Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Climbing priorities

Date: July 17
Mileage: 35.5
July mileage: 447.3
Temperature upon departure: 62
Inches of rain yesterday and today: 1.09"

My aim for the past two weeks has been to trust my knee and attempt more strenuous, lung-burning workouts. Today my plan was to climb up to Eaglecrest Ski Resort at the tail-end of a 35-mile ride. I shed my usual "As Fast As I Can" goal for something more tangible - keeping the odometer above 7.5 mph at all times. Sounds slow, right? It was an all-out, red-zone effort on some of the pitches.

But what struck me most about the ride was how anticlimactic the descent was. I was coasting at 40 mph, on constant lookout for gravel patches, porcupine and deer, with instant death lurking around every corner ... and I was feeling involuntarily relaxed, and a bit dazed, like one might before laying down for a nap. In short, I was coming down.

When I was 7 years old, bicycling was all about the descents. One of my best friends lived at the bottom of a steep cul-de-sac. I remember cresting by the stop sign on my yellow banana-seat Huffy and staring wide-eyed into that abyss, lined with minvans and lurking cats. It was a moment of pure fear, like I always felt on a roller coaster when it hesitated at the crest of its first big drop. I'd watch my front wheel dip into the hole, scream as gravity yanked me into involuntary acceleration, and lift my legs skyward as the pedals spun wildly out of control, praying I could get my feet back on them in time to back-pedal to a screeching stop.

My friend and I perfected that hill one summer, enduring the inevitable climb with the trudging sense of duty that only kids can muster. I remember in the hot August sun, there was absolutely nothing rewarding about that sweaty, hunched-over-the-handlebars, pedal-mashing ascent. Our reward waited patiently for us to catch our breath in a dust cloud at the bottom of the hill.

Now 20 years have passed, and somehow, downhill doesn't capture my imagination the way it used to. It has its benefits - fun coasting, quick shots of adrenaline, easy distance. But these days, my rewards meet me at the top of the climb, just as I'm beginning to chase imaginary shadows, and dripping full streams of sweat, and pumping so many endorphins I can almost taste them. The cold wind meets my drenched body and I turned to face it, filled with a kind of satisfaction that borders on joy.

Maybe it is possible to relive those simple childhood pleasures. Even though my methods have changed, the reward remains the same.