Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mt Baker Climb

One of my all time favorite climbs in the Puget Sound region for its challenge, length, and scenery is Mount Baker.  I keep coming back to the mountain for the lessons and strength it imparts.

I was on a good day riding up the climb of Washington SR-542 to Artist's Point.  I was able to stay on top of my gear the whole way up, only switching to standing up occasionally to change the rhythm of climbing and give slightly different muscle groups in the legs a chance to do the work.

I love the work of climbing, for me, it's all about feeling around for that boundary below which I can keep the current pace, and above which I completely and utterly explode.  The climbs around Seattle certainly allow for playing with these limits; however, they are completely different in that their short durations mean that I always know that if I keep going, the effort and hill will be over soon.  On a climb like Mt Baker, the limit must be set knowing there will be no respite along shortly.  As such, the boundary is slightly lower, but must be pushed against constantly for the duration.

I've heard the Cascades referred to as the American Alps, and the picture above shows why.  This is very much like an Alpine climb in its length as the meat of the climb is 11 miles at an average gradient of 5.2%.  This got me to thinking about how even though the differences in wattage, speed, and talent vary widely between myself and the pros, the sensations and emotions we feel on the way up are probably very similar.  Burning lungs, heart in the throat, leg searing efforts like this remind me of Greg LeMond's oft repeated quote that, "It doesn't get any easier, you just get faster."  This was true for me, as I set PR's up the various segments on the mountain.
Further reminders of this came the next day, as I went for a recovery spin with a novice buddy to clear out the legs.  We went out to Golden Gardens park, a flat route, where he decided he wanted to climb the hill up to Sunset Hill.  My legs were also warming up by this point, and so I agreed.  This climb seemed so easy to me compared with the efforts of the day before that I was able to climb from the seated position and spin up without a second thought.