August 19, 2012

Stop thinking, just climb

Ideas for posts have to come from somewhere and this one came from someone else. Aaron at SteepClimbs was asked in an interview what he thinks about while climbing, which is a great question. Most readers know that climbing is a big part of my riding just now, as I try to get as strong as possible in anticipation of those big Pyreneean climbs coming up. So I've been thinking about it a lot: what do I think about when climbing: now that is circular, or perhaps just self-aware, thinking about what you're thinking about.

Friday I rode again up my local mountain, the only one of even minimal stature, Mount Greylock. I climbed the easier side, from the west. But after eating pb+j on the summit, I rode down the much steeper north side, turned around and rode back up, climbing Mt Greylock twice in one day. The summary is: it is perhaps impossible to experience the climbing around here that the Pyrenees promise. But I was pleased to be successful, not too slow (for me, for all you stronger riders, it's too slow.) About 4500 feet of climbing, about 32 miles. Virtually all, almost literally all, of the climbing happens in 16 of those miles.

Here's what I thought about, you can gauge the thought against the grade.

Look at those beautiful horses (sorry, no photos) and those windmills. Those very controversial windmills. Windmills (not just these particular examples) are tearing the US environmental movement apart; it is reputed that: they take a terrible toll, killing birds and bats, in especially large numbers during migration (that is the one I care about. I've asked a birders in England and France about that, who live in areas where there are many windmills. They report that while a great fuss is made over this, reports of deaths are not in the news. I hope that's accurate news.) And: they destroy the view and the ridgeline, put them somewhere else. (Very little sympathy, those making that argument use their own huge share of power, their ridge is no more special than anyone else's .) And: the access roads divide wildlife habitat into ever smaller units and bring in invasive species. (Probably true, and of the most harm to larger species I suppose. There is so little land left without our hands in it.) And: we need all the power we can get and wind is renewable. (Hmm, I wish we didn't need all the power we can get, wish we could live more lightly and frugally, use more bikes, hang our laundry. Meanwhile I am going to fly across the Atlantic again in a few weeks. This isn't a simple question.)

Stop it, stay in the present, just ride. Stop thinking, just ride. Hah! What do you mean, stop thinking, there are always words in this head. Focus, no thinking! Now. 

The plaque on the right of the steps: after first ascent
This is getting steep. Slow down, control the breath, find my own pace. Remember what I've learned, slide back, relax my upper body ... stand up, lean the bike, whoa, this actually works, over that steep bit.

Not so many cars today, but this one behind me sounds big, maybe a truck...should my light be blinking? It's getting steep again. Stip thinking, just ride.

The side of the road: invasive species. We call them invasive, since they were mostly brought by the colonists, many intentionally as medicinals. Coltsfoot, bouncing bet, dandelions, honeysuckle, plantain. They spread like mad, driving out native species. But one needs to note that we don't call ourselves invasive, or non-native, with the same disdain.

Stand up, it's going to be a steep switchback.

The Appalachian Trail crosses through this park, and over the top of the mountain as it passes through the Berkshires on its long north/south route. It's been a long time since I've hiked any length of it, the most beautiful sections I remember were in the two ends in Georgia ... and mostly in Maine. The hiking is gorgeous in Katahdin in Maine, especially Knife Edge Trail.  Stop it, stop thinking, just ride.

Focus! One two three, Two, two three, One two three, Two, two three, One two three, Two, two three, One two three, Two, two three: waltz time, put the emphasis on the downbeat and it keeps power coming out evenly from the two legs.Cycling could use the vocabulary of music for speed, tone, rhythm: con brio! adagio ...  lentement, presto.

That's a big hawk, soaring and calling up there in the sky above me. Wish I recognized their calls. Probably a red tail. Nope, maybe a red-shouldered. I should make time to read the book I bought way back last winter with birding friends Larry and Shari. Focus! Just ride. Stop it, stop thinking, just ride. Beautiful bird, why do I want to name it anyway.

Listen legs, just forget it, you aren't so tired, this is just another sensation. It's just one more feeling, another experience: it's a head game, legs, you're fine, it's just the head that's looking to go on to something different.  Odd how the brain has enough of something so quickly and wants to move on ... ok what's next, what's next, what's next ...forget it, just push those pedals around, one two three, two two...

It would be good to get off this mountain before the thunderstorms arrive.

The plaque on the left side of the steps: after second ascent

Is that where I stopped last time, it was easier after that ... no, is that where I stopped last time, it was easier after that ... no, is that where I stopped last time, it was easier after that ... no, is that where... Stop it, stop thinking, just ride.

And what do you think about when you're climb?

PS: If you're a new reader and haven't seen my other Mt. Greylock reports, or actual photos, click on Mt. Greylock in the keywords below. 


  1. For long steep climbs my thoughts usually amount to various forms of denial.

    I'll have to try that waltz count. Does it go: one TWO three, two TWO three . . .

    1. Hi Nigel,

      Have to admit, I've stuck to the basic ONE two three, etc. Thanks for the idea, now I'll change it up to vary the emphasis. That should help to keep my ever-wandering head in the moment, which seems to be a measurable part of the challenge.

      Good luck on your upcoming event!

    2. LOL , that wasn't really a suggestion. I've never waltzed so I didn't know the count.

  2. I try to avoid thinking about the pain. Usually by planning what to cook after the ride. Occasionally I find myself shouting out daft motivational things like 'hey look you're almost at the top, way to go'.

    1. Hi Georgie,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! Thinking about food is pretty much always good in my world. It will be a potentially tasty addition to uphill distractions.

      The only time I remember shouting on a climb wasn't on a mountain, but a very steep local hill. I was met, surprisingly to me, by a concerned and supportive homeowner who was in her garden listening. It was a hoot!

  3. It was an interesting question. Like you, I was too aware of what I was thinking while climbing afterward. It inevitably affected my thought process. I tuned out on this weekend's climbs, and probably became more of the mindless zombie that I usually am while riding up a mountain. If I thought anything, it was 'how much longer?'.

    Here was the article in case you're curious. He did address the thinking question, and quoted my generalized, shrugging shoulders response.

    Climbing Greylock twice seems like quite the feat. I'm sure you'll do exceptionally well overseas.

    1. Hi Aaron,

      I liked the question because it wasn't the typical interviewer's query. And so thanks for the link, I look forward to reading it.

      "Exceptionally well"... sounds great, I'll sign up on the dotted line for that!

  4. I usually spend my time thinking that I'll never make it to the top of the climb, but then I do. If it's not 'making it' then it's 'making it at this speed' or some other variant. On longer climbs (when I'm not racing) alone I can get into a zone where my mind wanders like you, but I always seem to be racing up hill these days!

    1. Hi Gerry,

      I can't imagine a hill you wouldn't make it to the top of .... Kudos and enjoy all that uphill racing!

      I don't race, but have to admit that the two weekly rides I do this summer often feel a lot like racing to me. I don't think of anything at all when climbing then except trying not get dropped!


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