Dear US Forest Service,
First off, I think I might owe you a little apology. See, I’m not exactly sure whether you’re the right people to be sending this letter to. I think it’s probably you, but maybe I should be sending this to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Or maybe this should be going to the Department of Transportation. That could make sense, unless I should be sending it to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
On the other hand, maybe the State Parks people should be the ones reading this. Or, possibly, the Department of Roadway Design.
Kinda hard to say, honestly. Maybe after you read this letter you’ll do me the favor of sending this on to the people who should be reading it.
If it’s not you, I mean. Which it might be. Possibly.
Last weekend, The Hammer and I (joined by the IT Guy for the second half of the ride) went on a big ol’ training ride: The Gauntlet Supreme. Starting from home, we ride up American Fork Canyon to Granite Flat, up to the summit of the Alpine Loop, down to Cascade Springs, back up to the summit of the Alpine Loop, down to Provo Canyon, up and down Squaw Peak, up Provo Canyon, up and down South Fork, and then up the Sundance side of the Alpine loop and down the AF side, and — finally! — back to home.
Here’s what it looks like on a map:
It kinda looks like a man holding a bell, doesn’t it? At least a little bit?
Along the way, there’s a fair amount of climbing. And descending. Indeed, since we wind up where we started the ride, I believe it could be said that the amount of climbing and descending are practically identical. Here’s what it looks like:
That’s a pretty jagged-looking elevation chart. Which is fine. We signed up for all that climbing, so we aren’t going to complain about it.
No, just kidding. Actually almost the whole rest of this letter is going to be complaining. So you might want to brace yourself for that.
See, there’s one particular part of this ride that just seems . . . well, wrong: The Cascade Spring climb.
No, the problem isn’t with the scenery; the scenery is gorgeous. The problem isn’t with traffic; since this seven-mile road goes nowhere but to a small (but beautiful and well-worth seeing in its own right) park, there’s rarely any traffic at all. The problem isn’t even with the pavement; there are some cracks with weeds growing through, but they aren’t really a problem.
The problem is with the elevation profile.
As a refresher, take a look at what this seven-mile climb looks like, elevation-wise:
On second thought, that elevation profile isn’t very dramatic; it certainly doesn’t reflect the steepness I feel when I climb that sucker. Instead, take a look at mile 28 -35 from this closeup of the elevation chart for the whole ride we did:
Do you see the problem now?
Well, that’s because you don’t ride a bike, US Forest Service (or whoever). Which is understandable, I guess, because it would be weird to see the US Forest Service on a bike. And probably very uncomfortable for you.
I’m getting sidetracked. Let me get back to my point.
The problem with the Cascade Springs Climb is that it has a nice one-mile descent, right in the middle of the climb. The result being that you climb three miles, descend one mile, and then climb three more miles to get to the summit.
“I fail to see the problem,” I can imagine you saying, US Forest Service (or etc.). “You should be thanking us! We gave you a nice little break in the middle of a very difficult climb — in fact, that break comes right before the hardest part of the climb. We’ve given you the opportunity to rest up before beginning the second three miles of climbing.”
And that just goes to show, US Forest Service, that you don’t understand what is going on in the mind of cyclists when we are doing a big climb.
Allow me to clear that up, for your future reference.
The Problem With Short Descents Between Big Climbs
See, when cyclists start big, long climbs, we steel ourselves for what is to come. “Seven miles of climbing,” we tell ourselves. “We’re going to grind it out, grit our teeth, grind it out, weave all over the place, and otherwise haul ourselves up this road ’til we get to the top.”
And we do it. We bribe ourselves, lie to ourselves, convince ourselves, argue with ourselves, and otherwise hold internal dialogues that would frighten priests and psychiatrists alike. Whatever it takes to keep the legs turning until we get to the top.
But just suppose that right in the middle of this dramatic and traumatic and superhuman effort, the climb ends?
And instead of climbing and suffering and gnashing our teeth, we are coasting effortlessly downhill?
The storm of emotions is just too much to take.
First, there’s elation: “Wheee! I no longer hurt! And instead of 4.8mph, I’m going thirty! I am so happy!”
But then there’s distress: “This descent ends in just one mile. At 30mph, that’s just two minutes before I have to climb again. I don’t want to start climbing again in two minutes. I don’t want to start climbing again at all.
And then, finally, there’s the horror at the dawn of understanding: “Wait a second. By having a descent in the middle of a climb, I’m effectively having to re-climb altitude that I have already earned.”
It is at this moment that the weeping usually begins.
For while cyclists are — for some reason — OK with earning a big chunk of altitude all at once, it is with the expectation that we will get to spend it all at once, as well. Here, instead, we descend just long enough for our legs to fall out of the rhythm of climbing. To let the lactic acid pool up. To realize, fully and completely, that we’re tired.
And then we have to start climbing again. Climbing up to a height we already climbed up, just a couple minutes ago.
Whimpering and complaining is not only common, it’s expected.
US Forest Service (…), I am not the kind of person who identifies a problem without suggesting solutions. I have two excellent ideas, either of which I believe can be executed with a minimum of expense and effort.
Idea 1: Bridge: My first idea would be the simplest and most straightforward to execute: simply build a cycling bridge, spanning the beginning of the descent to the equivalent spot in altitude a couple miles down (and then up) the road:
I think the benefits of doing this are as obvious as they are compelling. First, cyclists (i.e., me) still get a nice little break from the climbing — when you’ve been climbing hard, flat really does feel like downhill. Second, finishing times for this climb would shrink drastically, causing cyclists to feel much better about themselves and their state of fitness without having to resort to ridiculous measures like doping or training more.
Further, I believe that if you build this bridge you’ll bring curious people from all over the world to see this two-mile wonder. Certainly, the surge of tourist dollars will more than offset the minor costs you might incur by building this bridge.
One last note regarding this bridge: I think you should make it out of carbon fiber. It’s both strong and light.
Idea 2: Redistribution: While I believe my first idea is a good one, I must be honest with myself and admit that it is really nothing more than a half-measure. To really and truly fix the problem, you’re going to need a big shovel.
A really big shovel:
Where the “bridge” idea simply eliminates redundant climbing on this road, filling in the unneccessary descent and subsequent climb with what was previously the top of the mountain actually reduces the total amount of climbing required.
Consider: Right now cyclists must make a thousand-foot climb, descend 300 feet, and then make a 1200 foot climb. That’s 2200 feet of climbing. With my “Repurpose the Mountain Summit” plan, however, we’ll climb up a thousand feet or so, catch our breath on the two-mile flat section, and then make a 500 foot climbing push to the new, lower, and flatter summit.
That’s 1500 feet of climbing — a savings of 700 feet.
Honestly, I don’t even think I need to explain how perfect an idea this is. In fact, I am currently agog at my own brilliance.
US Forest etc., I believe I have presented a compelling case; I can see no reason why you would not begin work on this immediately, even at the expense of in-progress projects. This is that important.
I look forward to climbing the new and (drastically) improved Cascade Spring climb.
The Fat Cyclist