James Piccoli reports in from Las Vegas, NV (Photo credit: James Piccoli)

To The Edge

It’s February 15th, a Sunday. It isn’t a day of tremendous significance, except that for me it marks the last day of my first training block here in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m here preparing for the season that lies ahead with H&R Block Pro Cycling Team.

All about the numbers (Photo credit: James Piccoli)

All about the numbers (Photo credit: James Piccoli)

The last three weeks have been all about numbers. VAM, w/kg, CdA, kCal. All are acronyms that do an excellent job of quantifying the rider and bicycle in motion. The numbers, in the absence of racing, give a pretty good idea of the shape you’re in. Today, I’m doing specific blocks of work at 300-350 watts, for enough time to make this a difficult training day. I plan my route knowing that today is going to be tough. I decide to add a section of road that I have never been to before though, in an effort to find a new training area. Both sides of my mind like the numbers. The precise, engineering part of my brain likes them because numbers don’t lie. It finds comfort in the reliability of a formula.

X watts for Y minutes at Z kilograms will produce a climbing time of M minutes. The emotional side of my brain likes the numbers too. The numbers allow me to dissociate from the discomfort of riding. I know I’ve done X minutes at Y km/h before so I know I can do it now. All I need to worry about is keeping the correct number on the screen. Otherwise my emotional side would be complaining about the pain, reminding me of the red glow in my legs and the taste of blood in my lungs. Focussing on a number is a welcome distraction.

All of this changes when I make a right turn onto Lovell Canyon Road. It’s a 20km stretch of deserted pavement that shoots straight into the mountains west of Las Vegas. There’s a campground at the end after the tarmac turns to dirt, but besides that there’s no real reason for anyone to be here. I turn off the highway, and I’m alone.

Lovell Canyon, Las Vegas, NV (Photo credit: James Piccoli)

Lovell Canyon, Las Vegas, NV (Photo credit: James Piccoli)

I don’t know whether it was the exercise-induced endorphins from my recent effort or the lack of oxygen or both, but on this road I had a moment. The acronyms I mentioned earlier had done a great job of quantifying my riding, but failed utterly to grasp the riding. When I wandered onto Lovell Canyon road the numbers dissolved away. I watched as the road flowed beneath me. The shrubs on either side rolled by and gave way occasionally to the arid desert landscape that lay beyond them. Aside from the occasional bird tweet the air was utterly silent. I had stumbled into a state of absolute bliss. I was marching further into the unknown to the rhythmic sound of breathing and crisp, sharp gear changes.

photo-1

Shrubs, desert, and sun… Lovell Canyon, NV (Photo credit: James Piccoli)

The road tilted uphill. Crack. More scenery flowed by. Uphill again. Crack. Out of the saddle. The pavement inched left and then right. Downhill now. My bike drifted from side to side drawn automatically to the smoothest line of tarmac. Pure bliss. Then I had come to the end. A sign for a campground pointed forward toward a dirt road. I dismounted my bike and pointed it in the direction from where I had just come. But I stopped before starting again for the highway. I stopped for no particular reason here at 1700m above the dry Nevada mountains to take in for just a second where I was and what had just happened. I’m not even sure what I was thinking about, or for how long I was stopped. All I know was that when I clipped in again to head back to Vegas I had been reminded of why I was a bike rider in the first place.

At the end of the road (Photo credit: James Piccoli)

At the end of the road (Photo credit: James Piccoli)

I turned left back onto the highway and the road once again pointed upward. I glanced over at Lovell Canyon Road and thanked it for what it gave me. Then I looked down at my Pioneer computer. The numbers were good. I shifted down two gears and got back to work.

 


 

The M1 Project will be posting regularly on what it’s like to plan, prepare, and compete as a UCI Continental Professional Cycling Team.

Follow the #M1Project