Why Do You Climb?

Once in a while, you’ll have a day where things are so busy that you have no realistic expectation of getting in a ride. You’ve just got too much to do. Optional (i.e., “fun”) stuff is going to have to wait for another day.

And then, almost by magic, a “ride window” appears. An appointment falls through. You finish the errands before you expected to. Your spouse takes pity on you. Whatever. The important thing is, you’ve got maybe 70 minutes. Not enough time for a long ride, but certainly enough time for a good ride.

That’s what happened to me last Tuesday.

I got home from work, assuming that my next task was to start dinner for the family, followed by cleaning up the house.

But dinner was made. The house was clean. Susan doesn’t let a little thing like a paralyzing tumor in her spinal cord slow her down.

So I had just enough time for a short ride before taking the family out to a play (we’re a very cultural-minded family).

The question was, what kind of ride would I want to do when I only had just over an hour?

The answer, for me, was obvious and easy: Climb one side of Suncrest, drop down the other side, and then turn around and come back. Two four-mile, 1500′ climbs.

I say the decision to do a climbing ride was obvious and easy, and I mean it. I just love climbing rides. So far, this week, my rides (all road — shoulder’s still no good) have been:

  • Monday: Up AF Canyon to Alpine Loop Summit, down to Cascade Springs, and then back again: about 6500′ of climbing
  • Tuesday: Up the South side of Suncrest, down the North side, and then back again: about 3000′ of climbing
  • Wednesday: Repeat of Monday
  • Thursday: Up AF Canyon to Alpine Loop Summit and back again: about 3500′ of climbing

Nobody’s forcing me to select these rides, and I’m not doing them because I’m training for a race. I like to climb.

But — and I get this question pretty often from friends and neighbors — why do I choose these routes, when I don’t have to?

That question isn’t as easy to answer.

Back to Tuesday
As I was climbing up the North side of Suncrest, I was pondering that question. “Why am I climbing? Why do I seek this out?”

See, climbing seems like a good idea except when you’re actually doing it. This is the grand paradox of climbing.

Then another rider turned onto the road, about 75 yards ahead of me. He looked strong. Good legs, nice bike. A worthy opponent.

“Hewwo Wabbit,” I said, in my best Elmer Fudd voice. You know, because Elmer chases Bugs Bunny. And because he’s bald. And short.

Look, let’s just say I identify with Elmer Fudd and leave it at that, OK?

I stepped up my pace, the pain easier to endure now that I had a more exciting objective than merely to survive the climb.

I had prey.

The guy I was trying to catch saw me by the time I was 50 yards behind him, at which point he stood up and picked up his pace.

Ha. He had sacrificed any legitimate claim to not caring whether I caught him. He cared, all right.

In fact, he cared deeply.

Each time he looked back and saw I was closing the gap, he’d stand and put on a burst of speed. A foolish tactic. Bursts like that cost more than they’re worth. Ullrich-like, I remained seated, staying in second gear. Knowing that to him it would look like I’m going slow because my cadence is low.

Knowing that he wouldn’t get a look at my tell-tale quads until it was too late.

Hey, How’s It Going?
Eventually, inevitably, inexorably, I caught him. And by law, that meant we were required to exchange pleasantries.

I went first.

“Harsh climb, isn’t it?” The subtext, of course, being that while the climb was indeed harsh, I was faster than he was up it.

“Yeah,” he replied. “And it’s just too hot to climb well.” A lame excuse, because we were both cycling in the same climate.

“Have a good ride,” I concluded, pulling in front of him. And then, ten seconds later, looking back to see if he had cracked.

He had.

My victory was complete.

My Answer
“This,” I thought to myself. “This is why I climb.” Because it’s the closest thing I’ve got to a superpower. And by “superpower,” I don’t mean some lame freebie superpower like the kind you get because you were born near a red sun or bitten by a spider, for crying out loud  — “acquired by lottery” superpowers suck.


I mean the kind of superpower Batman has. And don’t believe for a second Batman doesn’t have superpowers. He has tons of superpowers. It’s just that he’s earned them all.

I climb because I can roll up beside someone on a bike, and unless climbing is also his superpower, I can surprise him.

Eventually, it all comes down to this: I climb because I can.

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