Horsethief: The Longest Climb

Yes, I know Horsethief is not the longest climb. It's a metaphor. Like the longest yard in football is the one at the goal line. Trust me, when your legs have pedaled 100 miles over a rugged jeep road, Horsethief is the longest climb in the world.

Now I'm switching from metaphor to analogy, so stay with me.

Climbing Horsethief also reminds me a of a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the two guards at swamp castle are looking out over the countryside and waaay off in the distance they see Sir Lancelot the Brave charging across the field accompanied by the sound of ominous drums. Bored they watch five times as Lancelot runs but never seems to get any closer until suddenly he's attacking right in front of them. (What? You haven't seen the Holy Grail or can't recall this scene? Go watch it [starts at 6:40] and come back when you're done.)

That's how this climb felt, even though it's only 1.6 miles and 890 feet of elevation gain. I just kept slowly turning the pedals over watching the ground roll under me at a glacial pace. Here's my thought stream mixed with Chad's (MOCougFan, who came out from Missouri for this ride) excellent photo sequence:

This ramp leading to the face is long, but I'll see how long I can last in 2nd gear. Yep, I'm still on it. I can see the turn at the face. I'm closer to it now. And I'm going around the turn. Enough of 2nd gear, down to granny, the gear of shame, and I really don't care.

Coming around a bend I can see the first switchback. That next segment is carved into the rock face, who built this crazy road? Hey, there's another rider up ahead, and although it's almost imperceptible, I think I'm gaining on him. Would it make me feel better to pass him? No, I'm engulfed in the suffering at hand and nothing will make me feel good except finishing this climb.

Here's the first switchback, how nice. Steeper now, can I go any slower and not fall over? I don't think so. The other rider is walking. I pass him and make some greeting. He comments he doesn't have the gears for this - yep, only one front chain ring, ouch.

How long is the carved-into-the-cliff section? It just keeps going. Where is the next switchback? Clear over there?!? I shouldn't have looked. Head back down, grind away.

Around a bend. I can see the 2nd switchback, I feel no consolation. Take it wide so it's as easy as possible. Oh, great it's steeper again. Must. Keep. Pedaling.

Another switchback. What number is it? How many more? No answer. My brain is mush and what mental capacity remains is trained on the task at hand. The simple task of riding a bicycle is now as mentally taxing as a college entrance exam - if Rider A climbs Horsethief with a 32x30 gear ratio and Rider B starts climbing 10 minutes later in a 32x26, who will reach the top first? Hmmm ... what's a gear?

Is this switchback #4? I think so, but that means nothing.

Almost around it now.

I must be getting close, but I look up and still see cliffs. Sweat is dripping down my face and my arms are wet with it. Unzip the jersey - why didn't I do this earlier? Who am I? Where am I?

Around another switchback. I can see more sky to the south. Am I close to the top! Can it be? Why are there people walking around on the road?

Hey, that guy has a camera. Who is he? Facial recognition circuits down, please try again. He just took a photo of the rider in front of me. OK, I better do something cool for the camera. But what? I'm almost to him now. Do I attack him with a sword? No, the photo. OK, do something. Pose. A peace sign?!?! What is this, 1969? Oh, well, all I really care about is finishing this thing.

And around the next bend I did - I finished it. I rolled over the cattle guard and up to the van and stopped. Finally.

The funny thing about that last picture is I have no recollection of smiling. Why would I (smile and be able to remember doing so)?

And thus ends the tale of my only victory of the day - climbing Horsethief. Well, just finishing the ride with the wind and such was a victory too.


Brad Mullen said...

Your smile reveals a happy sole, inspite of the discomfort. It was good seeing you again and congrats on finishing in such fine style.

Ski Bike Junkie said...

Kris, what are you talking about? It's a huge victory! Enough so that congratulating ourselves with a burger at Ray's is not enough. I think we need to celebrate with a movie night--Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

KanyonKris said...

Brad: thanks for the comment.

Ski Bike Junkie: I'm down with that, and I have the DVD. Got any more carrot cake? That was delicious. We have microwave popcorn, the good stuff.

MOCougFan said...


Awesome write up. I was very impressed that you stayed on the bike. I was there taking pictures and few were able to ride the whole thing (that I saw; nobody yell at me).

I thought the smile was good to. Many just rode by not even bothering.

Jilene on the other hand came up singing (you can hear her on fatty's video, and with a big smile and expression. I couldn't help but smile at her and wish I could tap into her energy.

Props brother. That was one heck of a climb. I saw you and FC climbing earlier (hardscrabble I think), you were steadily motoring. I was impressed.

Grizzly Adam said...

It really is a definitive climb. I both love and hate it. But I am 3 for 3 the last 2 years on cleaning it.

Sadly, I walked about 99% of Shafer on Friday. I just hate that climb...