Climbing the Mountain

I used to climb mountains. Not the kind that required ropes or other specialized gear.   Just walk ups, like those found in Colorado’s Sawatch Range or Guadalupe Peak in Texas.

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On top.

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El Capitan from the summit of Guadalupe Peak.  The clouds put on quite a show.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because to me climbing a mountain was always a big deal.  It didn’t really matter how hard or easy the mountain was…it was going to be an adventure.   You had to plan and organize supplies.  The climb itself always took a considerable amount of effort.  What you got out of it in exchange for the effort was invariably much greater than what you put into it.  It was a chance to be totally free of the constrained world for a few hours.  It was heaven.

These days, I ride gravel instead of climbing mountains.  It’s pretty much the same thing even if it doesn’t at first seem to be.  It’s still just you and the mountain, though in this case the mountain is typically a series of rollers that go on one after the other all day long for 100 miles or so. You still come home dirty, gritty and dog tired.  You always feel like you’re accomplishing something pretty special.  In a sense, I think you are.

I’m riding my first gravel race on Saturday.  It’s the SWIGG Tour.  SWIGG stands for Southwest Iowa Gravel Grinder.  It 103-105 miles long and spans four counties.  There’s a little pavement and mostly gravel and B (ungraded dirt) roads.  It starts and ends in Villisca.  I’ve never been to Villisca.  It should be fun.

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I’m hoping for lots of hard pack and good lines.

rock garden

…and not so many rock gardens.

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SWIGG Route.  The elevation profile is impressive.

SWIGG is free to enter, but you still do need to enter and registration is now closed.  If you want to ride, you’ll have to wait until next year unless you’re already registered.  I guess that’s so they make sure that everybody makes it back.  It would be bad mojo if someone was left out on the course all night, although I’ve heard tell of gravel grinders where that happens.  Maybe this is one of them.  If so, I’m fine with that.

There are no aid stations, no law enforcement support, no sag wagons at SWIGG.  You-are-responsible-for-you (URresp4U)  I like that.  It makes me feel a little like a cowboy riding the range.  That said, you are allowed to stop at convenience stores and buy water and donuts.  Old time cowboys didn’t have C stores.

I’ve never ridden 100 miles on gravel and B roads before.  I’ve never climbed 6,000 plus feet over 100 miles.  Much like last year’s Seattle to Portland double century, I am going where I haven’t gone before.  I expect to finish.  I don’t know how long it will take.  I don’t really care.  I’ve been riding 40 miles or more a day for weeks now, and I’m not going to taper going into this weekend.  My legs won’t be fresh, but they’re not dead tired either.  We’ll see how it shakes out.  I have other events scheduled for later in the summer.  Maybe the goal in one of them will be to go fast.

I’ve really fallen in love with the whole gravel scene.  It wasn’t love at first sight.  It took awhile.   It’s a lot harder rolling on gravel (especially the kind we have around here) than it is on smooth macadam.  It’s a lot more work.  It will wear you out.  Sometimes it feels like the road is reaching up and grabbing your rear tire.  It really does.   It’s the weirdest feeling in the world.

On the other hand, URresp4U is as good as it gets in my opinion.  It’s just about the last vestige of freedom left in America and it’s not so different than way back when, up on the side of the mountain, dog tired and knowing that the only way back to the  trailhead is on your own two feet.  This isn’t TV-land. There’s no helicopter coming to save your backside.   You got out there.  You get home.

Pura vida is a Spanish phrase that translated literally means “pure life.”  Roughly speaking, it means “this is living” or “this is the life.”  To me, riding gravel is pura vida.  So that’s that.  SWIGG is 72 hours out.  I’m excited.  I’m climbing the mountain one more time.  I’ll post some pictures and my thoughts early next week.  Between now and then, here’s wishing you some great rides!

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