Every day I climb it on the way home. I know it intimately, its cracks, its pitch, where it flattens out, where it leaps up at its worst, the manhole cover with the fissures around it, its little traps, curbs, streets and driveways that empty onto it, its stoplights, the color and texture of its pavement.
On a good day, this hill sits with a kind of passive obstinacy, opposing me but shrugging when I surge up it. On a bad day it thwarts every pedal stroke and makes me feel small, human. On a terrible day it dares me with pangs and searing stabs to ascend so much as a foot.
There are no wonderful days on this hill.
This hill’s drivers are of a certain character, hurried, a bit rude, vaguely contemptuous of my efforts. “Why don’t you drive?” they think. “It’s faster and a whole lot easier.”
Still, a few of them marvel. I can feel it through the windshields of their cages. “I couldn’t do that,” they muse. “He is in great shape,” they admit. “I wonder if … ” they wonder.
If they ever slowed down to ask, I’d tell them, “I’m not. You can.”
The hill doesn’t admit of ever being conquered. Some days you go up faster, some slower. That is all. As an inanimate beast it doesn’t engage you., you engage it. My best time and best effort is as meaningless to the hill as my slowest time, my weakest climb.
The hill is a bad relationship, it gets in my head early in the day and won’t leave until we have it out. Then I can forget about it until the next day, when I have to go down it, my thrill at the speed dampened by my glum realization that the fun of the descent is never equal to the misery of the return.
But like a bad relationship, the hill and I stay together because one of us needs the other, and the other doesn’t care. If the hill only cared, it would be a good relationship, even with the pain. I must have the hill in order to climb into my beer and drink my bed. The hill doesn’t need me at all.
Yet there is a secret behind all the complaining, just like the bad relationship. In my quietude I don’t simply need the hill. I like it. With a twist of the ignition it would be easy to obliterate the hill entirely, erase it with internal combustion horsepower. If the hill were really that bad, I’d leave it, easily, behind the wheel of the great-great-great-great grandchild of Henry Ford.
And that’s the secret, in a nutshell. The hill exists, impervious to me. And I impose myself, briefly, upon it.