Sunday, September 2, 2012

We Have Nothing to Fear but Fiddler's Elbow


Fear is one of our base emotions and has been useful to our survival as a species. There is a excellent book "How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer that explains how emotions can both enhance or impair our decision making ability. Fear is useful when it helps us avoid dangerous situations but other times fear can take over our ability to reason and cause us to make bad decisions.

One of the examples, in Jonah Lehrer's book, of fear causing some people to make a deadly decision is the story of the Mann Gulch Fire. You can read the full account here. In the Mann Gulch Fire a bunch of smoke jumper got dropped on to the side of a ridge to fight the fire. Unfortunately soon after they arrived the fire got out of control. The men tried to head down to the river but burning embers had lit the grass by the river on fire and the fire was quickly spreading up hill. Most of the men panicked and headed up the hill to a rocky crevice for cover but the fire was moving to quickly. One man however, Wag Dodge, was able to control his fear and come up an ingenious idea to save his life. He actually lit the grass in front of on fire as he headed up the hill. This took the fuel away from the fire behind him. This allowed him to quickly create an area which he huddle down in and allowed the fire to pass around him. His ability to control his fear saved his life. The other men weren't so lucky.

The question is when do we listen to our fears and when do we dismiss them as irrational. Fear is a powerful motivator which is why it is a used in commercials to try and sell us stuff we don't need.

     "Is restless leg syndrome ruining your life!!!. Then have we got some useless medicine to sell you"

This weekend I decided to try and climb Fiddler's Elbow. For those of you who don't know about Fiddler's Elbow it is by most accounts the steepest and hardest hill to climb in NJ. Check out Ken Roberts site that describes all the hard hills in NJ here. You can check out Google maps to see the profile but basically in three quarters of a mile the hill rises about 600 feet. Most of the road is between 10%-15% grade with a really steep part of about 140 feet that is over 20%. The hills profile and reputation scare most people away. Some people who think too hard about attempting the climb wake up in a cold sweat at 5:45 am in the morning worrying that they will fall over an crash if they attempt the climb.

To those who are gripped by fear, get over it, Fiddler's Elbow is just a hill. It's a steep mother but if you know your limits and do a little prep you can probably make it most of the way up the hill and live to tell about it.

The route I took to Fiddler's Elbow was more or less my normal route to Merrill Creek with a detour to Fiddler's Elbow. You can find the route here. Luckily I didn't have to do this ride myself but got a few other crazy people to come with me Laura, Blake, and Jeff L. We started from Milford and headed up along the river. It was mostly an uneventful ride to Stewardsville. As has happened a lot to me this year one of the roads that I wanted to take had a road closed sign acrossed it. I am famous for not letting a road closed sign stop me so we went up the road and found the problem was a closed tunnel which we were able to get through.



Since there isn't a lot of places to stop for food we made a quick stop in Stewardsville since we won't get to Bloomsbury until mile 40. From there we headed up the east side of Merrill Creek. These were roads I had not been on before. Rt 519 was a little busy but the other roads were nice. I deviated from the route here a little to shorten the ride a bit and take our one steep hill. So instead of taking the left on Garrison Rd I made a right just before onto Ridge Rd. This meant we would stay up on the Ridge and not go down to the Delaware River just to climb back up.

Ridge Rd was nice and after about half a mile we got a view of what we had to climb.



In 3 miles we got to the famous Fiddlers Elbow Road. On the left just before Fiddler's Elbow is Roxburg Station Road and the hill I cut out of the ride. One look down the hill confirmed this was a good idea.

After a couple of picture at the bottom of Fiddlers Elbow up we went with Jeff and Blake in the lead. Fiddlers Elbow is a winding road so you can't see the whole climb. The climbs starts off at 8% then you turn the corner and see it get steeper for most of the climb the grade is 10%-15%. It was tough but with my gearing I was slowly making it up the hill. Although my heart rate was high it was manageable. Although there are no flat spots on the hill it is amazing how a small 8% great feels easy after going up a 15% grade for a hundred feet. I stopped about a third of the way up to slow my heart rate and take a couple of pictures. The one below is Laura heading up one of the steeper part. It looks much worst in person.



I managed to keep going up the hill and made a brief stop just below the last part which is the steepest. Laura had passed me and was just ahead I saw her stop about 100 feet from the top. I headed up the final slope but as I got near where Laura was I had nothing left. It was a combination of my front wheel coming off the ground and my heart rate getting really high. I tried tacking a little bit but felt like I was going to tumble so I got off the bike and started my walk up the last 100 feet.

Laura had maintained a really nice slow steady pace and was really determine to make it up the hill on the bike. She tried a couple of times to get back on the bike. Falling a couple of times but in the end followed me on foot up the hill. It was so steep that walking up the hill was pretty hard but we all made it to the top. My GPS had a maximum grade of 24% for the last part of the hill which I believe.

Blake and Jeff were at the top waiting for us. Blake had had to walk the last 100 feet also. I knew Blake was a really good climber but he was impressive the way he went up the hill. If he actually had compact he probably would have made it to the top with out a problem. The only one who didn't have to get off the bike was Jeff. If you read the profile in this months Freewheeler you would have read that Jeff was competitive cyclist when he was younger and although this was the first time I have ridden with him it is clear he is still a very strong rider even through he has not competed in a long time.

After we completed Fiddlers Elbow we were at the top of Merrill Creek and headed down Millbrook. The last time I went down this road it was pretty beat up but it must have just been paved recently because it was smooth. We had a 2 mile 600 ft decent which was nice. From there we headed over a hill into Bloomsbury for a real break before climbing out of Bloomsbury and back down to Milford.

At the end of the ride I had 54.5 miles and 4834 ft of climbing. Except for Fiddlers Elbow none of the other climbs feel that bad and it didn't feel as hilly as a ride as the amount of climbing would indicate.

Ten years ago I road mostly in the flatter parts of the state but since then I have over come my fear of hills am open to riding any where no matter how hilly it is. After climbing Fiddler's Elbow today I know that deciding where I ride will not be restricted by fear of climbing but by where I can find the best roads and scenery to enjoy.





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