Where was I? Oh yeah. Suddenly, it appeared. Here it is again in case you forgot.
"It" being the Wall, of course. I need to come up with a Homeric-ish trope for it -- 'the fearful quad-destroying path' or something to that effect. Open to suggestions.
When I saw it I understood that my concerns had not been unfounded, though I was so tired of riding up the beach in the headwind that I was glad for something different (theoretically) and also to have reached what felt like the dramatic peak of the whole ride. As I approached I thought it would be good to call on the goddess of the Wall that I would be allowed to humbly pass over it. It seemed like such a route must surely have its own local minor deity. There was a little rest station set up at the foot of the hill and I watched people straggle up, start tacking back and forth, back and forth, and (frequently) stop and start hiking. How far would I be able to get? The steep part seemed to have sub-sections, a little warm up at the beginning before it launched straight up into space and then 'relaxed' into a almost-straight-up section before turning the corner and becoming just a regular steady climb of a mere 8 - 10% grade instead of 18 - 20%.
I slurped down some "CHOCOLATE OUTRAGE" flavored Gu, containing caffeine for that extra bit of outrageousness, mustered my valor, and set out. I knew right away that I had a limited number of pedal strokes I'd be able to manage before reaching what the weight training community calls 'muscle failure.' I didn't think to count though. I stood up in the saddle and began tacking back and forth across the road, slowly, like most everybody else, wondering if the shallower plane I achieved thereby was worth the extra distance. Every time I changed directions I felt a little surge of panic and increasing doubt about whether I could keep going.
If you click on the photo above it will open up in a much larger version where you can easily make out the four little people winding their way up (plus a fifth person starting out near the bottom). Note that the person nearest the top is walking. Approximately where you see the third person down from the top is as far as I got before I jumped off my bike with very wobbly legs and shaky arms, and hiked from there to the first level place after I turned the corner. The steeper a hill, the more upper body strength required to give you enough resistance to keep pedaling. At least that's the theory I just made up and it sounds like it ought to be true, considering how fast my arms got tired.
Here I am after hitting the Wall.
While I was hiking, some grizzled ol' hardcore cyclist feller rode by and made a comment all of which I couldn't quite hear, to the effect of "[blah blah blah]...females doing this, you should feel very proud of your achievement." I thought despite the gender reference it was meant to be sincerely complimentary and encouraging. When I got back on my bike after my refreshing hike I passed him and didn't see him again for the rest of the ride. I hope he felt proud of his achievement too.
After the Wall and the after-wall there was a lovely plunge downhill (the Unknown Coast can't seem to get downhill without plunging) into a beautiful little valley, before starting to climb again into the second to last phase of the ride known as "the Endless Hill." As opposed to the all the other hills which I guess are not considered "endless." One thing I frequently tell myself about hills, though, is that they always end somewhere. Early in this climb I felt totally out of steam and had to hike for maybe half a mile. I think this is where I really hit the physical / mental 'wall.' I thought about that "100-Mile Finisher" patch and it seemed like very inadequate motivation. I could just come back and try again next year. I was more than nine hours into the ride, including lunch and rest stops, and it seemed like that was way too long, Auntie M had probably stopped wondering what had happened to me by then (in reality it was the opposite, I just have to work in those Wizard of Oz references whenever possible).
Once you start walking, it's hard to know when you're ready to start riding again, but I finally reached a place where the road flattened out a little bit and I thought, okay, let's give it another go. Amazingly I felt so much better. I got into a steady pace and (as far as I can remember) didn't really have any trouble with the rest of that climb, most of which was still ahead of me at that point. I heard somebody tell another cyclist about the 'false summit,' warning him not to let it break his heart, so I was steeled against heartbreak when I got there and then had to start climbing again.
It was late enough in the afternoon by the time I reached the final rest station, mile 92, that the Humboldt Fog was coming back. A very friendly young man with an assortment of musical instruments sat in the back of his van, and pointed out that along with the sliced oranges (yes!) he also had sandwiches (no!) but didn't think anybody wanted them at that point - not anything wrong with the sandwiches, but my tummy was feeling a bit outraged by then. He also bore glad tidings that we were basically done climbing once we rounded the next bend.
He was right. The Endless Hill ended and the final phase, another plunge down Wildcat Road into Ferndale, began. I let out a "I'm getting my 100-mile Finisher Patch" whoop and took the plunge.
There's no place like home.
I want another patch next year. Both my Aunt Merilyn and my Aunt Sylvia's driveways up there in Humboldt County are very like a Wall in miniature; I figure I could train by riding back and forth between their houses. Oh - and don't forget to go back and click on the photos. The bigger size really starts to capture a bit of how stunning the scenery was. Makes other places seem, well, kind of like Kansas.