It was a couple of weeks prior to this trip that, as always, planning which days to leave and return that make the trip. GV knows I like to rollover weekends in Colombia as it helps change up the outdoor activity picture.
Medellin, where I frequent, sits in a valley even though the city is as high as Denver (about a mile above sea level). The airport is up above Medellin several thousand feet. The view during decent into the city from the airport is worthy of a postcard. Although there are different ways up and down, this main road is called Las Palmas. From the bottom to the top it’s 3,200 feet, about 10 miles. (it’s further and higher to the airport, this is just the main accent/decent portion).
Years ago when I had my Marin hybrid bike there, I’d ride up from the bottom up and occasionally slip into the granny gear. There weren’t as many riders then as the last couple of years, but still plenty. But yes, the Marin had a triple crankset but regular 700 rims. It was a true road-bike hybrid. I tried to resist going into the granny gear (they call it the lady gear in Spanish) but was sure glad she was there many times. Unless you are mountain biking, very few road riders use triples. Still, I didn’t drop into the granny gear often. My middle crank was a 42 with a cassette that topped out with a 25 ring. I was satisfied then, when I could get up Las Palmas on the Marin without using granny.
Since those days 5-6 years ago, I’ve been up Las Palmas maybe 100 times. Some guys go up five times per week. Once per week is enough for me.
What’s the point? The last time I was in Medellin I rode up the day I traveled and I was floored. I almost didn’t make it and at one point, I felt a dizziness coming on. It was a little scary and slightly concerning. Bottom line, Palmas kicked my ass that day and intimidated me.
For the last two years I’ve kept a BMC aluminum frame (opposed to my BMC carbon in NYC) with a double crank 53×39 and a 28×11 cassette. The cassette prior topped at 25 but I needed a new one last year so I bumped it to 28. And I’m so glad I did. Age convinced me.
Anyway, the last dizzy trip up I had to use the 28 gear in the back. I never had to do that on this bike as I always saved that for stiffer inclines (although Palmas is still not for faint of heart). I’m in the 28, standing and grunting and dizzy. It played with my head.
I usually start from the bottom. Many guys (and some girls) start at mile three, at least the more affluent, who live in up off the city in the spread of high rises sprawled up the bottom of the mountain with each building competing for more beautiful views. Mile three there is a country club so most guys measure their time from the CC to the top. If you are in the biking scene, you’ve done Palmas. If you do Palmas, you know your time because that’s what guys talk about.
Two trips ago I visited a very nice denim jeans factory and the commercial director had a picture of a bike in his office. We started talking biking. Where did he end up? His time going up Palmas.
From mile three, it’s about 2,500 feet to the top. There are no flat parts. It’s all up. A couple of easier grades and mostly stiffer ones. I heard a pro made it up in 36 minutes. I know of a couple of guys who, on their good days, get close to 40 minutes (but have yet to break 40). The commercial director of the jean shop was proud to be at 55 minutes. I’ve hovered around the 55 minute mark when I was in the swing of things, but I’ve been happy lately not measuring.
Yesterday, because I rode with my Colombian associate, I timed it because he is a timer. He has somewhat of a typical Colombian physique, but because he’s inconsistent he smartly uses a compact crank (50×34).
The fact that I simply made it was thrilling after the last time’s head trip. In fact, I said to GV while planning this trip, that I wanted to arrive on a Friday, so that I could walk Palmas Saturday, accomplish a 62 mile ride Sunday, hit the gym during the week early before work with a spin class of two thrown in, then conquer Palmas on the bike the day I travel back, which was yesterday.
Those little plans, the fact that I did exactly as planned, felt so satisfying. Even though my time today was just under 65 minutes, I was elated. Perhaps what also helped was that I stopped the antibiotics a few days prior, after after 23 days. I was supposed to finish them to 28 days but 23 seemed like enough.
But I’m getting off track. Some times it’s the bigger plans that provide a memorable satisfaction, like the ride brother P and I did a few years ago from Chicago to Lanc-hysteria. That trip was extremely satisfying. Even though we could have never predicted what would happen between the beginning and end, it was a plan and it was executed perfectly and provided a load of satisfaction.
What I accomplished this past week was nothing close to the cross country trip plan, but another type of plan nevertheless. Especially given my seemingly fragile, at times, condition, that small little planned target was rich. Anything to take my mind off the pending jawbreaker.
So if I bored anyone with this post, honestly, I wasn’t planning on it.