Harbor Mountain Hill Climb

Written November 1993

by Kenneth Lea Barbalace

There is no need to look out the window upon awakening--I can hear what the weather is, hard driving rain. Since it's raining, the temperature must be above freezing, though not far above to be certain. I shower and consume a breakfast of java, Power Bars, and a sports drink. After breakfast I'm joined by a fellow foolish competitor for a "warm-up ride" to the race.

Barely on the main road and we are already utterly soaked. Tradition holds that the nastiest weather will accompany this race. Some years there is snow, this we have year pouring rain and hard winds. After a ten minute ride we reach the start: warmed up, no; loosened up, kind of; ready to get this over with, definitely. We sign in, then I strip down to the thin skin suit I'm wearing and coat my body in petroleum jelly to repel the rain.

"Are you planing on riding THAT up this course?" Some competitors scoff at my choosing a road bike for this race.

"Yep."

"Have you ridden up this hill?"

"Yep," I smile. How arrogant mountain bikers are towards us roadies. What they fail to notice is that Voyageur is sporting a new 21 speed Deore XT drive train. After adjusting my swimming goggles, I join the 23 other racers at the starting line, which is on a 8 or 9% grade.

Harbor Mountain Hill Climb on Alaska Day weekend (the second weekend in Oct.), is the proverbial cold day in hell. It is a battle of man and machine against the forces of nature and the five mile gravel Harbor Mountain Road that climbs 1900 feet up the side of the mountain. The object is not to win, but to survive. Winning is out of the question, no one can beat 43-year-old, King of the hill Steve Reifenstuhl--no one.

"Three...Two...One..." the race has begun. Many racers break away from the pack and chase Reifenstuhl. Fools! I mustn't get suckered in. Constantly glancing at the display of my heart monitor, I carefully pace myself.

In a hard out of the saddle sprint a kid passes me. Not giving chase, I keep a steady pace grinding my way to the top. I'll reel him in as he begins to tire. One by one I pass riders who have found the burning in their hearts and legs too great.

Like a pack of wolves, several bikes nip at my heals, waiting for me to burn like the others. I focus on the road ahead, not looking back. Demons inside me taunt, "You're letting a kid beat you. You know they were right--this is no place for a road bike. Give it up." Focus, I can't quit. I shake my head to rid it of the demons, but they still taunt, "You're not going to win, why bother?" That is what this race is: a battle of the inner self. I must not give up, I must make it to the top.

Yard upon yard I battle my demons, the rain and this hill. Very slowly yards grind into miles, and a status quo takes form. Behind me that pack of "wolves" nip at my wheels. Ahead of me is that kid. In front of him the only other rider I have seen for some time, and in my head those demons.

Finally the last hair pin comes into view. From there the road will begin to level--sorta. Pushing a little harder, I prepare to find out how much those around me have left. On the curve I shift to my middle chain ring leaving the saddle momentarily. Blowing by the kid I continue shifting to bigger gears. Glancing back, neither the kid nor the pack is to be seen. My attention becomes fixed on the next rider. Forty...Thirty...Twenty...the yards separating us dwindle.

"Passing on left," I announce. Startled he looks back drastically increasing speed. No way is he going to just let me pass. Backing off slightly, I shift to my big chain ring. Out of the saddle I give everything I got to powering a monster gear. I close in behind him once again then cut to his right. He tries to cut me off, too late. As I pull up beside him, my heart monitor begins beeping the high limit alarm. 190..192..194.. my heart rate increases. Lungs and legs begin to burn. Neck and neck we battle it out.

"Good job," he suddenly announces, abruptly falling back. Sitting back in my saddle I continue to put distance between us around a curve I charge, then another and he's out of sight.

I don't need my heart monitor to remind me that I've crossed my thresh hold, I can feel it. My body is burning, and is heart pounding hard in my chest. No longer do I have the strength to maintain this pace. Shifting back to my middle chain ring I chose a much smaller gear. I can't see the finish yet, but I hear cheering. I try to pick up speed to put on a good show but haven't the strength.

Turning the last turn I cross the finish wanting to collapse. Spinning real small gears I ride for a moment longer, then lean Voyageur against some boulders. It is over and I have survived--I think.

"Don't tell the guys I was beat by a road bike," a rider states as he crosses the finish.

Beginning to shiver uncontrollably I realize just how cold I am. Gratefully I accept a hot cup of black coffee, then get my clothes from the support car. I put them on, but they are soaked and provide no warmth.

Getting another cup of coffee first, I go find out the times. No surprise, with a time of 34 minutes 16 seconds, Steve Reifenstuhl crushed the competition. His next closest contender had a time of 41:45 and I came in sixth with a time of 46:54, my fastest time ever.

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