Take as given that I'm fat and out of shape. It's been two years or so since I biked at all seriously. I do like cycling, and my workplace is close enough to where I live that it's entirely imaginable I could cycle to and from, were I in shape. So I am engaged in a slow-motion project to get there. Due to work, weather, and illness I've not been biking every day, but once or twice a week I get down to the lot mid-day, haul out the bike, and ride a bit.
I have challenges to overcome, as with any project. Hills are my nemeses. Even a gentle rise, done in granny gear, leaves me panting, thighs and back screaming at me.
It may surprise you to know that New England is not flat. Not really anywhere. Humanity has graded and smoothed the earth that was churned and furrowed by ancient glaciers, but almost every stretch of road tends upward, or is a down-slope that I know I'll pay dearly for on the way back. Those of you in the midwest can laugh now; likewise those in Colorado, or San Francisco. Were I in one of those places I doubt I'd ever attempt this project. But I am not, and I am.
I remember hills. I remember that I grew up in a little subdivision in central New Jersey. Our street was a long oval, perhaps half a mile all the way around, connected up a steep hill to the main street. We kids rode our bikes around the oval. Around and around - always clockwise. If you went clockwise, then you went down the single two-block-long steep slope of the oval and with its momentum you tried to get as far around the back side as you could before you had to pedal again. I remember being in grade school there and arguing furiously with one of my riding buddies who insisted that this route was "downhill" whereas I insisted that it obviously had as much uphill as downhill. To each of us it was self-evident. I reasoned that if there was more downhill than uphill you would never return to the same spot and since we went round and round the same oval for hours on end then clearly we went uphill just as much as we went downhill. To him it was as plain as the road before our eyes: ahead of him was a visible downhill and nowhere did he see any uphill so clearly this road went downhill and I was an egghead, a nerd, and a geek, none of which were compliments in those days.
I remember hills. I remember visiting New Orleans where I discovered that the city fathers had caused to be constructed a municipal hill. Just one: a 23-foot pile of dirt in the public zoo. It was placed there so that the children of the city would have some experience of hills because when you live at the mouth of a major river delta time and the water have assured you that there will be no hills on which to play. So someone must see to it that there is at least one such thing because hills and children go together like bicycles and sunshine.
I remember hills. I remember that when I am on the down-slope my hands shift to the lower grips on the bars and my chest goes to near-level, cupping the hot air rising off the black asphalt as the cooler air streams over my back.
I remember hills and long for a stretch where I could test just how far I can go before I must pedal again.