The only cycling route that may be more difficult and humbling than the first season’s ascent up Old Stage would have to be the first season’s ascent up Lee Hill (For the locals, yes, I know there’s Ward & Gold Hill but I have gotten to those yet).
On Sunday morning, I dragged myself away from reading about the dissolution of the European Union, to begin my efforts to get back my climbing legs. I used to love riding up hill. A few years ago, one of my favorite after work rides was up to Jamestown; I could power up Left Hand Canyon and o into Jamestown with enough energy to make dinner when I got home. Not no more. I guess age, a few pounds, and a steel frame I love have all conspired to turn these hilly assaults from a quick burst of spontaneity to one requiring planning and post-ride recovery time.
I wanted to get an early start because a storm was supposed to be blowing through Boulder and I don’t really like riding in the heat of the day anymore. But I didn’t get out of the house until 9am. I rode along 28th waiting until the right moment in between spurts of church-bound traffic to make my turn up Lee Hill.
Lee Hill road used to be fairly quiet but since a couple of big housing developments went in on either side of the road, traffic has increased. But that’s ok, because Boulder has done a great job with the shoulder. Of course, there’s not much of a shoulder when you begin the climb up Old Stage but there’s enough signs to remind drivers to be on the lookout for slogging, heavy-breathing cyclists.
Oddly, Lee Hill actually forks to the left instead of going straight, which turns into Old Stage. I took a quick breather before the left to gather my confidence and determination, because I knew this was going to hurt. And I was bit concerned about being unable to turn the cranks just as a car passed me and ending up under their wheel.
The thing about climbing, for me at least, is controlling my breathing. If I can control my breathing and still maintain a tempo so that I don’t fall off, then I can make it up just about anything. And that’s what I focused on as I climbed Lee Hill. Slowly. I thought about making it from one shady spot to another. Lee Hill starts off harder than Old Stage because there’s quick kick just at the beginning; you do get some relief during the switch back but it’s short-lived. I made it up the first ‘summit’, and then started downhill. The views on the descent were spectacular. Big fields, tight turns, and varying shades of green zipped by as I flew down the road.
The descent was fast and over in an instant when I hit the proverbial wall of the second climb. At this point, my calves ached. I don’t know why as that is one part of my body that has never ached from riding. My ass, my lower back, my upper back, all those have hurt in the past but never the butt. I finally reached the top of Lee Hill and savored the breeze and speed of the descent until turning right onto Left Hand Canyon.
You don’t realize how far you’ve climbed until you begin the descent down Left Hand. Nor do you realize just how many people are out cycling on a summer day in Boulder. There was a huge unbroken ribbon of brightly-colored spandex from the Buckingham Park turn off and where I had turned right onto Left Hand Canyon.
The night before I decided I wanted to ride up Lee Hill but then come back up over Old Stage. And as I made that right turn onto Old Stage, I considered it probably one the worst possible ideas I had had in a long time, including the extra slices of pizza the night before.
I turned the wheel up and just hoped that my calf muscles would remain in my legs and not explode down my ankle. I was briefly distracted by a huge mule deer sitting contentedly in a field. I was all but spinning in one place for some time, so I had the chance to see her courted by an enormous stag and produce offspring. Finally, I made it to the top of Old Stage, festooned with a dozen or so mailboxes.
The descent down Old Stage unnerves me for a couple of reasons: the mule deer, I mentioned earlier, do wander across the road and there’s a stop sign at the intersection with Lee Hill. Traffic descending Lee Hill don’t have to stop but you do and it’s difficult to stop when you are all but parallel to the road.
It’s a challenging, beautiful loop that combines great climbing, beautiful views and savory descents. There were a few times when I thought the effort was not worth the discomfort but as I crested each hilltop and made my way home, I was so thrilled to be back riding and riding up hill.