But definitions of "hills" are subjective. Fast forward a few months, and mine too had changed. Having gone on a handful of rides with some strong local cyclists, I even developed a new fondness for hills and no longer outright hated them. So when Somervillain suggested the two of us try the Hill Route before the snow arrived, it suddenly seemed like a great idea. What can I say? I am human, I got cocky.
'80s Trek racing bike, I on my Moser. It was going to be a great ride! A nice 30 mile ride with some hills in the middle. As we took off, I had a smile on my face (hint: it did not last).
Let me tell you about the Hill Training Route. The part with the proper hills is a 12 mile loop and the elevation profile looks like this. But no technical description or chart can communicate the subjective experience of this ride. The build-up was uninspiring, as we cycled along some ugly main roads with fast suburban traffic. After about 10 miles of that, we turned onto a narrow residential street and began the first climb up a small mountain. The climb began suddenly, and, being out of sight from the main road, there were no visual cues that allowed me to psychologically prepare for it. We turned the corner, and bang! - the very turn itself was already the beginning of a steep, twisty hill. The narrow road wound around the mountain instead of going directly up it, so there was no way to see what was around the bend. Would it get steeper or let up a bit? And how much longer to the top? Not knowing this drained my self-confidence and increased my anxiety tenfold. In addition, there were potholes the size of craters, and I had to zig-zag gingerly around them as I climbed.
Promptly, my body began to rebel. A pain shot up straight to my right temple, so intense that it clouded my vision. I had a strong urge to throw up. My leg muscles felt as if someone was injecting them with acid. Somervillain was way up ahead of me and around the next bend. I felt intense shame at being so hopelessly terrible at this, even after all the rides I've done to build up to it. I did not see how I could possibly keep going at this rate, and only a stupid, primitive sense of pride kept me pushing. Thoughts such as "Do not stop the bike!" and "Like hell you're going to walk!" were the only things circulating in my otherwise empty mind.
I am not entirely sure how we ended up repeating the climb (yes, you read that correctly). I think it may have started out as a suggestion in jest. But long story short, we climbed the same hill again. Oddly it went easier the second time around, despite my utter sense of depletion. Maybe knowing what to expect made it easier. Once again I maxed out my gears and pushed myself up in jolts the whole way, but with a clearer sense of when to expect an end to the hellish ordeal. In the last stretch, my breaths were coming out in audible heaves: Hee! Haw! Not unlike the sound of a tortured donkey. And then again it was over. At the top we stopped in a parking lot behind a small, shabby water tower. I tried to eat a piece of an energy bar, but nearly threw it up. I did drink more water and kept that down. My hands were trembling. We agreed that we were done for now: descend carefully, then back to Somerville. Two difficult climbs was not so bad given my lack of experience.
And then I opened my mouth and said: "You know what? I am not tired anymore. This always happens, I begin to feel more energetic at the end of a ride."
And he said: "Oh yeah? Do you feel like going back and doing the last climb of the route then? We have time before I need to be at work."
And I said... Well, what could I say. I couldn't exactly back out of it at that point! So we rode to Arlington Heights for the last climb.
On my way home I stopped by the Co-Habitant's office to say hello. He laughed and said I was incoherent, clearly still coming down from a post-cycling high ("and then... and then... there was a TOWER! And I almost gave up, but... tower!")
Sigh. I guess I should be grateful that even in my 30s I can enjoy the little things. I am pretty terrible at this roadcycling stuff, especially hills. But God, I love it anyway. We'll be doing this ride again. And thank you, Somervillain!