Dec 7, 2010

Doing Headlands the long way

For a few weeks now, ever since the Headlands reopened and we had a big party to celebrate the occasion, I’ve been itching to try out a new route (new to me, at least). It would be the combination of the old Hawk Hill climb with the new elements we were forced to invent when the Headlands closed in early April. (There was a closing party too, but I wasn’t there) The plan was to go up Hawk Hill, drop down the backside, loop around to Rodeo Beach and then come back via McCullough to the saddle and back toward the bridge.

Good plan, right? Of course! But due to one thing or another, I wasn’t able to try out the route. First, I was tapering for some CX racing and didn’t feel like doing all that climbing, then I was too tired after a weekend of CX racing, then it was too cold, then I was enticed with coffee and etc. Today, however, I decided that if my legs felt good after Hawk Hill, I’d actually do the route.

As I rolled out this morning, the temperatures were probably in the mid-40s, a pleasant break from the mid-30s of last week. (To my Midwestern audience - I know you’ve been in the teens this week, and I really don’t care, there is a reason I no longer live there.) So I may have been a touch overdressed, but nothing that a little unzipping couldn’t fix. I rolled down to the usual meeting spot, connected with a few other riders and continued toward the Golden Gate Bridge, picking up a couple riders on the way and a few more waiting for us at the second pick-up spot. I think we were in double digits today, but I’m not certain of the exact number.

As an aside, I have to say, I’m shocked at the numbers on the morning rides lately. In the summer, there were times where I alone was the group ride and many more times when it was just two or three of us. Now when it’s wetter, colder and darker, we’ve been 10+ for all the rides in the last few weeks. Bizarre, but I’m not complaining - the more the better.

So back to our regularly scheduled programming. We casually rolled across the bridge, though I almost collided with a jogger who took his sweet time figuring out which side of his body was the left one, and since I was the front of the pack, that may have resulted in further collisions, but no harm, no foul.

Regardless of whether I was going to do the backside, I planned on hitting the first climb up Hawk Hill hard and was looking for a man to mark. I figured it would be best to mark someone who’s close to my climbing speed, but has potential for going faster than I. From today’s group, that left three contenders (there may have been others, but these are the only three I considered), Alex, Ryan and Yann. Alex may have been taking it easy today and was at the back of the group, Yann was also somewhere behind me and Ryan was the first guy at the turn toward the climb, so that kind of solved my dilemma. I got on Ryan's wheel and we moved up the hill at a rather comfortable, but not easy, pace. Then, about a third of the way up the hill, Yann passed us and I jumped on his wheel. Ryan jumped on mine, and Emory joined in somewhere in the middle of it all.  At this point there were 4 of us in the group. Yann at the head, I was second wheel with Ryan and Emory in third and fourth position - I’m not sure who was in which position though.

By the time we reached the saddle, Yann had slowed the pace down and I moved to the front once again ready to face the slightly steeper grades of the last .6 miles of the climb. Me being at the front probably lasted about 200 yards before Ryan came around pretty hard, I covered and my heart rate jumped from a comfortable 180 (yeah, I know, that’s heart attack zone for some of you, but I’m okay there) to a very unpleasant 185, but I knew I had the legs to stay on his wheel for just a little more and the summit was just around the corner. I settled into this hard rhythm and just at that moment, Emory came around attacking hard. I covered again, and stayed on his wheel. However, now my heart rate was at 190 and he was about to get out of the saddle and make a move, I just new it. No one behind me was chasing, or looked like they would be able to catch me with the little distance that was left to the summit. I had to make a quick decision, do I go all out and probably end up puking, or do I ease off a bit and let him have it (there is a good chance he would have had it one way or the other, and I don’t want it to sound like he got it just because I didn’t chase all the way). I ended up backing off and coming in second over the invisible finish line by a couple yards at the most. As it turned out, this was a PR-setting climb for me by about 3 seconds.

Now it was time to enjoy the view from the top of Hawk Hill, pictured here, though it wasn’t as spectacular today due to the sun coming up a bit later. As others summited, no one wanted to continue the ride to the backside, except Jason. So having taken in the view, the two of us dropped down the one way descent. “Dropped” is probably the most appropriate word to use in this case because the first part of the descent is at a -18% into some tight corners. I don’t know why I was in the lead, since it was fairly obvious, fairly quickly that I had only vague recollections of where I should go from the one other time I’d come down that way. We ended up all the way on the other side of the little lagoon from Rodeo Beach, but since both of us had time to spare, we decided to get back and try it again. This time, I had Jason lead.

The view at the top of Rodeo Beach loop was magnificent, with the sun having just come up over the Headlands.


The remainder of the ride was fairly uneventful, other than the part where I went up McCullough in 50x24 - I started doing more work in the big ring for power - but that was more painful than eventful.

It felt good to finally do this route and get the monkey off my back. It’s definitely a route I’ll be doing in the future - three great climbs, just enough time in between to recover, what else could you ask for? Door to door it will probably be around 27.5 miles (without getting lost), taking just about two and a quarter hours to complete, though I could probably do it under two, solo with no stops.

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