Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala, Part Deux

Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala, Part Deux

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The French call it la fringale. It’s one of the worst conditions that can befall a cyclist, this, when our reserves are tapped dry and yet we still have some distance to ride and some obstacle to cover. It’s happened to me twice in my life, and one of them was when I rode Haleakala in January. Of course, I haven’t looked up the exact definition of this wonderful word – fringale – mostly because I’m afraid the definition won’t express to me the meaning I’ve already applied to it. I see the words “fringe” and “gale”, overlapping such that you can’t spell one without the other. Fringale expresses, in my interpretation, that you’ve been torn to shreds (fringe) and left to be scattered to the four winds (gale).

As I set out to ride Haleakala in January, several factors would conspire against me during the effort that lay ahead. First, I was completely unprepared for what it meant to ride the longest paved climb in the world, a climb which also almost paradoxically represents the planet’s shortest ascent from sea level to 10,000 feet*. Second, I was a full 9-month gestation from peaking. Third, I was overly optimistic of my post-holiday form, based largely on evidence gathered during much shorter and easier rides. Fourth, I overestimated the importance of riding the base á bloc in order to gain time where the gradient better suited my riding style. Fifth, largely due to the previous, I would get a bad case of  la fringale with almost three-quarters of the climb remaining.

I’ve always believed that each mistake contains a lesson to be learned, and as such, I had several apples to bring to Professor Experience if I was to have any hopes of improving on my time. Within a week of returning from Maui, I was in the midst of planning my rematch. I was training better, eating better, and drinking better (which is the same as drinking less, given that I was a semi-professional drinker, but “less” is a more disappointing word than “better”). In training, rather than focusing on doing my most difficult climbing routes as I usually do, by riding hard uphill and recovering between climbs as a sort of natural interval workout, I shifted my focus to sustaining the high intensity between the climbs as well, in order to simulate the pressure of a long, hard climb. I also took to heart the sage advice from D.S. Gianni, which was, “The time you gain on the bottom by riding hard is nothing compared to the time you’ll lose up top when you’re blasted.” Finally, I reserved a very healthy respect for Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire whose foot soldier, The Man with the Hammer, lurks on these slopes.

It was with a completely different mindset that I leaned into the first pedal revolution as I started my rematch. A cooling rain fell steadily, and a strong wind was at my face; the rain was welcome, the wind was not. My mind was steeled against what would surely be another four-hour (or more) intense effort, but the lessons were applied at all their moments; I rode within myself on the lower slopes, and kept the pressure on during the steepest section, from 3,500 to 6,500 feet, knowing these were harder than the rest and thus not letting myself be bothered by a drop in pace.

But we athletes are suspicious creatures, for whom ancillary events take on a larger meaning. Somewhere along the Haleakala Highway, at around 3,000 feet and with still-good legs, I witnessed a strange event: a white German Shepard taking down and killing a fawn. I immediately knew it was an Omen of some kind, surely foretelling my fate higher on the mountain. The only problem was that I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be the dog or the fawn.

Once past the Ranger Station at the entrance to Haleakala National Park, near 7,000 feet, where the road gets easier but the elevation begins to take it’s cruel toll, I could cling to the hope that Pele would smile on me that day and I was increasingly confident that I was in fact the dog and not the fawn. Up past 8,000 feet and Michelle delivered my first and only split: 3:25 – sub-four is possible, but only with a hard effort from there onwards. I was encouraged by the news, yet the thought of continuing – or, indeed increasing – the effort was unwelcome. I would have almost preferred to be told I was slower than last time so I could ease off and only busy myself with thinking up good reasons why I would have deliberately ridden the hill more slowly this time. The rain and wind at the base would have featured a starring role in these justifications.

Instead, I was tormented by the idea that I might ride up in four hours and one minute or, even worse, four hours even, to be haunted by the knowledge that I most certainly could have shaved the time from my ride to go sub-four. The pressure in my legs increased in tandem with my growing desire to coax more speed from the pedals. And therein lies the cruel truth of climbing above 7,000 feet: you can’t dig deep anymore; there simply is not enough air for you to fuel your muscles.

In the midst of this increased effort, just before 9,000 feet, I was faced with an apparition from my January ride: a man stood next to his bicycle, suffering from severe cramps. A double take to make sure my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me, and then a word of encouragement for him to carry on (which he did).

The road from 9,000 feet is the easiest 1,000 feet of the lot. With the very painful exception that there is a steep, final ramp that takes you to 10,000 feet and the summit. As you claw your way along the mountainside towards this last ramp, the observatory at the top comes into view. It is the closest it’s been, but it is still a long way away and distressingly high above. And then you remember that the Visitor Center, where the climb ends, is the small building to the left of the Observatory. To the left, and higher.

The bidons. The bidons. They’re just dead weight now, dragging me back down the mountain. They are nothing but two little malicious anchors, serving only to slow me down and ensure I never reach the visitor center. I hate the both of them, sitting in their cages like that. Just as Jaques Anquetil would never have won a single of his five Tours de France had he not moved his bidon from his frame to his jersey pocket, I would never have reached the top had I not jettisoned mine as I started the final ramp. That single act was the only one that saw me to the summit, 6 minutes and 40 seconds shy of the most unthinkable time possible, four hours even.

Having comfortably gone up in under four hours (3 hours, 53 minutes, and 20 seconds), I am shocked at how much easier a climb is when you haven’t bonked already before the halfway mark. I guess that’s the loophole in Rule #10:

It never gets easier, you just go faster. Unless, of course, you ride like a complete twat.

I find I have to tell myself things in order to give my mind the space it needs to prepare for a truth I’m not yet ready to know. My (repeated) declaration in the Visitor Center that I’ll never do the climb again is such a thing. So shortly after the effort, I’m not prepared for the fact that I will soon be plotting my next assault on the mountain. I need a few minutes to savor the accomplishment before marginalizing it by declaring I’ll do better.

But I won’t go up again only to carve 5 or ten minutes off my time. 3:53, 3:50, 3:45; they are all the same. Next time I go up, it will be for sub-3:30. I’ll have to come up with a plan for that one. And I’ll probably need more of Gianni’s dog vaccinations.

Video: Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala, Part Deux

[youtube width=”615″ height=”375″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzgkNVxXeOI?hd=1[/youtube]

 

Photos: Frank vs. The Volcano: Haleakala, Part Deux

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*The elevations in this article will generally be referred to in feet as this is how the roadsigns along the road are measured and, while it breaks with the convention set forth in  Rule #24, these measurements have been forever burned into my brain. 10,000 feet is 3048 meters.

// Cyclotourism // Routes // The Rides

  1. @Minion

    @Jeff in PetroMetro

    @NateIt very much looks and sounds like everyone here (but me) gets to do some solid climbing on a regular basis. Just feeling a little jealous.

    I can help.get a pair of rollers and 4 cindeblocks or large bricks.Put blocks under one one of the rollersPut something under the hinge so it doesn’t collapse.Ride uphill on the rollers in the greatest panic of your life.
    Remember, for enduring internet fame you need to record your efforts for posterity.
    Also good for descending practice. Just face downhill.

    I should use the skinny rollers, right? That’s what I’m thinking. The fat rollers are for twats. I can’t imagine why no one’s thought of this before.

  2. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    To be fair you don’t even need rollers. Just put the front wheel of your bike on the blocks and start riding, the net effect will be the same.

    Ditto for descending practice.

  3. @Minion
    Now I think you’re just pulling my leg.

  4. FYI Saturday’s “Cycle to the Sun” winning time was 2:49.

  5. @kealoha66
    OK, so Frank only has to knock another 1:03 off his recent time to finally get some respect. Lose 30 pounds, get an even lighter bike, quit job to train his brains out, no worries.

  6. @eightzero

    I almost signed up for that, but the price is crazy IMHO… $70 or so, right? My inner velomitus budgetitus keeps me from paying more than $30 or so for an organized ride.

    I did my own 65 mile death march up Larch Mountian yesterday and it was free outside of the suffering indured going up a ~32 km hill. It also showed me that I have a long way to go if I want to climb Haleakala in a year and a half. Total elevation gain was about sea level to 1,200 m, and my legs were giving out near the top. There were fucking mile post signs (and % marks spray pained on the ground) the whole way up as well, to remind you how slow you were going.

  7. @Gianni

    @kealoha66OK, so Frank only has to knock another 1:03 off his recent time to finally get some respect. Lose 30 pounds, get an even lighter bike, quit job to train his brains out, no worries.

    I like it. If Frank quits his job, he can’t buy groceries, which should make the weight loss a cinch.

  8. @mcsqueak

    I did my own 65 mile death march up Larch Mountian yesterday and it was free outside of the suffering indured going up a ~32 km hill. It also showed me that I have a long way to go if I want to climb Haleakala in a year and a half.

    I’m not even in training, but I’m pretty sure I could make it up Haleakala in under a year…

  9. @Steampunk

    Ha! I’m going for the slowest time on Stava, you see. 13,148 hours of climbing.

  10. @mauibike
    Late to see your post but you took me back to the day and my 753 Raleigh w/campy and silks for the big hill we have out east. It only took a bit over an hour… in a 42 x 27, front derailleur, rear brake and water bottle cages off, lightest race wheels and track silks and it was down under 17 lbs. That was one sweet ride and I only stopped riding it last year!

    Was that a Concor saddle and double straps? Thanks for the memories. If you get together with Gianni he might remember that hill too?

    @grumbledook
    Great images and fantastic ride. The weather sounds unusual for your part of the world? You are inspiring me to join a ride in 2 weeks that will be 200k and 3000m. I will be fighting with the Man with the Hammer but will think of you when we are on our little hills.

  11. @mcsqueak
    I think I paid $65, but it was a fair price. Included dinner at the end, along with 2 free micros. Hardest ride I’ve ever done. 100 miles and 5600′ of climb. Legs now burger.

    My v-kitte drew many comments.

  12. @Rob
    Yes, the current weather situation is pretty unusual for this region. In the Biasca area (northern Ticino, Switzerland, close to Italy; just in between pass #3 and #4) it is always very hot in July and August. But normally the air is rather dry. The humidity really made the difference. But I would have suffered even more if I would have been on this tour three days later. Yesterday was the hottest day of this year’s summer in Switzerland: temperature was ~15 °C at 3000 m, meaning 20-25 °C on all the passes along the route, even hotter in lower parts of each climb.

  13. Talking about weather, it has gone from most of July and early August well over 100*F to highs in the 80s. I never thought I’d say that 88* feels great, but it does after 105*F. I can’t wait for fall riding. Oh, and does it bother anyone else when people complain about the weather, yet spend all day indoors with the a/c going? I want to say, “You haven’t even left the couch yet today!” Crazy.

    As for the post-ride beer, I do enjoy it, like getting a nice relaxed feeling from one or two beers after a ride, but I do feel myself moving away from it. Doing it every night just wastes time, pushes my schedule back, and likely affects my riding and recovery. Plus, if I only drink when out with friends, it’ll be that much more fun when I do have some beers. I think if I think of the beers consumed as strikes against my training & performance, it’ll make me drink less.

  14. @Eightzero

    Nice, well done! Yeah I guess two beers and some food (which you’d want after the ride any ways) would offset the cost somewhat. I didn’t even think about it until a week before the ride, and by then the price had gone up. Well done, though – the weather the last two days has been pretty intense here. And I bet the V-Kit got some love – I have yet to see someone rocking it in the wild here.

  15. @grumbledook

    On my ride on Saturday it was the first time I had ever gone about about 360 meters in elevation while riding (we have a lot of low foothills here that top out at that elevation, you have to go further out of the city to keep going higher).

    I started the ride early so I had already climbed to the top at around 1,200 m before it got really hot out. The main part of the descent is 900 m over 22 km, until you run into your first cross-road with traffic. So you can really scream down for about 30 minutes without worrying about traffic or anything else.

    But I digress – it was amazing feeling the temperature gradients that you don’t notice near sea level. Feeling the ambient air temp go up about 30 degrees F in a time frame of 30 minutes is a bit weird.

  16. @Rob
    Yeh, I used double alfredo binda toe straps and I believe I did take off the rear brake. I used to love my concor saddle, I can’t believe it was yellow. That was a skinsuit I was wearing too.

  17. @xyxax

    @Steampunk
    Frank’s writerly story-telling will have to hold us until your exegesis on “We Wish to Inform You…” drops.

    Installment the first is up.

  18. @Steampunk
    Excellent. Will savo(u)r.

  19. @Rob

    @mauibike
    Late to see your post but you took me back to the day and my 753 Raleigh w/campy and silks for the big hill we have out east. It only took a bit over an hour… in a 42 x 27, front derailleur, rear brake and water bottle cages off, lightest race wheels and track silks and it was down under 17 lbs. That was one sweet ride and I only stopped riding it last year!

    You kids are obviously brothers. @Rob, I looked up your old time up Mt. Wash and discovered that had you raced it last year at that pace, you’d have gotten top five.

    Asshole.

    @Gianni
    Fuck it. Why fuss about? I’m going for 2:15. It will take me a few years and cost me an arm (literally) but I’ll get there. The good news is that getting older hardly hurts you on a climb that long. Getting smarter is the only thing that will really put a negative turn on the tables.

  20. @Ron

    Plus, if I only drink when out with friends, it’ll be that much more fun when I do have some beers. I think if I think of the beers consumed as strikes against my training & performance, it’ll make me drink less.

    Drinking, like everything else in life, requires training. The more you drink, the better you are at dealing with hangovers. Nowadays, if I have a single beer, I feel it the next day, which sucks. But feeling better the rest of the time is way more radder.

    That said, I do miss that feeling of euphoria when you realize that your hangover is finally dissipating.

  21. I drink often, but not that much at one go. Still, I think I’ve overtrained and need to give it a rest. I rarely have a hangover, which is not necessarily good.

    I did realize two things though while pondering this:
    1) Even if I only spend a few bucks a day on beer, that is a decent amount of money each month. I’d much rather have some sweet new bike gear than some beer. New bars, a new saddle, a slick new stem…all way radder than some beer.

    2) I work hard to ride & look PRO. Yet I don’t drink like a PRO, since I imagine they drink rarely and only to really celebrate something special. I drink too often. Why spend all this time working on being PRO, just to drink like a bum? Thus, I’m going to start drinking PRO, like only after I win the TdF, such as Cuddles!

    steampunk – I just recently was handed that issue of the New Yorker by a friend. A fine article, mixing cycling, life, war, and incredible adversity. Looking forward to reading your reflections on it.

  22. A friend just dropped off a disc with a bunch of racing photos on it. Frank has his volcanos – Cyclops has his “Idaberg”.

    Tax Day Race – Inkom, ID April 2011

  23. @Ron

    I drink often, but not that much at one go. Still, I think I’ve overtrained and need to give it a rest. I rarely have a hangover, which is not necessarily good.
    I did realize two things though while pondering this:
    1) Even if I only spend a few bucks a day on beer, that is a decent amount of money each month. I’d much rather have some sweet new bike gear than some beer. New bars, a new saddle, a slick new stem…all way radder than some beer.
    2) I work hard to ride & look PRO. Yet I don’t drink like a PRO, since I imagine they drink rarely and only to really celebrate something special. I drink too often. Why spend all this time working on being PRO, just to drink like a bum? Thus, I’m going to start drinking PRO, like only after I win the TdF, such as Cuddles!

    Suggest you would have more fun if you adopt the Stuey O’Grady approach. But as for Cuddles, he is a fastidious eater, but from his own admission, doesn’t mind a tipple. After all, he is an Aussie sportsman. They ALL drink.

  24. @frank
    Was chatting to a guy from a local cycling club who helped organise the Rapha ride down to Stage 5 of the TDU on Willunga Hill this weekend.
    He was talking about a recent trip he did to Hawaii & was whining about the lack of good surf, at which point he turns to me (rocking the V-Kit) & just says “though I had some fun on a volcano you should know all about given your jersey.”

    Enquired about how he went & looked somewhat downcast when he responded “oh, about 4hrs but the weather was shocking”…it was at this point I made a mental note to not challenge him up Willunga hill.

  25. New to the community, and catching up on old posts. in case anyone is still interested, “la Fringale’ literally translates to “the munchies” (i.e., hungry), but we know that it feels way worse than that!

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