Little Engine

I’ve been having some difficulty blogging lately because I’ve had so many enormous breakthroughs in all three sports.  POOR MEEEEE!  😀  I’ve wanted to tell you all about it but then the next thing happens and then I feel behind and then I eat donuts and go have another incredible workout!  Sawry!  But despite what my blog (and the scale) would suggest, I am doing things other than eating do(ugh)nuts!

Today, for example, yesterday I did this:

Three Bears.

Three Bears.  Check out the elevation before you judge the speed, thaaaaaanks.

Before I get to the story of Bear Climbfest 2013, let me backtrack a couple weeks.

In the cycling breakthrough department, I’ve delved into longer rides.  A couple weeks ago, I had my first 26 mile excursion.  The majority of it was on the Iron Horse Trail which was just straight up annoying.  It’s a great area to ride but this trail had walkers, cyclists, runners, and lots of KIDS.  It also jogged over streets about every mile and I constantly had to ride in between those stupid little poles.  Lots of awkward tight turns at the intersections.  Forced me to deal with infinity obstacles at about 10 mph.  26 miles took 3 hours and by the end, I WAS OVER IT.  My friend was super-patient with me and I felt quite accomplished as soon as I got my aching body off the bike.

The next week, a friend and her boyfriend went out with us for a loop around Orinda, Lafayette, and Moraga.  I had an absolute meltdown on the way to meet them.  I was feeling incredibly anxious and stressed.   All my cycling fears bubbled up and, not gonna lie, I cried most of the way there!  Once I met up with them and started riding, I felt fine but I was very concerned about looking like a lunatic in front of my friends.  The route was 20 miles with a bit more climbing than we expected.  It was mostly on roads, with the exception of a stretch of trail connecting Lafayette to Moraga.  Despite the rough start, I LOVED this ride.  I pedaled on descents!  Even on the last climb, I felt strong and confident!  Must have been the secret weapon Diet Coke we stopped for before the last push…

That's the good stuff.

That’s the good stuff.

When I returned home from that ride, I discovered that we had gained about 1,000 ft.  I was thrilled!  Had I looked at a route with even that limited amount of climbing, I would have felt like it was beyond me.  Velia was also very positive about my climbing abilities.  The whole experience was a tremendous confidence boost.  I couldn’t believe I felt safe the entire time.  I went home that evening and started looking at routes that I had previously written off.

Enter the bears.  Three Bears is a popular cycling route in Orinda, CA, about ten miles east of Oakland.  It’s named for three climbs (Mama, Papa, and Baby) on Bear Creek Rd. but loops around the Briones and San Pablo reservoirs.  On the recommendation of my friend and cycling guru TJ, we rode the loop counter-clockwise to avoid a headwind.

Going counter-clockwise gives you Papa Bear right off the bat.


I was in the small ring going like 6 mph and HEAVING FOR AIR.  Less than a mile into the ride, I had to stop on the hill.  Then I couldn’t get going again so I walked my damn bike up the hill.  Yes, in the first mile….

….of twenty.

Had I been by myself and/or not had a big confidence boost last week, I might have given up.  I definitely would have been in tears.  Instead, we just laughed and reassured each other that it couldn’t get worse than that.  Once it leveled off enough for me to get rolling again, we continued up the hill.  It took us about 23 minutes to go 2 miles.  I could have run it faster.  So that bodes well…

“It looks flatter up ahead! Right?”

Beautiful view of Briones Reservoir.  Worth the climb?  .......Sure!

Beautiful view of Briones Reservoir. Worth the climb? …….Sure!

The name of this ride was “cautious optimism.”  We would ride, climb, regroup.  Each time, we were cautiously optimistic that we had just climbed one of the bears and that it had to be chill from that point on.  And then we’d face another hill.  For the climbs, I would get down into the small ring and chug on up.  I was the little engine that could, chug-a-lugging up each hill.  The weirdest songs kept looping through my head.  “Little Girls” from Annie.  Really?

“Heeeey, Aqualung!”

Velia was typically behind me on the climbs since she’s on a much heavier touring bike.  Kinda sweet because she got the above awesome shot of an orange speck of me.  She dusted my ass on the descents and then politely waited for me to roll in.  #teamwork

A number of the descents were the steepest I’ve encountered and I made huge strides in this area.  I got into my drops and instead of feathering the breaks constantly, I embraced the speed.  I focused on the ground up ahead, scanning for anything dangerous and began to enjoy the feeling of flying through the air.  I even pedaled to gain speed on the less intense descents!

While the official bear climbs are all on Bear Creek Rd., the rest of the ride is not at all flat.  There were a few more climbs that had my quads burning and brought me close to desperate tears.  One notable one had me chanting “I can. I can. I can.  I will. I will. I will.”  Finally, as I reached the top, I switched to “I am! I am! I am!

At least it's beautiful!

At least it’s beautiful!

The last five mile section had a lot more traffic and some not insignificant climbing.  Velia and I rallied, pushed through one last climb and were shocked to arrive suddenly at the intersection where we parked!  We had done it!

Our usual high fives did not suffice.  There were several sweaty hugs.  Instead of feeling demoralized, we both felt thrilled at the accomplishment and motivated to get stronger and faster on those climbs.

Until next time, Three Bears.  PREPARE TO BE DOMINATED.

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7 thoughts on “Little Engine

  1. Clair says:

    Holy cow, the three bears? Way to go, Shauna! Also, riding in LaMorInda is spectacular – and the Coke makes it so much better.

    • Shauna says:

      I CLEARLY did not know what I was getting into but with the exception of the first insane climb, I got through them all! Can’t wait for my redemption ride!

      Diet Coke is my lifeblood.

  2. John says:

    Great ride, well done! Just sent you a follow request on Garmin Connect…don’t laugh at my mileage! 🙂

  3. Clair says:

    It’s probably good you had no idea.

  4. Velia Villa says:

    ❤ You make me so proud! You're so REMARKABLE!

    You did it!! I did it!! OMG WE DID IT!! So glad we did it together. Stoked that we didn't have a clue how challenging that ride was, and was successful. That ride at the end was such a reward. 🙂 It sure does pay off to be free spirited and adventurous every once in awhile, otherwise we wouldn't know what we were capable of.

    Best ride thus far.

  5. Nice job on your improvement. Those hills sounds crazy. It’s so nice to have a group and other people to encourage you when times get tough. I feel like I would have felt the same way at the top of that first hill. But such an awesome job on your whole ride overall! I’m so excited to hear how well things are going!

  6. […] So, riding clipped in is AWESOME.  You all knew that.  I love being able to use my hamstrings and glutes more.  I could definitely feel the difference riding in the wind and I’m sure hills will be infinitely easier.  Hear that, Bears? […]

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