It wasn’t until I was showered and dressed and in the car, on my way to pickup burritos, that the feeling hit me. Turning the key fired the stereo, and the first thundering chords of my current favorite album came leaping out at me like a large dog, eager to greet its owner. I smiled then, and it dawned on me how happy I felt, a good ride in my legs, the promise of dinner, and the knowledge that I had nothing else to do for the day.
I had waited through the morning heat, the humidity embryonic and cloying, wondering if I’d get a ride in, if the worst of it would burn off or give way to one of those summer rains that leaves everything steaming and bright and clean. I did that annoying thing where you check the weather app on your phone every ten minutes, willing it to tell you a lie. With my most cherished (and hardest) ride of the year coming up, I didn’t think I could skip a Saturday’s suffering.
So at 4:14 I rolled out. It was 92F and still forbiddingly muggy, not the time to take on a set of hill repeats, but having squandered the morning, and with a bellyful of fear for being tragically under-trained coming into the high season, I didn’t feel I had any other choice.
Fortunately, I live at the top of a tall rise, a frequent training ground for the city’s more pain-inclined cyclists, and the best route to repeat is a mere 150 meters south of my driveway. For the first lap, I cut into the hill halfway up giving my legs a chance to understand what they were in for, before diving down clear to the bottom to begin the real suffering.
Now, I love climbing. If I was made to do anything on a bike (and that’s a highly debatable proposition), it’s climbing. I love the struggle and the rhythm of it and the way it washes your brain clear of everything but the effort. I don’t often do hill repeats, because I don’t often take on structured training, but if I do train it’s on the side of a steep hill. It’s a hard way to clear your head, but I am willing.
This particular hill also affords a sweeping view of the Boston skyline from Dorchester clear north to Somerville. There is a sprawling park very near the top, and thousands gather there on the 4th of July to watch the Boston fireworks. When flaying yourself with the lash of hill repeats, that view serves as a nice reward for every crest reached.
I worked at it for about an hour, up-and-down, up-and-down, with cars swishing lazily past me, the zipper of my jersey creeping closer and closer to my navel, everything succumbing to the torpid heat, my pace devolving from the first eager climbs to the final, staggering haul. Once I’d satisfied myself that I’d hurt enough, I went and spun my legs out on a slightly flatter route, everything feeling heavy, my head steaming.
And then the shower and the dinner plan, the kids splayed in front of the TV watching a movie and me in the car. The air-conditioning did its hot/warm/cold thing, and the music washed through me like a party drug. Endorphins and seratonin swirled, and the world outside ceased spinning, stopped rushing forward frantically, frenetically, for just a minute.
This is what I want, what I always wanted, the same stillness I get as I’m rocking gently in the saddle, pressed against that hill. I want to bring it with me, off the hill and into the house, to share it with my wife and kids and have it suffuse everything I do with clarity.
It’s not like that though. Its impermanence magnifies its brilliance. Scarcity raises demand. The high fades, even as legs buzz from the effort still, emptiness echoing in my gut. Hill repeats in high-summer heat? Yes. And another ride the next day, chasing, always chasing, just that minute of peace.
Image: source needed TDF 1961