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It’s Just a Hill…

Get over it!!!!


What is it about hills and cycling! Logically, there is not a single enjoyable thing about hauling yourself and your bike up a hill; it’s hard work. As the road rises, your heart pounds, your legs burn; speed drops and the voices of doubt in the darkest corners of your mind shout loudly – pulling you backward like some unseen hand.  But, despite all of this, we cyclists are drawn to hills as if they were some promised land. We suffer on them, we earn bragging rights, we push ourselves – move up the Strava leader board and, oddly, we enjoy them!


It’s hard to fathom, I know. Certainly, if you tell a non-cyclist how much you enjoyed a particular climb, they’ll look at you as if you need some sort of professional help. Expect raised eyebrows and people edging gently backward. And that’s fair enough, I suppose. Because if you’ve never experienced a hill clad in Lycra and clipped in to a bike, you probably would struggle to understand the appeal also.


But, for a cyclist, a hill challenges and rewards in equal measure. For every hill, there will be a payback – a fast descent or a view that makes the effort worthwhile. Even if today’s killer climb yielded neither of these, you’ll still have that, “I did it” moment as you crest the summit and cast a nonchalant glance back over your shoulder at the monster now slain.


Truth be told, I’ve never been a natural hill climber. In fact, in my early days as an aspiring roadie, they scared the hell out of me! But, I knew that if I wanted to be a proper cyclist, I would have to fight my demons – take on the hills – prove to myself (and others) that I could do them – get stronger and improve.


My self-education program was simple – enter every nasty, hilly sportive I could find and generally get out on my bike and drag my sorry backside up every local upward gradient I could find. Oddly – for such an un-structured plan, it worked; slowly, I improved. But, despite my improvements, there was still one dark corner, where the voice of doubt persisted – and one hill, which it kept telling me, was beyond me.



In the early days of the SMCC, our resident hill specialist and Sunday route planner, Wet Wipe was forever banging on about our local ‘Monster’ climb – the Mighty North Hill. He was desperate to get me there and drag (or push) me up it. I wanted to, but the voices of doubt were strong and I resisted. Inevitably, though, the day came when I was out of excuses and would need to fight the demon.


Arriving at the meet point one bright Sunday morning, Wet Wipe greeted me with his usual pre-ride cheeriness and we started discussing the route. The conversation went something like this (with Wet Wipe opening the dialogue). “I’ve planned a cracker of a route for us today, Goldie!” My response was short and to the point, “We’re doing North Hill, aren’t we!” As a sinister smile spread slowly across his face, he responded, “Yes. Twice!”


What could I do – it was just me and Wet Wipe. I knew how much effort he put in to planning every Sunday route and did not want to let him down. I responded in a sincere, but concerned tone, “Right. If that’s the case, let’s get on with it then”.

 

All the way to the hill, I kept asking, “Are we near it yet? How steep is it? Do you see many people walking it?” To be fair, it must have been getting quite tedious for him but, patiently, he kept reassuring me. Then, suddenly, we were there! Passing the “North Hill” sign at the bottom, he simply said, “Right, Goldie, get in your climbing gears and take it at your own pace”. I followed his instructions to the letter and, just under eight minutes later, I was at the top and rolling out onto the flat again. Riding side by side, we exchanged a knowing glance. I grinned and he responded, “See, easy; wasn’t it!” Truth be told, easy is not a word I would associate with my first North Hill encounter – but addictive is most certainly apt.


As we made the run in to the second ascent, gone was Wet Wipe’s gentle coaching approach. Instead, standing on the pedals, he simply said, “I’m going threshold on this one!” And then, he was gone – taking off up the hill as if he’d latched on to some invisible chair lift.


Returning home after that ride, I had conquered more than just a hill – I had fought the last of the demons. I probably bored my poor wife to death; repeatedly telling my ‘Tales from the Hill’; regaling her endless recounts of my epic hill climb(s) – like an old soldier recounting his war stories.


The Mighty North Hill

A couple of months ago, she had her own North Hill experience when, one wet Saturday, I took her there for her first date with the monster. On the run in, she was asking exactly the same questions that I had bombarded poor Wet Wipe with on my debut climb (and, oddly, she was asking almost exactly the same questions in exactly the same places).


Watching her grind painfully up the last part of the climb reminded me of the first time I had found myself there. Unlike me, her initial elation was a tad harder to spot. In fact, for a moment, I thought I would probably need a good divorce lawyer – but her Facebook and Twitter posts later that day told a different story.


She still claims to hate the hilly stuff – but there is a little bit of me that knows that’s probably not the case. Just last week, we spent six days cycling in the Lake District. This glorious corner of England’s North West is home to some of the most beautiful


scenery the country has to offer – it’s also home to some fantastic hills. Our first day of cycling in the Lakes was an ordeal by fire – two Cat 3 climbs, a couple of Cat 4s, a 25% killer and a full ascent of Kirkstone Pass (taking us to the highest point in the region). This was pretty much the benchmark for every day that followed. But we got through it and, as the week panned out, climbs that we would have considered impassable at home became like simple undulations in the landscape. She rode, she suffered and she tells me that she enjoyed!!

Personally, I think that every ride should have a ‘moment’ – one of those experiences that stay bright in your mind long after the bike is parked and which defined the several hours you have just spent in (or out of) the saddle. Hills give you that. Our week in the Lake District has left us both with some fantastic memories of hills beaten, crazy 50 mph descents, vistas enjoyed and falling into bed with that creamy endorphin-soaked satisfaction that comes from a full day of pushing your body to the limit.


I loved that week in the Lakes – and so (she tells me) did my wife. The weather was kind to us, the legs held out and we both ticked off a number of ‘firsts’. My head is still buzzing with brilliant memories of challenges shared, hills beaten and kamikaze descents.


But, one of my personal memories that still shines brightest was created several hundred miles away, on the iconic Box Hill; the centrepiece of the London 2012 Road Race circuit. In the latter stages of the 2013 King of the Downs, approaching the top of this smashing hill – and with 4 nasty little climbs already in the legs, I was genuinely sorry that the climb was over. As the glorious vista of the Downs stretched away below me and with the tarmac ahead still bearing slogans from London 2012, I was savouring every pedal stroke – honestly, I really wanted to turn around and do it all again.


Hills – they challenge and reward in equal measure. When the road kicks up and your legs scream in protest, simply ride, suffer and enjoy!! Two years ago, I’d have run a mile if you pointed me and my bike at a hill; now, I’m setting my sights on a training camp in Majorca or Tenerife and the prospect of beating some truly awesome climbs.

  

A hill will always pay you back. Don’t fear them; embrace them.