A hill is a hill is a hill

It was a really chilly start to a chilly day, but it was completely worth it to drag myself out of bed at six in the morning yesterday to drive down to Bellville, Ohio for the annual challenging Fall ‘N Leaf ride. I wasn’t completely sure up until Saturday evening whether or not I was really going to do this ride. Why was I teetering on the edge of a decision? Well, up until the weekend, it wasn’t completely clear whether or not it was going to rain that day. And then all day Saturday–for some reason or another–I just felt deflated of energy, even after a two hour hike in the Valley.

However, I could not get rid of the taunts served from the back of my mind because this was a ride that, in a sense, defeated me last year. I had walked one hill (the one out of Butler, Liberty Road) and I’d paused to catch my breath before continuing on several others. I remember also being slightly intimidated by the leering steepness of some of the hills. It was a ride I had to go back and defeat. And, really, all year I’d been purposely training myself to take hills not only fearlessly but with a gusto like I’d never taken them before. My multiple commutes to work (which involves a serious hill both in both directions) were a part of this goal towards making my legs stronger for climbing. I hate being defeated by my own inability to do something. I never just settle with the abilities I have; I always strive very hard to improve myself. And I hate not being able to do something other people doing the same thing can do. If it’s possible to do, I should be able to do it. I love a challenge.

I knew I had a better chance of a more successful completion of Fall N Leaf when I completed the Fredericksburg Library Roll–a ride of equivalent difficulty–a few weeks ago without walking a hill (I did, however, stop on one hill to catch my breath, but I did continue to climb it after the pause). I was still a little unsure, though, because of that one pause and the fact that I had walked a few hills during XOBA. I guess, though, I’ve still been improving since August. My knees also seem to have recovered from their injury during XOBA.

I went into Fall N Leaf with a nervous flutter in my stomach. I had disturbed sleep the night before, dreaming of forgetting important equipment–such as my helmet, my bike shoes, or my water bottles–and not being properly attired for the predicted cold weather. I think these fearful thoughts were just more symptoms of my nervousness about the ride. If I forgot essential equipment then I couldn’t do the ride. It was like an instant cop-out.

I’m glad nothing like that happened, though. Because I ended up having a really great day. The weather, though a chilly 49/50 degrees at best, was warmed by the presence of the sun in the gray-blue fall sky. The leaves were amidst their changing–some green and lots of golds and fiery reds and oranges mixed in. The first rest stop was next to Kokosing Lake in the wildlife area. Our trek from the lunch stop ambled along side a river for a bit. There were many beautiful sights to be seen from the saddle. It was a great distraction from my nervousness.

Kokosing Lake – Our First Rest Stop at 18 Miles
They actually changed the first loop of the route from last year. It wasn’t quite as hard as I remember, though there were still some good hills. There was a great rolling road that I kept referring to afterwards as the “rollercoaster road.” It had sweeping downhills that met with equally steep uphills, one after the other. On some of them, you had to switch down to the lower gears quickly to crest the top of the next hill. But it was mostly effortless and kind of breath-taking. I actually applied no brakes on these whooshes down–I felt incredibly brave as I usually do whenever I ride in rolling terrain. To top it off, the last bit of the hill just went down with a long bit of run off for a speedy finish. And, again, I let it out, leaving my fingers ready to brake in the event of an emergency, but I coasted all the way down without any fear.

An amazing thing about this ride is that most of the downhills weren’t curvy and scary. I actually didn’t find myself using the brakes very much. Only once on a road with loose gravel. I think I would have felt relatively safe on that road had it been nicely paved. I was amazed at how I really didn’t experience my usual terrified feeling looking over the top of a hill I was about to go down.

Michael riding along a flatish road
(though we’d just sailed down a hill just prior to this).

The most anxiety-provoking moments happened while we sat at the lunch stop along the bike path–a little depot–in Bellville. I knew that soon after this ride loomed my biggest fear: Liberty Road. This mile long stretch of steep grade waited for me just outside of Butler. It was my one failure last year, the one I didn’t forget or forgive myself for walking. We took off from the lunch stop in a group–Randy, TDB, Bob I, Michael–and I was dreading the thought of that road. My friends jeered me playfully, saying that they were watching and would know if I got off my bike. I took this in stride, I was all right with it. Their good-natured teasing was actually psyching me into staying on the bike at all costs. But I was still a little afraid, still nervous, because I couldn’t remember exactly how steep it felt to my legs, I could only remember how huge and looming it had looked in the distance when I approached it. And my memory was quite accurate.

After a nice warm up stretch of paved bike path and then additional flat ride beside a little river, we entered the town of Butler and I knew my fate awaited me just outside of town. And when we turned through the town and finally right onto Liberty Road, I felt more butterflies flutter in my stomach. The road starts with a slight grade so I immediately threw my gears into granny and began the ascent.

It did get pretty hard. Michael and Randy quickly advanced past some riders leaving me behind some others going at a slower pace. I knew I’d eventually have to get around these people because it was being in too close of a proximity to other unsure riders last year that had partly caused me to abandon ship. I slowly made my way around a pack of riders and then found myself pretty much alone front and back, which is how I wanted it. I started dropping gears as the road became steeper and, unfortunately, found myself bottomed out about halfway up. I just paced myself and let my mind go to that nowhere place it goes when concentrating really hard on something physical.

Eventually, I caught up to another guy who was going just slightly slower than me. He looked a little rickety as he was swaying slightly back and forth in small curves. I wanted to pass him because I was practically on his tire and going slower than I feel comfortable on a hill begins to make me panic. I have a pace that I know I need to maintain and slipping below it means I might lose momentum. Passing the guy would require me to pick up a little more speed to get around him since he was just slightly slower than I was going and I would have to make a wide U because he was swinging so much from side-to-side. I was worried I might get around him fine but because of the steepness of the hill, I’d lose the energy to continue once I passed him. However, I knew I had to make my move because he was driving me crazy with his pace and erratic movements. If he decided to dismount, it might force me to get off the bike because we were too close.

So I did it–I pushed harder on my pedals and tried to subdue pain the extra stress caused to my legs. Once around him, I was alone again and able to continue at my own pace. I checked my mirror and realized that I totally dropped him. Right before I looked away from the mirror, I could see him getting off his bike and walking. Ah-haha! Nothing like out-cycling another cyclist, especially a man! But my climb wasn’t over yet; I could not claim victory quite yet.

The hill seemed to get slightly steeper at the end and I recognized this area as the spot where I’d bailed last year. “Just a little further/just a little further/just a little further” was my mantra to get over that last bit. It was all I could do to keep myself going. As I got closer to the top, I saw Randy and Michael pulling off the road to wait on me. This was just the inspiration I needed to keep moving. I couldn’t get off with my friends watching! Next thing I knew, the stress on my legs lessened and I was there. I pedaled over to join my friends where I chugged some water and attempted to catch my lungs back up to my breathing. I was so happy to have defeated that hill. Now I had no excuse for walking any hills on the remainder of the ride since I’d climbed them all last year. But I wouldn’t mind doing them better than I did last year.

There were still a few steep hills to be had. Some of which were much steeper than Liberty Road, but much shorter too. There was a set of steep ones where being in my lowest gear felt like being in my big chain ring. Again, it was a mental game of not letting myself stop. I just tuned out and integrated all my concentration on keeping my legs moving. When I got to the top of that set, Michael reminded me that last year I’d stopped at the bottom before the first one and had not moved for 15 minutes in fear of its steepness. He had had to come back down it to find me and had to coax me up it. This year, I didn’t even think twice! I just went straight up, taking my punishment as if it were the most normal thing to do. I think this really tells how I’ve come a long way.

I was feeling pretty good by the time we reached the last rest stop (at a beautiful country church). I knew I was probably going to be fine the rest of the ride. I was getting stiff and tired but I was pretty sure I could complete whatever was thrown my way. And remembering some of the hills to come, I knew it was not going to be an easy 15-20 miles.

One of the places we paced on the last stretch of the ride was my old haunt, Hidden Hollow. Not many people are aware of this, but this campground/retreat is the home of the Warren Rupp Observatory which contains a 31 scientific-grade reflector telescope. Before I become a cycling freak, which took over all my time for my other hobbies, I used to hang there with the Richland Astronomical Society and almost became a member. On dark, starry nights, it was the best place in this area of Ohio to observe the night sky and I used to take my telescope up there in the winter for a night of observing and camaraderie with other amateur astronomers. In fact, I learned of this place from an ex-boyfriend who took me there on our first date.

As we passed Hidden Hollow on bike, I reflected how much I really need to go down there again to do some observing. Perhaps I will allow myself some time in the winter. Yeah, it’s cold. But if you bundle up appropriately, you can see some great sights without the distortion a heated atmosphere brings. And the club house is heated so when you become really frozen, you can run in there to warm up and grab some coffee or hot chocolate. I had some of the best nights spent looking at the universe through the eye piece of my telescope as well as Big Blue–the affectionate name bestowed on the observatory telescope by its caretakers.

Anyway, we proceeded down Possum Run Road and turned off to another road I vaguely recognized as having stopped on the year before. Fortunately, when I stopped on it, I was able to get a picture of Michael ascending up it. This time, I just went right up it without hesitation, enjoying the beautiful appearance of the road which was lined with yellow trees like a tunnel above our heads. There were actually a few gorgeous roads like this, all of them making you earn it, but not too steep that you miss the scenery because you’re concentrating so hard. I actually love winding tree-lined climbs like these which is one of the reasons I always feel compelled to climb Columbia (even though Columbia is pretty steep). I guess in my mind, even if I’m working hard, I still have an image imprinted of what that climb looked like. Even if in just flashes in the blur of painful exertion.

The same road turned more and climbed at another spot where I remember resting last year. When I got to the crest of one of the steeper parts, Bob I and Michael were waiting beside a little farm and some cows who “mooed” hello to us several times. I took a picture as we waited for the rest of our climbing friends.

Cows, changing leaves, and the steely blue autumn sky of Ohio

TDB (blue dot) climbing hill with Maureen
(incoming XOBA director) right behind.

There were a few final hills awaiting us beyond this point, short and steep, and then we all collectively sighed relief when we again found ourselves at the bike trail that went past the lunch stop in Bellville and eventually back to the Comfort Inn where the ride started.

I really had a fantastic time. I know several of you are wondering why I would enjoy spending a chilly fall day climbing hills on a sadistic route such as this. But, hey, I wasn’t alone. And when this disease gets into your blood, there’s just no cure but to submit to it. I am really proud of myself for my performance this year; however, I even liked this ride last year despite my failures on it. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful rides Ohio has to offer–at least within driving distance for me. The unfortunate reality is that the best scenery anywhere in the world is also the steepest, hilliest and most challenging to get to. But that makes it all the better to enjoy when you’ve worked hard for it. Rides like this just give me an insatiable love for life and an inner satisfaction with myself that nothing else does.

Interestingly, my stats for this ride from last year and discovered that I also beat my average.

2008 Ride Stats:
62.78 miles
12.9 avg
36.0 max speed (I know, not very fast)

2009 Ride Stats:
68.25 miles (ah-ha! They extended the route!)
14.0 avg
36.2 (Okay, I’ll work on pedaling and tucking as I go down hill!)

I completed five more miles in the time it took me to do 62 last year. Cool! I only had a 13.3 avg (over 62.13 miles) on the Fredericksburg Library Roll which I did on September 26th of this year. To be honest, I don’t try to go fast on these hilly rides; I just aim to complete them. But it sure is nice when it turns out that I did a better job than I expected… which makes this truly a remarkable ride. Thanks, Mid-Ohio Bicyclists (the MOB as they call themselves).

Me, at the end of 68.25 hilly miles, sporting the ABC colors.


8 thoughts on “A hill is a hill is a hill

  1. Well done. Both the post and the ride, I mean. I got stuck on that hill out of Butler behind some real slow ladies who I feared would dismount and force me to stop. They stayed on but it was an excruciatingly slow climb.

  2. It really stinks when you get stuck behind people that you cant get around. That one girl who didnt know how to use her gears was behind me a lot in that one section and I was afraid to go around her too because she was swinging all over the place. As well you would be when you're trying to climb a hill in your big ring! I dont understand chicks who cant get the concept of using their gears. It seems so elementary to me. But then I've been riding geared bikes since I was 12… Sometimes these girls never rode a bike until they took spin class and they think they have to always put a lot of resistance on or something when they ride…

  3. You know the one I mean, then. You were in front of her and I was behind her. She kept listing to the left, which would have forced me out into traffic to go around her. She mostly was riding 2-abreast with her friend. So I decided to stay behind them, stay seated and just spin. I was glad when all that was finished.

  4. My status for the ride, were not as good as yours.

    67.37 miles
    Average speed 13.2mph
    Time 5:04:27
    Max Speed 34.5

    I didn't record my stats from last year, so I don't know if I improved or not.

    Last year I remember resting at one point on the last hill. I didn't rest this year. But wonder if I should have. I was really slow on the bike path on the way back in. But then again there were little kids on bikes that were weaving a bit. I am more nervous around kids on bikes on the bike path, then I am of cars on the road. Kids can be very unpredicatable. And they don't understand when you say 'Passing on your left.'

    None of the downhills were really long enough to get a good maximum speed. There are several downhills in the Cuyahoga Valley where I can reach a better maximum speed.

    I didn't think the climb on Liberty was too bad. I didn't use granny gear on that hill. But maybe I should have. I felt pretty worn out when I reached the bike path at the end of the ride.

    I did use granny gear 4 times during the ride. Fall-N-Leaf is a challenging ride. I used granny gear more on this ride than I do on Roscoe Ramble or the Marrietta River Rendevzous.

    I am glad I had a friend to bike with on this ride. I probably would have stayed home if it wasn't for him. Hard to drive 140 miles round trip to ride by oneself, when I can by myself from home and save on gasoline.

    I understand about the need to go your own pace when climbing a hill. It is frustrating and I worry about falling when I am stuck behind someone going too slow.

    And it is AWESOME to pass a guy on a hill! I got to do that several times during the ride. :-)

    I think we were lucky with the weather on Sunday. Since then the weather has gotten colder and we haven't seen much sunshine.

  5. Yeah, I cant stand riding behind kids either. They are way variable. Teenagers too. They dont know what "passing on your left" means. Actually, that's just about everyone who walks on th bike trail and some who ride on it…

    You must have gotten tired towards the end of the ride. I thought that you had said at that last rest stop that you only went into granny once or twice… So some of those last hills musta got you, what with being tired from all the other hills and all.

    Maybe you should consider getting a compact double since you dont use granny all that much. Have you ever bottomed out on your granny gear?

  6. I used granny gear once between lunch and the last rest stop. I used it 3 times after the last rest stop.

    I'm not in a market to buy a new bike any time soon. But when I do, I might get a compact double.

    I often avoid granny because I've had the chain drop when coming out it. Once this caused me to fall. So now I alway clip out my right foot when swithing back to the middle ring.

    I do fear hurting my knees by staying in the middle ring when I should have gone into granny.

    I don't know if I have bottomed out in granny.

  7. Yeah, you should consider a compact double next time you buy a buy. They have 90% of the gears you have on a triple… and since you don't use all your gears as heavily as I do (I use granny A LOT), then you're probably just wasting space on your crank by having three rings. And, you'll like this, supposedly a two-ring system is more stable. As in, the chain is less likely to pop off. It still happens, I am sure. But I think it's just less likely too. That's why all those gram-nazis go nuts over compact doubles.

    I always unclip a foot when I am moving over the left on a road where there are some cracks in the road because I took a really bad fall once where my tire got caught on the lip of the road as I moved over… That was an ambulance trip that occurred on week before the famous "dog incident." Yeah, I had two trips to the hospital one week a part. The first incident where my tire got caught on the edge of the road resulted in stitches. Ack.

    And we all know I clip a foot out often while going down a really steep hill… Though I am trying to stop doing that. I have stopped doing it when I'm comfortable with the road.

  8. Yeah, Michelle. I think a compact double would be a good idea for you. You really don't need super-low gears to get uphill very often because you don't weigh much. Compact doubles are much easier to shift; they don't drop chains like triples and you can cross-chain if you want without all that grinding.

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