Dawson Saddle in the Freezing Rain


My ride today was cut short because of really bad weather.  But I accomplished my first goal which was to climb to Dawson Saddle from Duarte.  The climb is an 8,000 foot gain in 35 miles.  The good news is all my times were better and my power numbers had improved from two weeks ago.  The bad news is I had intended on more climbing today.

When I arrived at Encanto Park in Duarte it was overcast but the temperature was in the high 60’s.  I looked off to the mountains and saw clouds but didn’t think too much of them. However, the higher I climbed in elevation the weather got worse and worse.  At lower elevations it was a light drizzle and chilly.  By the time I crested Dawson Saddle, 7901 elevation, it was pouring freezing  rain and the temperature was in the 30’s.  My hands were so cold it took me nine minutes just to put on knee warmers and a vest!

I was miserable I was shivering and I struggled to keep the bike steady while descending at below 20 mph on Angeles Crest Hwy. I was going much slower on Hwy 39 (10 mph).  Visibility was less than 20 feet — no exaggeration.  The Caltrans trucks would dart to the other side of the road when they realized a cyclist – me – was coming towards them.  I’m sure they thought I was crazy being up there.  The crews I passed had full-on winter gear and they were huddled around the big Cat units enjoying the heat being displaced by  their massive engines.

“Get down from elevation it WILL get warmer ”  I kept repeating those words over and over and over as a means of motivation to keep me moving.  I hadn’t been this cold since the San Diego 300km Brevet where half the field DNF’d because of rain and freezing temperatures.  I was wearing a base layer, two jerseys, a vest with wind stopper, arm warmers, knee warmers, booties over my shoes, gloves and I was still freezing.  I was soaked to the bone and had lost dexterity of my fingers.  I couldn’t open wrappers of my bars or gels and resigned myself to eat hardy once I got down off the mountain.  I tried to pull my bottle out of the cage and couldn’t squeeze my fingers together.  The only thing I was capable of doing was maintaining steady pressure on the brakes.

Alright enough about my tales of woe.  Let’s look at the positive outcome of this ride. Below is the power chart from two weeks ago 5/13/10.  You should be able to notice that my  power (yellow squiggly line) trails off significantly later in the climb.  When just looking at time it took me 3:38 to climb from Duarte to Dawson saddle.  Today that same climb in terrible weather took me 3:20 which includes 11 minutes off the bike for a flat.   As I mentioned before I didn’t have dexterity so changing a flat was a long painstaking process.  Most of that 11 minutes was spent trying to warm up my hands.  I stuffed them down my shorts — yeah I know TMI but you gotta do what you gotta do right?

Another absolute measurement like time is average speed.   Two weeks ago my averages speed was 9.7 mph today it was 10.7 mph. I think I will set a goal of 3 hours flat from Duarte to Dawson Saddle.  Doing some rough calculations I would have to increase my average speed for the climb to 11.7 mph to complete the climb in three hours.

Power Chart from May 13, 2010

Data from May 13, 2010

Now let’s look at today’s data.  My power doesn’t trail off as bad on the latter stages of the climb.  Don’t forget this is A THREE HOUR CLIMB.  Let’s put it in perspective — what most people call a training ride of 30-35 miles I’m doing that whole distance going up a mountain.  Also look at my Normalized Power it increased from 191 watts  to 220 watts (3.27 w/kg). It is the end of May and my goal event is in October.  I still have about three solid months to get my mileage and climbing up to race quality.

I was teased by one of my blog readers because I have been climbing with a 53/39 standard crankset and an 11-23 cassette.  Well the truth is, it is difficult for me to climb in those gears too 😉  But here’s the thing, when I started riding with the road-racer type guys most of them have close ratio cassettes.  It was very hard to keep up with them on climbs because they would be hammering in an 11-23 cassette.  Or when on the flats and slight downhills they had that 11T cog and I was in a 12T cog just barely hanging on at 36 mph.  So I switched to an 11-23 and I have been racing on one all year.

Today’s improvement in data was due in part to riding a different gear set up.  Two weeks ago I rode my Cervelo R3 SL – Rebecca, which is my dedicated climbing bike.  She is equipped with a Compact 50/34 crankset.  Today I rode Felicia which has a standard 53/39 crankset.  I felt myself working harder and at times noticed my cadence dropping significantly.  I remained focused on increasing my cadence which in-turn  produced higher power and consequently faster times up the mountain.  You can see in the difference of the lap times that today was faster in just about every lap.

Tomorrow I will be climbing Palomar Mountain.  I haven’t been out there in a long time.  I don’t have data to go from since my hard drive crashed with about three years of power data on it.  Oh well I guess I will just have to set the bar tomorrow.

5 thoughts on “Dawson Saddle in the Freezing Rain

  1. Hi George, you’re showing off again! So, as said before, I keep in mind what you do on real hills, and seriously, this helps me take the edge off of a bad attitude when I’m hitting a killer climb of 500 feet (self-deprecating humor intended). Lately I’ve been performing “force reps” where I just keep the gearing high, for the hill, which is perhaps 50×23 and my cadence drops big time.

    But this one ride is finishing about 20 minutes faster on force rep days because I’m actually faster on the harder gearing.

    Maybe another lesson from you here; adapt my legs to a tough machine instead of adapting my machine to adapt to my weak legs.

    I hate the gear drops from 27 to 25 to 23, etc, only ending at 12 which spins out on descents. eventually, when I’m far stronger, I’ll start mimicking you now that I’m really understanding how success lies in hours of misery.

    • Those drills you are doing are also called Muscle Tension. They are designed to increase leg strength and it appears they are working for you. Keep it up but watch those knees on cadences below 50 rpm. The reason you are faster on your “force rep” days is because you are “forced” to use that gear and climb. You have a vested interest in keeping the pedals turning or you will fall over. When I ride with groups I can sometimes out climb them on my fixed gear.

      Interesting way to think about your adapting dilemma.

      One of the reasons I don’t like to use a 12-27 cassette is because of the huge steps between gears. It goes like this 27T, 24T, 21T, 19T …

      Ben you have discovered the secret and magical formula everyone is searching for but doesn’t seem to see it for what it is… Cycling is about suffering, only those that suffer will be rewarded with increased fitness, accomplishing goals, and winning races if that is your end game!! I put myself through enormous amount of suffering just to achieve my goals. Many people don’t like to suffer and sit around idolizing others for their accomplishments or worse…complain they are not improving. I have only one thing to say to them “GET OUT AND RIDE YOUR BIKE!” Everything falls into place after that.

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