A long-time resident of Ohio, I have always enjoyed visiting or seeing mountains. During the big climbs on my bicycle in recent days, my thoughts about mountains have been more blended. I have experienced both the usual awe at their natural beauty and inspirational majesty, and simultaneously wondered why they have to be so darn tall!
A novice on a road bike and one of the two rookies on this year’s Fuller Center West Coast Bike Adventure, I trained for this trip by cycling some 5,000 miles over the last 15 months. But most of those rides were on the relatively flat land of west-central Ohio, near my home. Only on a two-day, 163-mile ride from Columbus to Cleveland that I took with my adult son in May was I able to challenge myself with elevation gains in the hill country of northeast Ohio.
Like a warm-up lap before a marathon, all that training only hinted at what I have encountered on the current trip. I am reminded how the difficulty ratings of ski slopes are relative to their region: black diamond at the ski slopes in central Ohio is the equivalent of green or blue at the resorts of upstate New York and Colorado. Most of those hills that my son and I tackled would qualify as speed bumps on this week’s route.
Over the last seven days, I have grown increasingly accustomed to climbing gentle slopes and small hills. Having tackled maybe a dozen peaks in the 300- to 750-foot range, by contrast, I have mixed feelings about those beasts. On the one hand, I experience a sense of foreboding when I preview a route map and see the spikes in the elevation profile. My Garmin computer alerts me at the start of each ride about how many climbs (of 3 percent or higher grade over a quarter-mile or longer) I will encounter (indicating the miles to the start of the ascent, the duration of the ascent, and the grade of elevation change). I feel a little distressed when there are more than two or three listed, and especially so when there are more than four and the Garmin has to scroll to a second screen to list them! On the road, I’ve been conditioned to feel regret when I see a road sign indicating a passing lane up ahead—because that can mean only one thing.
On the other hand, I like the hills a lot when I get to the top of them! A “PASSING LANE ENDS / MERGE LEFT sign brings more relief than a pristine swimming pool on an August afternoon. As I near the top of a day’s final big hill, my Garmin will flash “No remaining climbs,” which draws a smug smile. At the summits, the highway engineers have usually carved out a scenic viewing area, where rewards are claimed. And the free and breezy miles on the long coast down the other side always bring a thrill! Looking back at the end of each day’s ride, I ask myself: Were the hills a challenge? Yes. Were the scenes along the way, the time with my new friends, and the satisfaction of accomplishment worth the investment? Also a definite yes!
While climbing a 400+-foot hill last week, I experienced a pleasant sensation for the first time on this tour. The usually heavy motor vehicle traffic suddenly cleared in both directions and for about 30 seconds it was strangely quiet. I could hear my own breathing—and the songs of birds! In those brief moments, I was flooded by a sense of awe about the mountain, and about hearing and experiencing it in its original, natural state of quietude. Psalm 121:1-2 came to mind, and it shall remain on my mind on all future climbs, both during the remainder of this cycling adventure and on the journeys of life to come:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.