Probably any cyclist or triathlete has heard of Mt. Lemmon. It is, according to some, one of the "best" climbs in the United States. Mt. Washington back in New Hampshire is considered another, although I have to tell you that that is probably the one route in which I'd actually rather do the run than the bike. I just can't even imagine riding my bike up a 22% grade. I think I'd begin going backwards and never be heard from again.
While Mt. Lemmon cannot boast the steepness of the 7-ish mile climb to the top of New England, it certainly makes up for it in duration and altitude. In fact, I just found a list of the hardest climbs in the US and #1 is Mt. Washington and Mt. Lemmon comes in at a paltry #9, so I can see I have a long way to go before I even consider my home-state climb. A look at the numbers tells me that Mt. Lemmon ascends 5400' in roughly 26 miles. Mt. Washington ascends 4586', obviously less, but does so in a mere 7.6 miles. Ouch. Someday, maybe if I'm feeling crazy enough I'll try it. If I chop off one of my arms maybe first, or have removed some of those pesky internal organs that seem to serve no purpose other than giving me extra weight to carry uphill. They still don't really know what our appendix is for, right? I've been lugging that thing around all these years for nothing...
Anyway, being in town for three months in such proximity to a legendary climb makes it seem almost sacrilegious not to do it, so I finally broke down and went for the ascent. To be fair, as recently as two weeks ago I couldn't have ridden up at all because it snowed and only cars with chains on the tires were allowed, so I guess it's not so bad that it took me ten weeks to head over there. One concern since I'd be heading up to an altitude that I've only once ever been at, not counting airplanes of course, was the possible huge temperature difference from the bottom to the top. Fortunately, the weather has been unseasonably warm around here, in the 80's, so the chances of it being frigid at the top were almost nothing.
The climb never got particularly steep, and the only reason I ever got out of the saddle was just to change positions for a while rather than because I needed to stand up in order to keep moving forward. It is, however, pretty relentless. I recall one or two spots where I kind of, sort of went downhill, but for the most part it was 21 miles of up, up, up. Each mile slowly ticking off as I passed those green mile marker signs lining the highway and coming up far too slowly. Until I reached about mile 12, I wasn't sure I really wanted to keep going all the way to the top. There were also signs each 1000 feet we ascended, the first of such I noticed was 4000, and the last of which was this one:
As I neared the top there were some shadowed areas that still had some snow, remnants from the freakish little storm we had a couple of weeks ago. But with all of the going uphill at a whopping 8mph much of the time, I certainly didn't feel cold. Maybe until it was time to turn around and start heading down. You know a stretch of road is tough when it takes you well over two hours to go in one direction and maybe forty minutes to go back the other way. Fortunately the chilliness of the descent didn't last long as I got back into the 80-degree temperatures pretty quick. My legs were immensely grateful for the break.
I also snapped a couple of other photos: