Do you remember your first bicycle ride? I mean the first time you pedaled a road bike with all those gears and skinny tires and the saddle that hurt your ass?
I don’t remember the first time but I remember the second time. I had bought a bike to ride to campus and don’t remember the route I took, or recall even riding, back to my apartment on Burton Drive off Riverside.
But I do remember putting the shiny new bike in my bedroom and gazing at it with love and awe and anticipation of riding it to school the next day.
Do you remember the anticipation? How excited you were to ride? How you couldn’t fall asleep? Where did that go, and where can I get some more?
That next morning I bounded out of bed. Do you remember bounding out of bed with excitement to ride your bicycle? I do.
I threw some cereal down my throat, dressed, stuffed my books in my pack, and wheeled that pretty, shiny bike out the door. At the bike shop I had gotten a map of Austin. Do you remember maps? Big paper things you had to read to figure out where to go? I do. And I knew I didn’t want to pedal along the death alley that was Riverside, so I found a little street called Woodland that would take me to Congress and then to the Capitol and then quickly to campus.
I was pretty proud about finding that route. But since I was still a few moments away from becoming a cyclist, I hadn’t considered gravity, and with blithe heart I set forth. Woodland had no cars and was pretty until I came to the biggest hill I’d ever seen.
Of course I had seen hills and mountains plenty but you never see a hill for real until you have to pedal up it. And that is when, that very moment, I became a cyclist, because halfway up this massive peak my bike wanted to stop and tip over and even though my legs were screaming and my lungs were burning and the hilltop was a thousand miles away, you see, I refused to get off and walk.
All I had on the back was a 23 with a 42 on the front, and sister let me tell you, did I stand on those pedals. It was late November and humid and hot, I was sloshing with sweat, and I cursed that hill for standing in my way, gasping my way over the top, lightheaded and wobbly and flush with a feeling I’d never had before, the feeling of a conqueror.
My heart rate dropped back down to 190, my eyes focused, and as I was starting to really bathe in the amazement and satisfaction of having whipped that bastard of a hill, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a second, even bigger one.
Now, though, I was a cylist, transformed from victim to aggressor, and I took the bit between my teeth and charged. It was another monumental struggle of life and death but I vanquished that wall, too, now wetter than if I had showered. The third and final hill I crested after a bitter struggle, hit Congress, and sailed downhill all the way to school, where I started class among my groomed classmates looking like a bedraggled cat. I cared not. While they had been plodding afoot to class or driving, I had been ascending steep slopes under my own power that they, poor dopes, couldn’t even imagine.
Yesterday Matt drove me over to the old Village Glen apartments, now renovated into condos. I only lived there a semester, but the daily battles I fought riding to school were unerasable. “Let’s take Woodland back to town,” I said.
“Sure,” Matt agreed.
The road was just as I remembered it, only we passed under the freeway and there was … no hill. A hundred yards or so went by and we came to the slightest, shortest, most gentle bump you have ever seen. We crested it and a little later there was another, equally insignificant rise.
There was no third hill at all.