There is a hill.
It is not long, but it is steep at the beginning. It is neither a mighty hill, nor a fearsome one. It rises from the pier at Manhattan Beach, goes up sharply for a hundred yards or so, then levels into an easy grade about another hundred yards to the top.
I have climbed that hill many times, countless times, but I am not a climber.
There are many bicycle rides I’ve been on when I have climbed faster than most others, and there are many bicycle rides I’ve been on when almost everyone has climbed faster than me. A long time ago I thought I was a climber, but Kevin Phillips told me one day, “Dude, you aren’t a climber.”
Kevin is many things, but about that, wrong he wasn’t.
I have always had a code, an uphill code, and it has but one commandment: Thou shalt not walk.
Of course I have walked. What worth is a commandment if you don’t break it?
But the times I’ve walked are few, so very few. One time was in Fukushima Prefecture, in the mountains, in the snow of late spring.
Another time it was up a short pitch while riding the BWR.
Several times, I guess many, it was during cyclocross races. Do they count? I suppose so. Everything counts.
But the commandment always remained graven in place. Thou shalt not walk. Why? Because climbing on a bicycle has always been a personal affront. Who put this hill here to impede me? Why should I bow down to its mere authority of gravity? No hill can tell me what to do. No hill can make me walk. No hill can beat me, lash me. No hill can make me cry.
No hill can make me cry.
I will not cry.
A couple of days ago I was just riding along and I turned left to go up the hill, the little one, the steep one, the rather unpleasant one, the one that says, “Now you will obey me, I will subjugate you, you will strain, if only for a bit.”
I got out of the saddle and pushed on the pedals. The bike shot forward up the hill. My right leg hit the down stroke and the bike thrust forward faster. At that very moment where my left leg would follow and the first small jet of pain would start, instead of pushing down, I swung my left leg behind me, over the saddle, and onto the ground.
My right leg followed in a fluid dismount.
I walked pleasantly up the hill to the stoplight, and when it changed I remounted and pedaled lazily and without effort, pain, fear, defeat, loathing, despair, or labored breath, to the top.
Then I had a cup of coffee.
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