhaps the best part of it was the CRW organization. They were superbly organized, firm but friendly, manned perfectly good feeding stations, and had arrowed with exceptional attention. Even someone who demonstrates nearly functional illiteracy when it comes to following arrows (e.g., me) managed the ride without a wrong turn. That is something they can brag about.

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