I've ridden most of my life, thousands of kilometers, and it would have been more if my work schedule had allowed it. I always preferred riding trails and dirt over road cycling. This is why one of my most challenging rides was when I put my gravel bike on the pavement to ascend a first category climb around my hometown of Talavera de la Reina, Spain.
I went out with my training buddy. He insisted, and my ego had to say yes.
Until then, I had only climbed hills of 4 or 5 kilometers in length, with steep but short grades.
Trying to climb a mountain pass of more than 15 kilometers, and with the last 6 kilometers with an average gradient of over 8% was a real challenge.
My friend had more experience and had even done this climb on his road bike, but at that point, I had been riding for less than 1 year and didn't see myself ready enough. For 2 weeks, I focused on getting my legs used to softer climbs but more prolonged efforts. I didn't want my legs to fail me when I faced this climb. It would be many kilometers climbing on a bike that was not ideal for this terrain.
It was not the only challenge I faced with this route. This climb was 30 kilometers away, so I would have to complete almost 100 kilometers to return home. I knew how the day would start, but no idea how it would end. Just getting to the base of the climb was a long ride, and it would require extra energy. At that time, my usual routes were only 40 or 50 kilometers, so I was going to double the distance. If I'm honest, I was scared.
It was the big day, my friend called me and told me that he was ready, that we could start the ride. It was August, and temperatures in Spain can reach 40º Celsius (104º Fahrenheit) at this time of year, so we must be quick to avoid the mid-day sun.
We began pedaling the first 20 kilometers of irregular terrain at a brisk pace. My friend is generous in the effort and sets the pace on the bike. We arrived at Hinojosa, where the road begins to get more and more vertical. My friend warns me of what is coming, 12 kilometers where the pavement will not give us a break.
We arrive at the Real de San Vicente, and an endless ramp that crosses this village welcomes us, and I had almost run out of water. We stopped at a fountain for about 30 seconds to fill bottles before the climb. My legs thanked this... But we had not ridden even half of the hill.
We get on the bike again and leave the village, turn left, and finally find ourselves covered by a wooded area full of trees. The kilometers roll by, and my friend's pace is still very strong, so I ask him to continue alone. At this moment my real challenge begins... will I reach the top without setting foot on the road?
There are 5 kilometers left, and I lose sight of my friend in a couple of hairpin turns. We are the road, my bike and me. I knew that the last kilometers were the hardest, so I tried to save energy for the end. The heat begins to punish me, and I am losing power.
My legs are about to say 'game over' when a cyclist overtakes me and tells me to chase him.
There is less than 1 kilometer left, and it gave me enough encouragement to endure that last kilometer of suffering on the bike.
And finally, at the end of the road I see my friend waiting for me at the top, he had arrived 3 minutes before. We stopped 5 minutes, took a photo, and we got on the bike for the back home. We are still 45 kilometers from home, but luckily the slope was favorable. After 15 kilometers of downhill, I honestly got a little bored... we took a road up and down that led us home.
After more than 4 hours on the bike, I still remember how my legs were shaking when I got home. But he had succeeded. That day was a pivotal point for me. I learned that with effort, any challenge can be achieved. It has been many years since on the bike, but that day I will never forget.
What will come in the future? Bikepacking routes, climbing the big cols of the tour of France... any challenge is possible if we dream it and strive to achieve it and make it real.
For a hot climb, you'll need your climbers jersey, strong legs and your Echelon Featherweight All-Conditions Weatherproof Ride Pouch to carry your essentials and nothing more. Every gram counts and it's the lightest cycling wallet out there.