Where Angels Fly

Where Angels Fly

by / / 99 posts

When you’re digging deeper into Rock and Roll, you’re on a freight train headed straight for the blues.
– Jack White

The analog for this in Cycling is that as we dig deeper into cycling, we’re headed for The Mountains. Suffering is the altar of our sport, and Rule VV emphasizes the experience: the pain never lessens; the only indication we have that we are getting better is that the pain simply doesn’t last as long. Like some kind of voluntary Stockholm Syndrome, we find ourselves captivated by mountains, fantasising about riding roads that represent nothing but hours of misery.

I sat in a small dual-prop plane this morning, staring at the imposing and breathtaking view of the series of volcanoes that line the coast from Seattle to Portland. So beautiful, yet incomprehensibly destructive, I’ve never seen them in a row like this, a panorama only possible on a clear day aboard a small, low-flying plane. (I’ve got a thing for volcanoes.)

But this twisted mind of mine could hardly allow me the beauty of what I was seeing; in the valleys directly below the plane were wispy ribbons that cut across the hillsides in a complicated web; ribbons I knew to be mountain roads. Snow-covered dome followed snow-covered dome along my journey, scarcely noticed as I made a silent vow to worship these roads in the only way I know how: to submit to suffering upon them.

Which begs the question, why do we subject ourselves to this? We claim to love our sport, but the word “suffering” doesn’t convey nor imply pleasure. I’m not a religious man, so I’m making a lot of assumptions about the details, but when we say that Jesus suffered upon the Cross, I am fairly certain that we aren’t to take from that the idea that he found it to be in some way exhilarating, that he had a desktop wallpaper of his Cross #1 and a screensaver which rotated through all his Crosses – the ones for good weather and for bad, in different types of wood – along with up-close shots of the beautiful joinery work.

The difference is that on rare occasion, the suffering doesn’t feel like suffering. It feels like freedom, like control over ourselves in a way we can’t find off the bike. Yesterday morning, I stole out for a ride before work. Almost absent-mindedly, I chose the route that snakes its way north, climbing and descending along the Puget Sound coast. Summer mornings in the Pacific Northwest can be almost mystical, with the Marine Layer causing the lower-lying lands to be shrouded in fog while the higher areas are experiencing a spectacular clear morning with views of mountains on three sides and water on the fourth. This was such a day.

Ten minutes into the ride, I was rolling effortlessly along Shilshole Marina, ensconced in a blanket of fog. The masts from the countless sailboats formed hypnotic silhouettes as they gently swayed in the waves, tied to their piers. At the end of the marina, I swung right under the railroad tracks, and rolled onto the first climb of the day, the climb to Blue Ridge from Golden Gardens.

I settled into my rhythm and hit the first switchback moving faster than usual; I swung wide and cut into the turn aggressively so I wouldn’t sweep into oncoming traffic on the exit. I reveled for a moment in the fleeting pleasure that comes when I have to coast through a turn on a climb, then slipped the chain onto the little ring as the gradient kicked up and as the climb started its more determined journey to the top of the ridge.

This is where I always take my seat in the Hurt Locker; the middle section is not terribly steep, but the gradient fluctuates and the pavement is bad in places. As such, it doesn’t suit my ‘strengths’ as a (bad) climber, and here I ask the agent for an aisle seat in the hopes that the pain might be less suffocating there, but instead I find my normal seat in the back row, next to the overweight nose-breather.

I pushed through the steep section in a state of simple, one-dimensional suffering. This is the state consisting of the customary leg-burning, lung-searing pain that I feel every time a gradient kicks up. Where the suffering takes on some complexity is when the gradient eases and I am rendered powerless against the urge to drop the chain into a cog with a tooth or two less. But then something unexpected happened; rather than the usual onset of square pedaling, I found that while the pain levels stayed the same, the speed increased. That can’t be right, so I tried again, another tooth less. The same story, the speed increases. I don’t like to look down, but I forgave myself a quick glance to make sure something wasn’t amuck, like that my chain was missing or some such thing. Sure enough, there was a problem: I was so far down my block that I was about to Schleckacnical.

I did the only thing that seemed reasonable under the circumstances: I moved Sur la Plaque. Again, the speed increased. I swung onto the last stretch of the climb, where the gradient increases again. Out of the saddle, and I was over it before I even realized where I was.

As I reached the top, I broke through the clouds and was bathed in sunlight. The change in light broke the spell, and the magic was gone at once. As I began the descent, I realized that what I experienced was a visit from La Volupte; that was as good as I would feel the rest of the ride, if not the whole season.

She won’t visit again soon, but one short visit from La Volupte is enough to remind me that those fleeting moments are worth countless hours-long sessions under the iron crush of the Man with the Hammer.

There is a place where my soul rests, and that place is in the Mountains. To climb well is to walk for a moment where angels fly.

// Cyclotourism // La Vie Velominatus // Nostalgia // The Rules

  1. Next up: eightzero (and my badass VMH Mrs./Dr. eightzero) vs. the Other Volcanoe: http://ride542.com

    @Frank not seeing you on the provisional start list?

    For the local VSP – trying to better my time of 2:20 to Heather Meadows last year. Weather report this year is for much better than the deluge/epic of 2010, so take the under if you can get the bet down.

    May Merckx have mercy on my soul!

  2. @sgt
    WTF?
    That’s a VERY manly bike ya got there.

  3. The view from the top of Monday morning’s climb

    Sorry about the crap blackberry picture and stitching

  4. @sgt
    So your bike has balls…

  5. @mouse

    @Minion
    at least they’re Rule #33 compliant!

  6. @eightzero
    That looks like too much fun? Didn’t Gianni live around there years ago, so maybe he has done this – this volcano thing is maybe getting out of hand, no? Good luck and send in a report especially Mrs/Dr. Eightzero’s!

  7. @il ciclista medio

    @mouse
    @Minionat least they’re Rule #33 compliant!

    Clearly with copious amounts of Baxter

  8. @frank not to overstep my bounds as a newcomer, but may i suggest adding Hurt Locker to the Lexicon? I see you used it in describing your ride in Where Angels Fly. It’s often used by the group I ride with as well. While I don’t have the gift of pen that you have I think of the Hurt Locker as that “physical and mental state you willingly enter and embrace the pain to the point of cleansing and exhilaration. VV is practiced here.” * Not to be confused with the state of pain a rider is in when he is Too Fat to Climb. *

  9. @Rob

    @eightzeroThat looks like too much fun? Didn’t Gianni live around there years ago, so maybe he has done this – this volcano thing is maybe getting out of hand, no? Good luck and send in a report especially Mrs/Dr. Eightzero’s!

    Will do. I just saw this on ride542.com ‘s web page:

    “Director’s Note: 9/6/11: Please Register now. Day-of will be available (this year only!).”

    Cool! So ‘Day-of’ registration available in 2011. Sure would be fun to see more v-kitte’s out there on the hill this year. Mine will be!

  10. @Chris
    nice one – you need the Witte Kitte though – chequebook out sir!

  11. @Dr C

    @Chris
    nice one – you need the Witte Kitte though – chequebook out sir!

    I think you are right, but the witte kitte can wait till next year, LS Jersey on order and any other spare budget will go on some warm long bibs. Unless @frank comes up with some long V-Bibs.

  12. nice thread here. i don’t have much as much experience with europe but the best mtn roads in usa/can are dirt – logging, mining or forest service roads. if you’re on a reg road bike, you always get to a point where even if you managed to get up, you won’t be riding down. i’m still looking for a really great bike that can handle those conditions (that isn’t mtb nor cross). the hampstens have the right idea but they’re a bit too pricey. btw, traveled around a bit this summer and the pika packworks thing worked great and saved me a bundle. i’d be a bit uneasy about putting an expensive carbon bike in there though – mostly because of how the tsa goes through your stuff and never puts things back properly. travel with something not too pricey that can also handle a bit of a beating should it need to. final word of caution. take it easy coming down. the last thing you want is to crash hard out in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone signal and no traffic. it really sucks. cheers.

  13. We came; we saw; we laid down the V: http://liten.be//KXupz The course was shortened slightly because of 50′ of snow in the upper parking lot.

    Mrs/Dr Eightzero pushed the tempo on the second Cat 3 climb, and gapped me. I was able to recover on the flat past the powerhouse to get on her wheel before the final Cat 2 climb, then we made the deal – if she’d pace me up I wouldn’t contest the stage win. And so it was – a beautiful, perfect day for a climb – and we crossed the line with hands together and high, as her wheel crossed first, just like the Badger’s did on the Alpe.

  14. @Minion

    @sgtSo your bike has balls…

    I’m still waiting for a proper explanation about that one…
    @Sarge?

  15. @eightzero
    Oh man, that brings back some memories of life in Vancouver.
    Used to ski at Baker 3-4 times a winter and I admit that until now I had never thought about riding that road. It is the one up to the ski area, no?
    Such a fantastic road, and finishing up in the parking lot looking at Shuksan. One of the most beautiful mountains in the Cascades in my opinion. Shame I lacked the time / courage / skills to climb it.

  16. @mouse

    @Minion

    @sgtSo your bike has balls…

    I’m still waiting for a proper explanation about that one…
    @Sarge?

    I just got it – don’t people of a certain sunburnt disposition in parts of America (don’t want to cast aspersions) have truck nuts, a version of the same you hang off the tow ball of your pick up truck?

  17. Or this

    If they’re there at least he’s gonna know where they are.

  18. @Minion

    @mouse

    @Minion

    @sgtSo your bike has balls…

    I’m still waiting for a proper explanation about that one…@Sarge?

    I just got it – don’t people of a certain sunburnt disposition in parts of America (don’t want to cast aspersions) have truck nuts, a version of the same you hang off the tow ball of your pick up truck?

    In case you were suffering from envy…

  19. I’ve just been made privy to a whole new world, one which I’m grateful not to be a part of.
    To wit:
    2nd Generation Balls are shorter and lighter, however they have not lost the hefty, fullness of the O r i g i n a l 1st Generation Bulls Balls® and Big Boy Nuts™
    Thank the good baby jebus for that.

  20. Yeah, that didn’t come out quite the way I meant it. I’ve no desire to cast aspersions on those who hang testicular simulacra upon their vehicle of choice.

  21. @mouse

    I’ve just been made privy to a whole new world, one which I’m grateful not to be a part of.To wit:2nd Generation Balls are shorter and lighter, however they have not lost the hefty, fullness of the O r i g i n a l 1st Generation Bulls Balls® and Big Boy Nuts™Thank the good baby jebus for that.

    Truth is stranger than fiction. I don’t make this shit up.

  22. @mouse
    always keen to expand my vocabulary, I shall rearrange the kids plastic lettering on the fridge to read “simulacra”, which will be our word of the week, to be used by the kids as often as possible in conversation

    btw, what does it mean?

  23. @Dr C
    Simulacra; From the latin meaning “similarity or likeness”, a word gleaned from my University days when studying the intellectual stylings of Jean Baudrillard. Makes you sound more cleverer than you really is. Try it.

  24. @mouse

    I’ve just been made privy to a whole new world, one which I’m grateful not to be a part of.To wit:2nd Generation Balls are shorter and lighter, however they have not lost the hefty, fullness of the O r i g i n a l 1st Generation Bulls Balls® and Big Boy Nuts™Thank the good baby jebus for that.

    Question for @Sgt:
    Do you subscribe to the ‘hefty fullness’ of the original, or the new and improved ‘shorter lighter’ version?

  25. @mouse
    It is that road. It gets immaculate maintenance because the uber-rich ski dudes with their big shiny new fuckin’ 4 wheel SUV’s demand it for their ski trips. And we get to ride it once a year with no traffic. Merckx bless me but its a beautiful climb.

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