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.

Join the conversation
  1. Wyatt says

    Oh man, you nailed it. I’m a horrible climber but this feeling/moment you describe is still my favorite part of it all. Strange given how genuinely exhilarating flow and shred are but there is just something about topping out on the climbs that feeds me. I must be an orange guy too.

  2. Jeff vdD says

    Poor climber, here. I moderately dread the big climbs. But love just about every one of them. Especially the technical ones.

  3. cramissor says

    The love of climbing does seem to be out of style at the moment judging by the number of ebikes I see coming through the shop. I get it. But I also don’t. In many ways really nailing a techy climb feels more fulfilling than hitting a techy downhill. And the feeling of knowing you can manage hard efforts is good.

  4. TominAlbany says

    Love to climb. Makes the descent that much sweeter!

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