Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Check That Off My List!

It has been a few years, maybe going back to 2008, or '09, since I have even tried to do this. But it has been on my bucket list of things to accomplish on my bicycle ever since. What is that? Why, Frank Brothers Hill on a single speed, of course.

Singular Gryphon: The rig of choice for the task.
I used to do a lot of gravel riding on a single speed. The Karate Monkey was the sled back then, and I used it on some really long rides. One of those was a route that took me into central Tama County and through some mighty hilly country.

There are some real gut-bustin' climbs down that way, but one in particular always defeated my best attempts at getting up it without walking. There is a farm situated  at the top of this climb and the mail box on the road is emblazoned with "Frank Bros".  So, I named the hill "Frank Brothers Hill", naturally, and I cursed it every time I had to walk it.

One thing led to another, and I fell out of the habit of doing long gravel grinders that took all day. Twenty Nine Inches started taking up all of my free riding time too, so gravel grinders were just an occasional extra flight of fancy that I got to do over the past several years. Frank Brothers Hill was something I had on my mind to accomplish, but I wasn't making the time to get around to it.

Well, that was going to come to an end over the Memorial Day weekend, and my plan was to get out at some point to conquer that beast. Saturday Mrs. Guitar Ted had several activities planned, so that day didn't work. Sunday was a good opportunity, but due to certain events, it didn't happen. That was probably a good thing, as it was super windy and very hot. Monday looked better, as far as weather and activities were concerned.

P Avenue looked great for just having been rained on.
So Monday rolls around and I have the Singular Gryphon readied for the attempt on Frank Brothers Hill. I get clearance from the family to go, and I loaded up the truck and headed south.

Now- back in the old days- I would have done this ride from the front door. It would have added about 50 miles or more to the loop, and I knew I wasn't ready for an 80 miler all on gravel. No- not now. Not on a single speed. So, I took the Gryphon down to Traer and set off from that point.

The weather, which I had counted on being a lot better than Sunday's,was only slightly better. Winds were out of the Southwest at 20-25mph with higher gusts. The temperature was in the upper 80's too. This wasn't going to make my approach to Frank Brothers Hill very easy, as it meant I would be in a headwind all the way until I got there. 

We had gotten some rain overnight, so another concern that I had was P Avenue, which was my main route south. It has a mile and a half section of B Maintenance Road which I thought might be too wet to ride, but much to my surprise and pleasure, it was very nice and fast instead. Apparently, the recent dry weather had been enough too allow the roads to absorb every drop of rain like a sponge. I saw a man and a dog walking up the final climb from dirt to gravel and when I got close, I could see it was the farmer who lived on the hill there. He may not have remembered me from our chat during T.I.V3, but I did. He asked, "Are ya gettin' in shape fer that Rag-bree?" I said, "Well, I'm gettin' in shape for something!" We exchanged a few pleasantries  and then I kept on chugging up the hill.

Seeking shelter from sun and wind.
After the ascent from B Road to gravel again the hills kicked in with earnest. These would be "testing hills" where I was going to see how I was fairing with my body for the day, and to make sure I had decided just what I was going to do on Frank Brothers Hill when I got there.

Things were feeling pretty good, so I had a positive attitude about the outcome. That was something that was easily held on to in my mind until I turned westward.

The wind was switching to more out of the west as I went, and when I made the turn west, a turn I hadn't taken in several years, I realized that the memory of the hills had faded somewhat, and the wind was stronger than I had anticipated. Suddenly all those good feelings and thoughts were in jeopardy. I was struggling to make the climbs now already, and I had a handful of miles till I got to Frank Brothers Hill. How would I do with my reserves being taxed so heavily now?

Well, that's always been the thing about Frank Brothers Hill. It isn't so much that the hill is bad, (however, it is pretty steep), but it is all the big monsters that come ahead of it. Now I had a head wind, and many spots of fresh gravel to contend with. I decided I needed to take control of my situation with a stop to calm down. I found a nice turn in to a gate and got into some shade.

The hill's namesake mailbox.
Once I got myself calmed down, I started back on the bike. I hadn't been down this road in years, but my memories of it were still pretty good. I knew what to expect ahead, and I kept my efforts in check, when I could. I needed to conserve the most energy possible to bring to bear on that climb.

Cresting a hill, I saw it shining in the sunlight ahead. Frank Brothers Hill. I thought, "It doesn't look so bad. I've climbed hills as tough as that already today." I also tried keeping my self positive, as you can see!

Now the situation here is that there is a steep little roller preceding Frank Brothers Hill that really taxes your legs. Then a quick down, across a small bridge, and then you are going up the hill proper. The hill kicks in about half way up with this ridiculous pitch, which takes you to a small crest and a dramatic lessening of the grade with about 20 yards to go until the mailbox, which marks the end of the climb.Overall it is maybe a quarter of a mile long or so, but like I said, the grade is a killer.

In my mind, I made up a quick plan. Stay seated until crossing the bridge and for the next 20-30 yards. Then standing up out of the saddle, I would grind away, looking at the spot just ahead of my front wheel until I hit the lessening of the grade. Sitting back down again, I would crest the climb. Okay- so here's how it actually went down! (Or up, I guess I should say.)

Frank Bros Hill wasn't the last big one of the day!
I did get the seated part a bit farther up the hill then I thought I would. However; by this time I could see that Frank Brothers Hill had been overlaid with fresh gravel recently, and it was pretty deep. So when I got out of the saddle, I had to measure my efforts really closely, or I was going to spin out. Spinning out and losing momentum meant defeat. I wasn't going to go down like that if I could help it.

Of course, all of this and the wicked headwind were conspiring to make me get off and walk, but I wasn't giving in. I muttered, "This is going to hurt....", and I kept my head down and slowly walked it up the grade. I only was scanning side to side to find a better line than the deep, loose gravel I was on, but there was nothing. More grinding.....

Many years ago on a Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitational, I had made a wrong turn in Tama County and was leading my ride up a similarly steep grade. I was thinking of bailing off my ride and walking when Matt Wills, a rider from Lincoln, Nebraska, came slowly by me, out of the saddle, as if he was walking on his pedals. He made it all the way up. It was a lesson I never forgot. I would, in later years, try to do what Matt always did on his single speed when the climbs got tough. Generally, it works out very well for me.

This climb finds me doing the same thing as Matt- walking up slowly on my pedals, when ....rrripppp!- my rear tire lets loose. Somehow I got the other leg around and kept moving forward. That was close! About this time I saw a cleaner patch of road and I make a snap decision to swap over to it, to prevent another slip of the rear tire. One more revolution to get there and........made it! Now I afford myself a look up the road to ascertain how long this good fortune of finding a clean patch would last. It was then that I saw I was very close to the break where the grade flattened out a bit.

Well, needless to say, I was relieved and I made it, of course. It was touch and go there for a minute, but I made it. As I cruised up to the mail box to get an image of it I said to no one in particular, "Well, I can check that one of of my list now!" I snapped my camera off, pocketed it, and rolled off without another thought.

I still had about 15 miles to go, a few more big rollers, and now, a tailwind. It was a good ride. A good start to training for the GTDRI, and a good day to cross off Frank Brothers Hill as unridden. 


mw said...

glad to be in your brain cells. i did some of that type of hill climbing this weekend on some soft steep gravel around here. DK coming up soon, there will be alot more climbing...

D.Roth said...

Great post Ted, I am a new comer to this whole gravel thing and am still working on talking myself into an event. I do not have an ideal bike for gravel but I just need to suck it up and take a leap of faith. I guess it's just nice to hear of some of the vets still having hills they dread and miles they suffer through.