This Week End!!  Weather should be ridiculous.  Good ridiculous.  Not too hot at the bottom of the climb (which is where the Stage 2 TT is too), and not chilly at the top of the climb.  Practically perfect in every way.  Like Mary Poppins.

I was on the way home from Bishop on Sunday, did some scouting for a future ride or three, and stopped to ride up Nine Mile Canyon.  Starts at 2570′, right at US395, and it was H. O. T.  94F according to the dashboard gauge, and kinda miserable.  It was 4pm or so, and it will be a lot cooler Saturday morning.

First mile or two is pretty gradual as you enter the canyon, but you get to peek at the road snaking along above you.  Not as dramatic as the view from above, but you can still tell that the road was planted where men and machines ripped into the side of the mountain along an arbitrary path.  It is not exactly one of those natural, flowing roads that runs along a stream.  Riding along, it feels more like a temporary convenience.  Awkward.  Fragile.  Man’s indomitable will imposed on Nature sort of thing.  It feels like they cut the road in the wrong place, but by the time they figured it out it was too late to go back and do it right.

By now I  am into the canyon, and seeing the first of many similar patterns along the right side wall.  You know the type.  Gradual right, then a tight left in the depths of the canyon, back out to trace a gradual right along the edge again.  Rinse and repeat. Mile markers noting the distance from 395 are nice to see, but some are missing.  Or I am just not seeing them, studying the tread on my Continental GP too intently.  I have been told that a Cat was driven off the edge while they were making the road, but I forget to look on the way up.  No time to look on the way down…

About Mile 4 – found the marker, but the “4” is gone- the road steepens.  I still have a couple of gears left, so I sacrifice one and spin out of the tightest left so far.  N. B. SLOW on the descent!  A sign warns of rock slides, and then the road tilts some more.  Or maybe it is just too much time off the bike.  A long pull along the side hill.  Still hot.  Hot and still.  Still.  Too. Hard.

Hairpin left, up and around to the right half a mile…hairpin left, up and around to the right half a mile…hairpin left, up and around to the right half a mile… rhythm turns if I was going faster.  Then the sharp right that signals two changes.  Here, the road begins to descend.  Almost a mile to drink and spin with no effort.  Easy to grab three or four gears in succession, and I spin each one up.  Still easy.  Look ahead for traffic, as the road gets too narrow here, and the dropoff is impressive.  Guardrail?  Where would they put it?  The path is already too thin.  I decide that a nice descent in the middle of this climb is brilliant.  I wonder about Manny and the lost bulldozer, but my one quick glance reveals nothing.

Hairpin left and we are climbing.  Giving back gears to gravity.  Click and spin.  Not exactly spinning here.  Click again.  Again.  Finally a gear we can hold and spin.  Enjoying the effort, sneaking a glance at the cogs in reserve.  Trees in the distance hint at the summit.

Finally.  Close now.  Steep here.  Too steep.  Click.  Rats.  Click.  Must.  Spin.  Nope.  No more clicks.  Last gear.  Click up one, stand and stomp.  Go until it hurts.  Bummer that it doesn’t take long.  Sit and hold it.  Maybe.  It’s.  Enough.  Yes.  Now the 10 Mile marker, now the gradual flattening, now the Tulare County sign.  Now the gear is too easy again.  Spin.  Click.  Spin.  6250′ and trees.

I brought a spray can to mark the summit, but it is just the County Line.  Easier to mark on the way back.  Day is long, and it is cool at the top.  Road keeps climbing for a few miles.  So do I.  rollers, but mostly climbing.  It seems too hard, but that is why I am here.  Mile 16 is the true summit, 7500′ or so, and it has become a Good Ride.  Next time, we should race to this point, not just the County Line. Jacket and gloves for the descent.  Mountain folk always take a jacket and gloves on a climb.

On the way back, it has become brisk.  I am glad to see it is steeper than I had thought on the way up.  Good news indeed.  But I am always a little bit disappointed to reach the summit.  There is a simple purpose, a kind of clarity, a sense of immediacy, to climbing.  Now I will need to find a new purpose.  I go to mark the Finish.  The 200m.  The 1000m.  No computer, so I measure the distance by spinning a known gear.  Calculated on the way up, and then measured against the Mile Marker signs.  Easier to climb when you have something else to think about at least part of the time.

It is still hot at the bottom, even though it will be dark soon.

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