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Thigh busting challenge: Conquering ‘The Wall’

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POSTED March 28, 2013 1:48 a.m.

You got this. You got this. ... C’mon, man, you got this.


In three previous trips to Patterson's Del Puerto Canyon, a series of roads snaking their way through the hills that separate Stanislaus and Santa Clara counties, I got...




Nothing worth bragging about, anyway. There was a small case of road rash on my upper thigh, two sick days and a mountain of disappointment.


This brings me to visit No. 4. On Saturday, with winds whipping and Team In Training's cycling team huddled together behind a building, doubt began to creep in. Would I be able to conquer these hills ... in this wind ... in this cold ... without complication ... without fall?


"You sure you got this?" I asked myself.


A little history first.

Twice I've had to miss a Patterson/Del Puerto Canyon training session. The first time, my kids had Opening Day ceremonies for Little League. I took photos, carried mitts and bats and water bottles and mopped up puke. Yes, puke. Jimmy got so excited he threw up all over the third-base line shortly after the national anthem. That said, the next Patterson ride, I was sick. Go figure.


Even more frustrating – for me, anyway – each session was met with amazing breakthroughs for the team.


During one ride, my ride group conquered The Wall, a roughly 1,000-foot elevation gain over two grueling, thigh-ripping miles AFTER a 22- to 24-mile gradual climb.

The Wall tops out at the Santa Clara County line, but it might as well have been the peak of Mt. Olympus. My ride group posed for pictures, thrust their bikes into the air, and smiled so bright a lost ship could find port.


The other ride saw my wife press through another wind-swept morning and negotiate Del Puerto Canyon just a day after crashing out at Mile 4. Her wipeout followed my own, which meant that in three brushes with the Patterson hills I was effectively and embarrassingly 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a grounder.


Needless to say, I had something to prove on Saturday morning.


Two weeks ago, I wrote in my blog ( about the joys and benefits of riding in a pack. It not only allows for the building of relationships, but can also conserve energy and counteract the elements over the course of a 100-mile ride. That remains my favorite Team In Training cycling experience.


With a caveat.

Saturday's ride was my favorite ME ride. I had something to prove. I turned Del Puerto Canyon into a personal challenge. I refused to let that beautiful beast beat me again. I broke away from the pack and pushed through the canyon alone. 


You got this. 


I arrived at Frank Raines Park ahead of the pack, re-fueled and waited for the next riders. When Candy Jensen and Linda Luciano-Lindenburg finally arrived, we turned our focus to The Wall. The TNT coaches made The Wall optional that morning.


“Do whatever you like,” Coach Mel Bradley said.


Candy wasn't going to stop. Neither was Linda. “I’ve got something to prove, too,” Linda said.


So do I. 


You got this.


I rattled over a cow guard and began my ascent. The Wall is a series of switchbacks that gain in pitch and difficulty the higher you get. For 20-30 minutes, it will make you want to stop. It will make you want to quit. It will make you want to wish you were somewhere else.


Not on Saturday.

I zigzagged up The Wall without pause, chasing three cyclists a couple of hundred yards ahead of me. Another zipped past – a flash of white spandex and carbon fiber – reassuring me that there was indeed an end to this thigh-ripping climb.


I passed a sign warning my of a bus loading zone ahead. For the next 400 feet, that was my motivation. I slurped on a water bottle and sucked down a Gu. When I reached the top, and my bike leveled out, I accelerated toward the county line – letting all that doubt and frustration roll down the hill.


Another cyclist at the top took my picture. She said if I could handle The Wall, I could handle America's Most Beautiful Ride. 


“You got this,” she said.


Damn right I do.

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