Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hills and Meditation

Rhythm is comfort.  Each pedal stroke punctuates the wind.  Crosswinds are insidious.  It’s a struggle to find equilibrium and comfort in cadence.  I’m dragging so many miles behind me.  I feel every one hanging on my bike frame.
Then I toe up to the next climb.  I drop gears like too many bottles on the ground.  From racing to crawling up a wall.  The climb is like meditation.  I pontificate on life.  I lose myself in the grind that takes me into the sky.  Climbing is absolution.  Climbing cleanses the soul and obliterates the mind.
I don’t die at the top.  The road rolls over back to the horizontal plane.  I knuckle up a couple of gears despite the protests in my knees.  I’m moving at a crawl, but I have a few hundred feet of earth beneath me and lots of miles ahead still to ride.  I knuckle up.  I knuckle up.
After a few moments my legs have forgotten the climb and I’m racing along the rolling ridge, surfing the hills and curves and pumping my way along.  Redbuds whip past, blurring against the gray background.  Flashes of green spot my retinas.  Rhythm is comfort.  Breathing is life.  Legs are pistons.
A few days ago I rolled the Sporty Sport Bike out of the Bike Cave and pointed my front wheel toward Furnace Mountain.  I’ve been so caught up with mountain biking and trying to get mountain bike trails built (which is both much harder and much easier than I would have guessed) that I’ve passed up many wonderful opportunities for grueling meditation on the road bike.
I didn’t take the direct route.  It was going to be a short ride anyway.  The kids were at home and Mandy was out.  I didn’t need to be gone long.  But I didn’t need to ride far to accomplish my goal.
Crawling over Steamshovel Hill three cogs up from granny was no problem.  I dropped down the steep townside face and cruised out to 213.  I merged into afternoon rush hour traffic.  I know…its Stanton, Kentucky: Pop 3,000 or so.  How bad could it be?  At 5:30 in the afternoon the five lanes through town become a NASCAR show.
After I passed McDonald’s the traffic evaporated.  The climb had begun, though it’s subtle out on the edge of town.  You begin gaining slowly.  Then a short series of small but annoying rollers.  And then you’re at the base looking up.
Furnace Mountain” is 0.8 miles long and gains 468’.  The climb averages 10%.  Way back in the auld days I set out to tackle it on my first mountain bike.  That thing is geared like a mule, but I walked the first few times I attempted to climb Furnace. 
I got it clean on my third or fourth try over a year span.  I didn’t go out every day and try it.  I didn’t train for it.  Every once in a while I’d decide to go for a ride and gravitate toward Furnace.
One time I was finally dogged enough to hang on til the top.
I didn’t go back for years afterward.  We had moved back from Colorado and I considered myself a “serious” cyclist at that point.  Furnace was simply another hill to climb.  It was no Mount Evans.  It was no Genesee Mountain, or Loveland Pass, or Kingston Peak.  I didn’t think about it, I just set out on a ride one day in the spring of 2013 and my intended route passed over that bump in the road.
The climb was hard with road bike gearing.  I rolled up it though, and have not doubted my ability to ascend the short section of paved road up to the rolling ridge known as Furnace Mountain south of Stanton.  At least until recently.
After a successful ascent of Furnace on the Cannonball
I’ve not ridden the road bike much since early summer.  I’ve written about all of that and won’t rehash it, but it’s been a long stretch off the bike.  I miss the feeling of riding the roads around my hometown.  I’ve felt a pull the last few weeks, and as the weather has gotten better and better and the need for bulky cycling clothing and fussing over kit choices has gone away I’ve had fewer and fewer reasons not to just go ride.
Furnace loomed in my mind.  It’s close to home.  I once rode from my house to the top in about eighteen minutes.  But how would it feel with lazy legs?  Doubt kept the Dogrunner stabled days beyond reason.
As I geared down for the first steep section I didn’t raise the threat level in my brain.  I knew I could do it.  There was no fear of failure and no real consequences if I did.  I let the internal pressure fall away behind me as I rode on up toward the top.  I ended up in my lowest gear to be sure.  It was a slow crawl—nowhere near my fastest time—and the steady rhythm and cadence of the effort soothed me.
The first reprieve.  I’d always made it that far.  The second crux which is by far the hardest was my early nemesis.  Without much of a twitch in my gauges I surmounted the short second crux into the second reprieve.  I looked around at the blooming wildflowers in the ditch.  I breathed easy.  My legs did their job.
As I approached the last curve and the end of the climb I smiled to myself in satisfaction.  I quietly celebrated as I continued turning over the crank slowly but surely.  My apprehensions had been for naught.  Furnace had fallen once again.  As easily as ever.  I am long past the days when I don’t have the mental game for it.
That ride made me brave.  On Wednesday I needed to ride to town for an errand and I jumped on the singlespeed mountain bike and headed out.  There is no flat route from my house to town. I chose to cross over Granny Moppet as it is the easiest of the two big climbs out of the creek.  It got my heart rate up, but I never felt like I wouldn’t be able to ride the hill clean.
I’m back.


  1. Love the writing! I wish I could write as well. Your imagery is fantastic.

    Thank you.

    1. I appreciate the kind words. Thanks for reading!