The Hill Climb

6:03 PM


Ok, so it isn't the Alpe d'Huez, but still a nice ride...
I am convinced that there is nothing worse than the pain of an early season hill ride.  They are essential, these rides, as they build strength and endurance more efficiently than any other type of workout.  Each hill provides your body with a new challenge as pitch and length change.  You mete out your effort in an attempt to leave something for a final attack toward the top, but you begin to doubt your ability to even reach the crest.  As a teammate slides by on your left (how is he going that fast?) you suddenly discover that you may not be that tired, and his wheel suddenly has the power to pull you up with it.  At each summit you begin to mentally calculate how much distance there is to the next climb, and wonder if your fellow riders can tell that your lungs are making a serious attempt to leap out of your throat.  You grab a swig of water from the bottle to hide your exhausted face, give yourself a brief stretch on the bike, and head off to the next test of strength.

Yesterday’s hill ride had the added bonus of being my longest ride of the year, so far.  Early season is nice that way – you can add miles easily as your muscles seem to keep some memory of last year’s long rides deep within the sinews.  I know it is a metal thing, but I’m headed out for a weekend team training camp next Friday, and a hard 75-80 miles on Saturday.  A good ride like yesterday’s 3-hours-plus effort is a good confidence booster when facing a 4-5 hour ride. 

Minnesota is right on the edge of the prairie, but my town straddles the Mississippi River, so we have plenty of bluffs to climb to the east.  As the ride moved into its second hour and the temperatures warmed we road easily through downtown.  Hundreds of North Dakota hockey fans were here for the Frozen Four, and we got a few cheers along with the funny looks.  A bunch of kids at a bus stop went nuts when we waved, and a (possibly drunk) guy used his bandana as a starter’s flag when we rolled by. 

With each climb, different combinations of riders would attack off the back, throwing down a challenge as they flew by.  I kept an eye out for my kind of slope – I am made for the long climbs that require a grinding and grim determination.  Those are the ones that I would jump on the train (I’m not an off-the-front kind of rider) and go, go, go.  With each hill, though, I felt my tank getting lower.  Then – it came – the last hill…

I was out of my seat, leaning into my bike as the road angled up toward me.  Hands gripping the hoods and pulling in time with feet, shoulders rocking back and forth with each pedal stroke, bike shifting like a metronome, I flicked the gear with my right index finger.  And nothing happened.  I was out of options, at the base of a steep hill that curved ahead into the trees, no end in sight.

Ouch! 

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