Low Key Hillclimbs 2007 #3: Bohlman-On Orbit

Suffering on Bohlman-On Orbit

Bohlman-On Orbit. The name alone sounds daunting. I was dreading it last year when it was rained out, and I was dreading it last week. The climb certainly lived up to its reputation.

Following a late night at my Stanford Class of 1997 10-Year Reunion party, I woke up on Saturday morning bright and early. Earlier in the week, I had made the decision to swap pedals from Rae’s bike to mine. Her Trek has the magical triple chainring and two extra gears that I felt I need to ascend Bohlman. Sadly, even before I could get started riding, I had an accident! While working the pedal wrench, I slipped and cut my right hand on the chainrings. You know when you’ve cut deep when the wound starts out white and quickly turns red. I walked briskly to the bathroom for some band-aids. Despite the band-aids, my fingers continued to bleed throughout the day, a result of lengthy periods of gripping the handlebars.

Jorge arrived at my house and we both started an easy thirty minute plus ride over to the staging area in Saratoga. Though I had raised the seat as high as possible, I still needed an extra inch or two. I openly wondered how much this would affect my seated climbing. At least her stem was short; I really have been putting off getting a shorter stem for my bike — I’m too stretched out normally.

At first, there didn’t seem to be as many people this week for Bohlman, but the results showed 67 people started and 67 people finished. Kwan, aka Chris Boardman, was there with his mountain bike. The hybrid cyclist was there, looking to storm up the climb in record time again. Irene, Stephen, and Keith from Stanford were also among those looking to test themselves on the beast. Shortly after 10:00 am, we got started. There was no time to warm up — the climb began immediately! Even with the triple, I was struggling to turn the cranks. Rae’s bike has a cadence meter, and I was consistently seeing 40-50 on the easiest granny gear! There are stretches of Bohlman where the grade tops 20%. I can’t imagine riding up the hill on my bike, which has compact gearing, let alone a standard double which I used to have.

Is that a smile on Bohlman-On Orbit

Once again, I found myself in the back of the pack. I often wonder what it’s like to be in the front. Are they working hard? Is this a piece of cake for them? Fortunately, there were some people in the last group, including Paul, Kelly, and Wade. We enjoyed what little talking we could do as the hill kept on going up and up. The fact that the bike computer was set to display kilometers instead of miles meant I had trouble determining how much further we had left. I certainly can enjoy climbs more when I know exactly how much is left!

The total distance for Bohlman-On Orbit was slightly over four miles. Fortunately, there’s only 3 miles of climbing, and the grade evened out significantly. I was so tired that I didn’t care to work too hard for a good time. I was just satisfied with finishing the beast with a final time of 48:45, a good ten minutes slower than Jorge and Stephen. The winning time was 26:51. That is just sick. I probably could have tied my bike to his and he still would have beat 48 minutes!

With most climbs, I’m looking forward to the descent, but I had my reservations about this one. The steepness was going to be tricky for starters, plus the roads were slick from the rain the previous day. Finally, I was descending with a bike that I wasn’t familiar with. The minute my speed started to pick up, I knew the descent was going to be harrowing. For some reason, the bike was really squirrely on the turns. I chalked it up to my unfamiliarity with the bike, the wet roads and the steepness, but I soon discovered the problem: I had a flat tire! Add up all four reasons and I’m more proud of the fact that I got down Bohlman than getting up it!

I wonder if I was climbing Bohlman with the slow leak the entire time. That could have explained my slow time up. I figured I would be about 6-7 minutes slower than Jorge and Stephen, but not 10 minutes. Stopping at a bike shop in Downtown Saratoga, I took the tube out and noticed several holes, all spaced out within an inch and a half of each other. The holes were small, which leads me to think that the problem existed before the climb. Sadly, the tube was not patchable, and I didn’t have a spare, so I ended up calling Rae for pickup. Jorge went off for brunch with his wife and friends, while I waited for Rae at the gas station.

Tomorrow’s Low-Key event is Mt. Diablo. Last year, I blew up in the beginning and suffered for over an hour and a half. I caught a cold over the week, so I will not be riding tomorrow. Instead, I’ll exchange the bike for the camera and take photos. Thanks to Joey for taking great photos of me suffering up the hill. I have my doubts whether or not I’ll be riding Bohlman ever again. Until my power-to-weight ratio is a little better, I think I’ll stick to the other Bay Area climbs!

4 Comments

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  1. Man, that sounded tough! Good job on making it to the top on Rae’s bike. Sadly, I never had a chance to try that infamous climb when I lived in the Bay Area.

  2. oh, Adam, if you thought this was hard…. wait until we do Welch… might want to see if the hybrid will tow you.

  3. oh my – but i just noticed you will be the coordinator on that climb… smart!

  4. Adam, you are one though guy! With deep cuts on your bloddy fingers and riding a bike with leaky tires that doesn’t fit, you still made up this monster. You have a lot of respect from me!

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