Morning at Heart O' the Hills. The goal: reach the top of Hurricane Ridge. A 5,000 foot climb in 17 miles. We got ourselves all stoked for it by watching a video some road bike riders made, and they kept going on about how daunting and epic it was. It's a local cyclist challenge, and you can't pass up local specialties.
Travis really turned on his Biking Stamina Optimism, saying that the climb would be really easy compared to the ascent into the campground that we made with all our gear. By ditching the gear, he hoped to be at the top in an hour and a half, climbing at 8 mph.
We started out pretty strong, but it didn't last long. At all. Travis was behind me trying to get me to stay at 5 mph, but even that became really difficult. And it wasn't like I was zoning out, getting lost in the pain of burning muscles or the changing scenery. I was fully concentrating on each pedal stroke, urging my body to move faster but it just wasn't complying. A group road ride passed us one by one, in our line of sight for just a few minutes each before swiftly turning the bend, and I knew Travis could have gone faster and was just waiting around for me.
I could barely keep pace at even half the speed of what Travis expected out of me, and from there the easy segway was "I'm not in good enough shape for this," to "Holy shit I'm no good at anything." My thoughts spiraled out of control, as the moments of experiencing physical pain in my burned out muscles stretched out into hours of nothing to do but think about all my inadequacies. How my life situation would be cute and understandable if I were 25, but new town, no job and no plan at 30 makes people wince and say, "You'll figure something out." I know they're thinking, "Well bless her heart."
It didn't stop. The climb kept going and going, and my mood kept sinking and sinking. And then I couldn't breathe. I sucked big gulps of air that only rattled my throat. I wheezed and heaved but nothing reached my lungs. I pulled off to the side of the road and closed my eyes while Travis asked what was wrong, thinking I had developed some breathing condition.
It was a panic attack.
After a few minutes of telling myself to calm down, I was able to breathe normally again. Poor Travis said that the pace didn't matter, we could go as slow as I wanted. I did my very best to keep my mind off the bleak bigger picture, and instead focus on what was happening right then- the emerging alpine wildflowers, the ridges towering a few thousand feet off the side of the road, the sight of the ocean when I turned around. And then we were at Mile 17, and the snow capped peaks of 5000 foot mountains came into view. I climbed the mountain. Somehow.
I'd like to say that we had a joyful celebration of some kind, but I was wiped out and the first thing my body screamed for was sugar. I got a Dr. Pepper from the National Park snack bar and drank it furiously, then made lunch with hands shaky from exhaustion and sugar rush. We were too tired to walk on any of the nature trails, so in the end we just took a few pictures and bombed it down the hill.
What took three hours to climb sped by in 45 minutes in descent. We maxed out at 40 mph. Hurricane Ridge was conquered.