Today’s ride, in which I inflict intense self-suffering. Twice.

I’ve mentioned before that I have one last goal before I consider myself fully recovered from the infamous beachfront bee incident.

I want to get back the climbing ability I used to have. Along with that knot of muscle above the knee that instantly identifies you as a serious cyclist, when there’s not a bike in sight.

You see, when I first moved to California, back when Ronnie Reagan was still riding a desk in the Oval Office, I wasn’t that great with hills. Sure, I could pull off the occasional mountain ride, but it wasn’t that hard ride to through Denver without any real effort.

That changed when I got to San Diego.

Most visitors to San Diego never get past the beach or the Gaslamp Quarter, so they don’t realize the city is just one steep hill and canyon rolling into another. And it quickly became clear that if I wanted to ride beyond my own neighborhood, I needed to get a lot better at hills.

So I found the longest, steepest hill I could. And I rode it.


At first, I could only go 50 to 100 feet before I had to stop, feeling like my heart and lungs were going to explode. Then I waited until I got my pulse and breathing back under control, and rode another 50 feet or so. Then I did it again, and again, until I finally topped the crest and got on with my ride.

It took me a few weeks before I could make it all the way without stopping. Slowly, chest pounding and legs screaming in pain, but I made it.

Then once I could make it every time, I focused on getting up that hill faster and in progressively higher gears. Until at last I reached the point where I would find myself passing some of the local pros on climbs, only to have them fall in behind and let me pull them up the hill — unless I happened to feel like dropping them that day.

But that was a long time ago. And I want to get that back.

So at least twice a week now, I work hills into my route.

One route starts uphill as soon as I leave my door, with eight steep climbs in the first five miles. The other follows my usual route, but adds a full mile of non-stop climbing up Temescal Canyon, from the beach to the Palisades.

This week, for the first time, I felt like I was making real progress. I zoomed up the first route on Tuesday, attacking hills, riding out of the saddle and upshifting on the upslope. So I was really looking forward to today’s ride up Temescal.

Which, as it turns out, was like looking forward to a root canal.

The first third or so was fine. I attacked at the base, upshifted when I rose out of the saddle, and shifted back down when I sat, without missing a beat.

Then without warning, I was done.

I’m not sure why. But suddenly, every pedal stroke was an effort. Standing didn’t help, shifting didn’t help. And I refused to use my granny gears.

So all I could do was suck it up, and focus on one pedal stroke at a time. I’d pick out a landmark a few feet ahead — a car, a tree — and just try to make it that far. Then I’d pick out another, and another. Finally, I made it up past the high school, where the incline eases up a little, and could make it the rest of the way to Sunset.

Then I rode back to the bottom, turned around and did it again.

It wasn’t any easier the second time.

But that wasn’t the point. Because I was damned if I was going to settle for a ride like that. And as hard as it was, it should make it just a little easier next time.

Then I revised my route to include another hard climb on the way home. Because the only way to get better at riding hills is to ride hills.

And the hill you don’t ride today will be the same one you can’t ride tomorrow.


Flying Pigeon needs more double rail saddle clamps if you happen to have a few hundred laying around. Damien asks if it’s time California had a 3-foot law of it’s own. Short answer, yes. A biking newbie asks how to become a little better at climbing. Missouri’s Tracy Wilkins discovers traffic calming islands that force bikes and cars a little too close for comfort. MTB Law Girl lives up to her name, presenting a synopsis of a cyclist vs. cyclist road rage case; the offender was sentenced to 35 years. First they got mad, now Texas riders plan to get even. A San Francisco columnist says if you want cheap, easy transportation to the office, take a bus. The Examiner suggests that Amtrak could increase their ridership if they were more bicycle friendly. We can’t get sharrows, yet Portland riders get their own bridge. A Vancouver writer says it’s time to get past the whole bikes vs. cars conflict. After a two-year doping ban, former Tour de France favorite Vinokourov is back; next year’s tour is starting to look very interesting. Finally, build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door; so what happens when you build a better bike reflector?


  1. gtinla says:

    Hm, I have never ridden Temescal Canyon – thanks for the tip!
    I am riding up Los Flores – down Piuma – up Piuma – down Los Flores – up Schueren – down Tuna Cyn – tomorrow morning – depart Brentwood at 7 am, care to join?

    • bikinginla says:

      Man, that sound like a great ride — I’ve never done the Malibu canyons like that. As usual though, my wife has my weekend booked. You’ll have to let me know how it goes.

  2. gtinla says:

    Well, it didn’t go as planned (details on my blog) – I bit off more than I could chew!

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