In late May this year, my spouse and I are participating in a triathlon training camp in the hills (mountains?) of North Carolina. It involves a ton of riding over the three or four days of the camp. There will be running and swimming sessions too. What a great way to kick off the season!
There’s only one problem. There aren’t a ton of hills here in Illinois on which to prepare for the trip. Our only real hill-training option is a rise in the Kane County landscape called Campton. That hill is composed of a mound of glacially deposited gravel covered with trees and homes. Cyclists love the fact that a pair of roads peak near the top. Total elevation might be an additional 300 feet, but it’s the best thing we’ve got.
The approach from the east is long and gradual. It starts slow and grows acute toward the end.
The approach from the west is long and steady with a steeper section in the middle.
The approach from the north is like a condensed version of the east climb. The incline starts slowly and then vanishes where the pavement disappears into the trees.
The approach from the south is the most difficult. The climb is abrupt from the get-go, with perhaps an 11% grade that levels out to 8% for another 150 yards.
Each of these is a Strava segment, so the efforts can be compared week to week and even year to year.
For variety, the climb from the south can be made longer by swinging down to Route 38 where another long and gradual hill adds a half mile to that approach. This is also a good place to practice tearing downhill at a fast pace. There’s a Strava segment for that section too.
Years ago with a friend, we started the season by doing a couple workouts on the east and south hills doing repetitions. That set the tone for a much better year of riding. I expect to do the same thing this year in advance of the North Carolina trip.
We may also swing up to the Madison, Wisconsin area for a few longer rides in real hills. The Madison Ironman loop is quite hilly and well-known to us. There is a section called Barlow that has 18% grades on it. Try that on a tri-bike and you might wind up walking the whole thing. Bike geometry matters on the steeper climbs.
The region out by Mt. Horeb, Dodgeville and Spring Green also has some healthy hills. We’ve ridden the Horribly Hilly ride that starts and finishes in Mt. Horeb. But the ride uses a lottery to gain admission that is too frustrating to abide year after year. It always seems that one or the other of us gets rejected. Then we have to work through the cycling network to find someone who either chickens out each year or can’t ride for other reasons. Then we buy their entry. But it’s hard to plan around that.
In the past, the race has also kept the $10 lottery fee just for applying. Talk about a slap in your cycling face.
Admittedly the ride is fun precisely because it is hard. The finish climbs the southslope of Blue Mound State Park, a glacial rise in the landscape similar to the hill back home in Campton. Only Blue Mound is a lot bigger. The final section comes in stages that take you upwards more than 2000 feet from bottom to top. I made it up that hill without stopping or climbing off the bike. That’s not a huge feat because plenty of people do it. But we take our victories where we can find them. Had the Olympics been hosted in Chicago there was a plan to hold the cycling road race west of Madison, and Blue Mound likely would have figured in that race.
The only trepidation I feel toward the hills of Wisconsin stems from the bike wobble incident of 2012. That’s when I crashed at 40 mph, busted a collarbone and was lucky nothing worse happened.
So for me, the training camp in North Carolina promises to be a challenge and a peak experience. I’ll be riding the Specialized Venge Expert, a more stable and trustworthy steed on the downhills. That could prove to be pretty important. So I’m looking forward to it, but also respect the fact that there could be moments that make Blue Mound feel like a walk in the park.
That’s what peak experiences are all about.