Going Up

A brief conversation about an upcoming event:

Why would you train for a ride that is not a race?

I am riding with friends, and I do not want to be the weak link. I want to be helpful, and I don’t want to get off the bike. To walk uphill. There is nothing more soul-sapping.

And I like to go up.

Going up. It’s just so daunting. It feels impossible. Like you just are kidding yourself that you can get that pedal back down.

What I like is when you’re almost at your limit. And you find this place, this rhythm. That you can sustain. And you sit in that spot, just cranking it out. And next thing you know you’ve conquered a mountain.

Hm. What are you thinking? Literally, what goes on in your head?

Well that’s the beautiful part. Up to that point, you’re struggling. You’re filled with doubt.
You can’t make it. And then it all settles down. And your mind goes blank. And you’re just a piston.

But seriously, no other thoughts?

All crowded out. It’s that magic focus. It’s how you go up.

Photo: © Matt O’Keefe


  1. CptCrnch

    For so long I’ve struggled to describe why I love climbing and why I find it a very emotional experience. This perfectly described what I’ve been feeling but have never been able to formulate into words. Thanks for another amazing piece.

  2. Pascii

    We are also getting ready. Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
    Getting up just requires being fit enough and/or having a low enough gear. I’ll work on the former and count on the latter and hope to spread both evenly throughout the day. Last year there were times when all I could do was turn the pedals one at a time, almost falling over. But my friends were geared higher and I spent the first half chasing them. This year we shall be paired a little more effectively.

    Maybe we’ll see you there. We’ll be in green, either chasing the lead (not me) or riding at a steady but decidedly slower pace.

  3. Peter Kelley

    Last year all I could think was, ‘this is so f-ing hard!’. Pennel Hill road – really? How can a road be so steep?

    Last year I suffered, hurt, cramped. This year I hope to ride with less fear/dread/doubt.

    Hope to see you out there again, Robot! I’ll be on a dark blue Merckx cross bike. Gonna wear a cow jersey this year!

    Peter from Barrington, RI

  4. Randall

    As a new cyclist, I think it’s the hardest part. From there, conquering hills brings the greatest satisfaction.

    I love getting to the top, feeling caedence increase, and thinking “I’ve got something left!”

  5. Author

    @Pascii – It’s a ride that is very hard to prepare for if you don’t live in that topography, but your point about spreading effort throughout the day is a great one. I remember last year rolling out with my friends at a really slow pace and wanting to go harder, and then thinking, “Hmmmm, better to start slow and finish than not finish at all.”

    @Peter – I think about Pennel Hill road all the time. It was the only place I clipped out last year. Such a cruel stretch.

    I hope all who are there will roll by and say hello. I really enjoyed chatting with many of you last year. I will be on this bike for those looking for me: http://www.sevencycles.com/blog/2012/07/26/the-soul-of-a-new-road-machine/

  6. scaredskinnydog

    There’s a brutal honesty to climbing that I’ve always respected. Its kinda like a boxing match where your getting wailed on and barely hanging on but instead of an opponent its yourself administering the pain. The mental battle not to ease off is where the real boxing match takes place. It always feels great standing on top of a long hard climb knowing you gave it your all.

  7. armybikerider

    Not to delve to deeply – this is “just” bike riding, but climbing, even more than simply riding a bike, is so much a metaphor for life general. I echo everything that’s been said in the responses up to now…..preparation…knowing when to push hard and when to save your efforts…..guts….determination….concentration….will…confidence… strength….the willingness to suffer to meet goals…..and especially the sense of accomplishment.

  8. Peter Kelley

    @Robot – what tires are u going to run? Gearing?

    Eddy Merckx Alu Cross and running 700×30 file tread Michelin Jet cross tires.
    Campy record triple: 50-40-30 up front with 13-29 on the back.

    Should be low enough gearing.


    1. Author

      @Peter – Well, I’m gonna go out there to Deerfield full of hubris. I’m running a compact crank against an 11-28 cassette with 28mm Paselas for tires. I’m taking the road-ish route, after riding a CX bike last year. Since the 2011 ride, I’ve spent a fair amount of time riding road bikes on dirt, and I’m thinking treads and too much volume are overkill. I was able to ride everything last year on a compact/11-28, except Pennel Hill, which I have a different strategy for this year.

      I’m certain my wax wings will melt and I will plummet into the sea. When you pass me, try not to chuckle.

  9. Peter Kelley

    @Robot – if you recall, I had mtb gearing last year. This allowed me to grovel up even the steepest climbs – albeit at 4 mph. My problems last year were due to a bad stomach – made worse by eating too much at Pastiche the night before.

    This year I’m quarantining myself at least 1 week prior to 8/18!

    1. Author

      @Peter – I recall you riding away up the road at one point when I stopped to wait for friends, and then not seeing you again.

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