I live in Florida. That means I ride lots and lots of flat roads, and never leave the big ring. The biggest hills I get are a pair of bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway, decent in many respects but barely a speed bump for any serious climber.
Every summer, however, I get to escape to the Adirondacks in New York State (the perks of a work-from-home journalist), and there, awaiting me like my own mythical Ventoux, is The Climb.
Okay, it’s really just a big hill, less than 2.5 miles in total. But to me it’s become somewhat of a yardstick to measure my cycling fitness. The hill rises to only about a 5 percent grade by mile 1, but throws a 9 percent grade at you during mile 2. A lot of people hate that climb, but in my own perverse way, I’ve grown to love it.
A number of years ago, following a problematic ACL reconstruction, I tackled the hill as a challenge on a mountain bike. Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure I could make it the first time. When I first climbed it on my road bike, I seriously questioned whether I could do it on my compact double without the safety net of a third ring. (Believe me, I got down to the smallest cog in my cassette!) Now, I return to that hill at the end of every ride, no matter how many miles I’ve put in. The climb has changed from “can I get up it” to “how many miles can I ride and still get up it” to now just a “time to get up it” conclusion to my ride. (I’ve even found another one to throw in mid-route, but that’s another story…)
Yes, there is one other way to return home that’s far less steep. But to me, tackling the hill at the end of my rides is the only way to go.
By now, I’ve gotten to know it intimately. I know where the house is that sometimes has sweet corn and vegetables for sale, all on the honor system. I know the dip that at one time signified I was about to be eaten by the most vicious dog I’ve ever met, but now just signifies I’m about to drop into the small ring as the toughest section lies ahead. And I know the secluded spot where I once felt like someone was watching me, only to discover a deer standing inches away as I rode past.
And starting this year, I also know just how long it takes me to get to the top. Like some kind of glutton for punishment, I started timing myself.
Summer’s winding down and I’m returning home, back to the flat, congested roads I’ve ridden time and time again. Yesterday I clocked my fastest ascent of the summer. Doing so, however, made me realize it’s not how fast I get up the hill that’s important, it’s the climb itself — and all its idiosyncrasies and personal meanings — that I most enjoy.
I’m going to miss it.