Being so close to Lawton and the Wichita Mountains, we have taken the opportunity to go to Lawton and test our climbing legs with an ascent up the road to the top of this granite mass. Long considered one of the best rock climbing sites in the US, the road to the top is convenient for everyone else. The climb is just a hair under 1000 feet in 2.66 miles and averages 7% with ramps closer to 12% and one respite of 4-5%. The Wichita Wildlife Preserve is a lovely place to ride, with Longhorns and Bison roaming free in the wildlife park. A beautiful park with a very Frank LLoyd Wright style visitor center. Alas, this year, it was all we could do to muster enough ambition to do just the climb.
We parked near the mountain and met a few other cyclists who were finishing their day. They came over to talk, and one guy said his niece was attending SMU starting the next day. She was from Montana, but he did not know what school she was going to be in. One thing I forgot to mention was that a number of people commented, during the HHH, that they had seen the SMU jerseys at the lake. One guy said he saw three people in particular, who we determined to be Rob, Greg and whomever else they were with. Another said he thought all of the SMU cyclists looked good.
After putting on our sunscreen, then the last few sips of sports drink, off we go. I rode right by the turn to the mountain the first time. I was just not ready yet. We turned around and warmed up our legs for ten minutes, then we made the turn into the road. The reason it is daunting is that the first mile is the hardest part. I could only get motivated by saying "I've got to break twenty minutes"
Climbing is such a personal battle and we all have our own rhythm's to follow. I did the first 300 meters in the big ring, then dropped down to the smallest gear I had. I immediately needed all that the bike could spare, not even saving that last big cog for later. The first stretch is straight for 1/2 a mile and towards the first turn I was already arguing with myself about stopping for just a moment. Caryn would have torched me for quitting, so I kept going. She knows that I put in a big show to start, then hang on for the rest of the longer climbs. If you can get out of sight, then sometimes the battle is won. Of course, Caryn is sensible enough to not think of it as a race.
Having done the climb before, I knew that it settles down a bit, but by then you are probably in oxygen debt if you are a mere climbing mortal. It was here I had the image of Lance (or the Pirate Pantani, my daughter Katarina's most memorable cyclist) passing me, spinning effortlessly. When good climbers pass the less gifted, those suffering always look like they are trying to extract themselves from an invisible, gooey film. I felt encased in a gooey film and hoped it was not coming from my nose!
Without the miles of warm up, but still a little fresh, that first mile was over and seven minutes had passed. I feared my twenty minute ascent was lost. I felt worse now than at mile 70 at HHH. The second mile has a few moments of rest at a 4-5% grade. I looked back to see if Caryn was catching up, but the road was winding more now, so she was still out of sight. After the second mile I was at thirteen minutes, maybe I could salvage twenty minutes. Still grinding the 39 X 21, I could see where the barriers at the side of the road change, meaning the parking lot at the top was near. I was at seventeen minutes and my heart rate had to be 180. I'm watching my time on the Garmin and as I near the flat spot at the top, passing the "Parking lot" sign, where the climb flattens out I pressed the "stop" button. I realized I might have had a hundred meters of flat road,premature Garmin stoppage. The lure of stopping at 18:57 might have been too much for my itchy button pushing finger. I later looked at my last year's time that I have posted on Motion Based and I might have broken it by 10-15 seconds.
I weaved across the parking lot and stopped and leaned against this weathered granite rock and my chest was heaving and I was trying to catch my breath. Nearby tourists were asking if I was OK. Some offered water and another said they could take me back down in their van. The sun was pretty intense, I wore my gold LAS Haxial helmet with the hope it would have reflected more of the sun, but that hypothesis was dis-proven by the throbbing headache I had just acquired.
After three minutes I hear the Kysirium whir of Caryn's wheels. "What's wrong with you?" was her comment. She then spoke (without a hint of breathlessness) that the climb was pretty easy. She was glad that she had put the 12-23 cassette on her wheels and had felt so much better on the climb than last year. Her legs felt really good and she never really got her heart rate into the red zone. Caryn also commented that at moments her mind had wandered off. The carrion birds circling the granite rockpile could"have been very distracting if they decided to circle her" and her thoughts also contemplated the misfortune that the Brazilian marathoner had endured when he was attacked by that crazed, dress wearing, Jesus in a UFO, fanatic that tackled the runner at the Athens Olympics. Only after some prodding from me, Caryn had to do some subtracting to determine that she climbed it in twenty-two minutes.
Other than the vision of laboured pedal strokes, I was fixated on the numbers flashing by my Garmin and was too destroyed to even enjoy the view from the top. Can you imagine that the difference from having an enjoyable ride, up a very beautiful landscape and being utterly consumed and not seeing really any of it, is just three minutes?
The descent is odd in that the road is real steep at the top and seems to almost flatten out after 1/2 a mile, then the road undulates most of the middle, never as steep as the start or the finish. Climbing up it, the road seems very regular but the descent proves different. The last mile is steep, but why could I not rest more on those middle undulations?
Plan on including this on your HHH weekend next time it comes around!