Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Alpe d'Huez Round 3: How I Finally Conquered My Arch Nemesis

The most popular blog post on my blog--hands down--is the account of my first miserable attempt to cycle up Alpe d'Huez and then my struggle to make it down without killing myself.

At the expense of my brake pads, I managed to inch my way down 13.8 kilometers of 21 hairpin turns before coming to an ungraceful clattering stop in front of a group of Dutch cycling tourists. They smiled and waved as I spit a fly from my mouth and smeared grease stains across my face in an attempt to wipe away the tears and snot. When I pried my fingers from the handlebars in Bourg d'Oisans, I nearly sold my bike then and there.

I've spent the past year trying to piece my shattered dreams of being a competent cyclist back together. And while I still don't find spandex shorts especially flattering (I think it's the foam wedged into the crotch area that ruins it for me), I've wobbled my way up and down cols, valleys, cycling paths, and major interstates.

I've managed to get grease stains smeared across every item of cycling clothing I own and the tips of my white leather cycling shoes are scuffed and ripped. A screw is missing from the piece on my shoe that clips into my pedal. My helmet has scrapes, my water bottles are starting to mold, and I can almost pump up my tires without shrieking when my tires hiss air loudly and unexpectedly.

And last week, wearing my scuffed cycling shoes and grease stained cycling jersey, I managed to wobble my bike unsteadily up to the top of Alpe d'Huez.

Averaging 10 kilometers per hour and stopping once to set the world record for inhaling a Snickers bar, I pushed myself and my Trek bike to the top. Bourg d'Oisans fell away and became a series of flickering lights and small houses and the silence was only occasionally shattered by the sound of a car engine suddenly zipping past in a flurry of exhaust.

I cheered myself on each time I passed a sign marking the turns. 21. 20. 19. 18. 17. When I hit the 9th turn, I knew I was going to make it up. "Halfway there, girl" I muttered in a very different sort of pep talk from the one I had uttered last year in an attempt to convince myself I wasn't going to meet my death by cycling down.

With three kilometers to go, British guy came flying down to meet me. As the temperatures began to drop with the sun and the silence was only interrupted by my heaving breathing, his familiar orange jacket was a very welcome sight and the offer of a Snickers bar to boost my energy was even more welcome.

Spirits renewed and sugar reserves restored, I pedaled steadily up the last few kilometers. When I rounded the bend and saw the sign for Alpe d'Huez, I felt like shouting it out to the world. Or you know, updating my Facebook status.

Nikki Hodgson 21 hairpin turns. 13.8 kilometers. A 7.9 % average grade. 1071 meter elevation gain. Made it up to the top of L'Alpe d'Huez for the first time yesterday. Third time's a charm :)

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