On a High
One of the sublime joys of cycling, for me, is the feeling of capability that permeates your soul when you crest a long, difficult rise. Maybe it’s a road climb, the pitch of the thing holding you in that magical place I call the “orange.” You’re not in the red, but you can see it from where you are. Or maybe it’s a technical trail ascent. You’re churning at the pedals, because gravity, but you’re also handling the bike constantly, picking and choosing lines. Either way, there is a high that comes from feeling you have what it takes to make the top, in control, without wanting to die.
No one seems to like to pedal up a hill anymore. From the growing numbers of eBikes to the rise in popularity of lift-serve downhill, pedaling has apparently gone out of style. To be totally clear, there is nothing wrong with riding an eBike or lift-serve downhill for that matter. Those things are fun. No doubt. No argument. And climbing probably isn’t fun, not Type I anyway.
Like you, though, I do enjoy some things that hurt, like a windy, steep pitch, getting a new tattoo, or romantic love generally. I’m a glutton for it actually. I am not in any way a good climber. I’m neither particularly fast going uphill, nor capable of doing it all day like many I know, and the hurt of turning the pedals isn’t what I love best.
It’s the feeling that I can.
To master the terrain, so I can stay in the orange without tipping over into the red. To be able to make a hard technical move over a rock or a log, despite having just pulled myself through a switchback. To have that feeling in my heart and mind of being up to the task.
Of course, this capability isn’t on call whenever I’m ready; rather it’s the culmination of a period of work, the fruit of my fitness. It’s the reserve of dry matches, when I desperately need a light. With my eyes closed I can see myself on a half dozen heroic ascents, one at D2R2, one at Kingdom Trails, one at Coed-y-Brenin in Wales, one at Rasputitsa, one in Belmont Woods near my house, one near Buffalo Creek in Colorado. On hillside might be the hardest place to find a flow state. That’s what makes these so memorable.
There’s a real buzz that follows, too, a high if you will, dopamine spiraling out of the hard effort, plus a dose of self-confidence. If you mix that with a dram of caffeine, you’ve got something like the cycling version of amphetamines. Just like tipping over the top of a climb, you come away with momentum, which is, on road or trail, maybe the most valuable thing you can have.