So I read books all the time, and sometimes this habit invades other parts of my life. I’m known to fall into observation mode, where I just stare off into the middle distance or, more frequently, end up staring rather intently and creepily at the people surrounding me. Not to brag or anything, but I’m getting pretty darn good at spotting internet-arranged blind dates. (Sometimes they’re wearing nifty little nametags declaring “Hello, my name is …”) I’m just kidding, but I would totally do that if I was going on a date with someone I’d met on the internet. It just makes sense.
Anyway, two days ago Dad and I decided to go on our newest longest ride ever: 116 miles through the hilly Martinsville area. (We began with our local CIBA club ride, "The Cemetery Ride," that had us passing by 19 cemeteries in a 51 mile loop and ended with wonderful watermelon at the Courthouse Square gazebo. Then we rode the loop again and finally continued on, "over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house," for a visit and pork chop feast provided by grandpa.)
I don’t measure vertical climbing in feet or miles or meters or whatever other units that the rest of the world that isn’t America uses – I measure climbing feet in Eiffel Towers. That ride was five Eiffel Towers, or darn near a mile up for those of you who prefer to use the more plebeian measurements. It was horrible. Hills upon hills upon hills and when you were finally done with the hills, just kidding, look, more hills! And the biggest hill came as a surprise in the supposed denouement to the Grandparents, at mile 104. Thanks, Dad. I’m not very good at hills, so during one of those monstrosities I started looking at the struggle from a literary perspective.
Hills are so symbolic it’s crazy – riding a bike is like this giant metaphor for life. You’re just plodding along, and you see this hill in the distance. Sometimes hills look so big, so long and intimidating – but then they’re not so bad when you speed up approaching them and therefore give yourself enough momentum to get straight up. That’s kind of like seeing a looming challenge and being able to prepare yourself for it, and then it’s really not so bad after all. I think of these sorts of hills as the piano recitals: you hate them, you dread them, you worry about them, but in reality it’s not so hard as you’d thought. But those sorts of hills don’t seem to be the most common ones. Sometimes it’s just the opposite: you see a hill, you start climbing, and soon you discover that the hill is much longer than anticipated. Either it’s a steeper gradient than expected or there’s a tricky turn that leads to an extension of the hill, or sometimes it’s just a mirage that causes you to see a hill as shorter than it is. Those are nasty, because you get hit with a lot more pain than you were expecting. I think Junior year is a pretty good example of this. “I’ve got this. I’m smart. I can take three AP classes and two honors classes and do marching band and take piano lessons and work at the candle store, no sweat.” Nope.
But it’s not just one’s perception of hills – it’s the way they work that’s so symbolic. When you’re defying physics and dragging yourself and a bicycle up a hill, time slows down. Your bike is moving inches at time, every pedal stroke is a massive effort. No longer are you flying across terrain; you’re slowly, painfully, dragging yourself. Hard times are like that – they’re long, time slows down, it seems like you’re going nowhere. And the good times, (the nice flat bits) fly past. And even when you’re cresting a hill, there’s no immediate payout. Hills aren’t like the ones in cartoons, where they go straight up and then straight down. Sometimes, there is no downhill at all after a hill. It’s the same in life – there’s no lightbulb moment, no sudden instant when hard times are over and the economy is back on track and Barack Obama and John McCain have regular cookouts together on the White House lawn. There’s a recovery period, where you have to get your breath back and reach that crest, and then deal with whatever comes after.
Maybe I’ve just been in the sun too long but I like to think everything has some crazy deep meaning somehow. And this, friends, is how I will deal with the somewhat pointless and yet weirdly important activity of biking up hills.
Thanks for reading,
PS - We crossed another huge milestone yesterday when I heard from another donor and learned that we've now together raised over $1000 for the National Arthritis Research Foundation. Thank you all so much.