Wednesday, May 8, 2013

In Which I Conquer The Hill and The Hill Beats Me

The view from the top of Brentwood Drive. Above, in the mirror, looking east from whence I came. Below, looking forward down the other side I think I might have broken the speed limit on the way down.

Tuesday, 7:45 p.m., the sky is turning from its pale day hue to a deeper blue ringed with yellows and pinks. It’s pretty, but I don’t have a lot of time for admiring the view. I am pumping hard.

I’m approaching The Hill. Not Mount Mercy’s hill, which I ride up every morning, but a steeper, taller, more challenging hill.

Which, by chance, is also where I live—it’s the Bowman Woods hill on Brentwood Drive NE. If Robin Hood had lived in these parts, the sheriff’s castle might be at the corner of Crandall and Brentwood Drive.

I’ve taken, lately, to using the Cedar River trail to go home, which adds maybe 1 ½ miles to my evening route. I need to squeeze out every mile I can, especially since three training weeks for RAGBRAI will be spent out of the country in a Land With No Bike Trails.

On the other hand, after my sister spied me on the trail Monday, she posted on Facebook how she had done 17 miles and had seen me. A friend of hers asked if she was in training, and when assured she was getting ready for RAGBRAI, added this follow-up: “Train going up hills a lot. That is what killed me. Iowa is so not flat.”

Sage advice. So Tuesday, when my wife texted me that she was taking the grandchildren to Taube Park in Marion for a picnic supper, I gamely decided to bike on over east after work. And once the picnic had been consumed, it was time to head home. By then it was well past 7, pushing 8.

But, I was running with lights on, and it wasn’t really dark yet. So despite the fact that The Hill is busy with traffic at some times of the day, I decided to try it. I plan to climb this hill a lot in the coming weeks anyway, I might as well get started.

Because my sister’s Facebook friend is right. Time on seat, miles traveled—those are important in training for RAGBRAI, but so, very much so, are hills climbed.

As I approached The Hill, I wondered if Frances (a name Dr. Ochs suggested for my bike, and let it be so) would let me into Granny Gear. Frances has always had minor derailleur issues, in that he doesn’t like either the biggest gear in back or the smallest in front. Fortunately, the two shifting devices, while constantly out of whack, have never synchronized their out-of-whackness, so I usually have trouble with one gear or the other. The current state of affairs is that first gear in front usually remains unavailable.

As I approached The Hill, I shifted into third in front—the big, fast gear, not the hill-climbing gear. My rationale was that if I attempted to skip second and go straight to first from third, the momentum might make that rare hill gear shift happen.

It did.

So, with the front in first, I shifted to the big cog in back and proceeded up Brentwood Drive at near walking pace. As an experienced biker, I’ve discovered the ability to ride in a stable manner even at fairly slow speeds. If the stop is brief, I can come to a full rest at a stop sign and not put a foot down. And I am a grandpa, so I feel entitled to granny gear a lot.

Anyway, I conquered the hill. Technically, I didn’t climb all the way to the top—the apex of the hill is not on Brentwood Drive, it’s on Crandall—but I think for a first ride this was OK. When I next attempt to conquer the hill on my way home, I’ll make the Crandall turn and get to the summit.

There is bad news today, though. I rode in this morning, but must stay on campus late—I’m ringing bells in MMU’s spring concert. There is rain on the radar, so I decided to move Frances inside—only to discover this afternoon that he is lame.

Luckily, the cure won’t involve a bullet—just a new tube in the front tyre (CR Biker is a “tyre” zone).

For those of you keeping score at home, if we count this flat on MMU’s hill as a victory for The Hill (and it’s my blog, so I make the rules and I don’t care if it doesn’t make any sense), then right now we’re tied: Joe 1, Hill 1. Stay tuned.
Sad sight today, Frances needs a repair job. And I'll have to buy another tube.

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