The climb out of bed is the hardest part…
“Oh piss off”, I say as I turn my alarm off, and go back to sleep. Luckily ‘night-before Me’ is smarter than ‘morning-of Me’ and another alarm goes off two minutes later. It’s 4:30am. I turn it off quickly, trying to avoid getting sworn at by my wife for making noise. I wasn’t quick enough. This is just a normal day, with a quick ride before work…
Stumble down the hallway, and thank night-before Me for making a triple espresso, then leaving it on the bench to drink cold. I drink that whilst checking social media, and allow the caffeine to take effect.
All of my riding kit is sitting by the front door, waiting very patiently. In the soft glow of my phone torch I put it on, trying desperately not to wake the kids. Goddam it can be so bloody cold in the mornings. I debate long and hard about how much kit is too much to be wearing. Too much, I’m too hot on the climbs. Too little and bloody hell it will be cold to start off, not to mention descending. I don’t know why I debate it, I always take the ‘too much’ option. Being too hot, you can always unzip something. Too cold sucks, there’s nothing you can do.
Out the door, make sure I close it quietly. Lights on, Garmin on, swing a leg over the saddle, and off down the street. Even with the extra layer its always bloody cold to start. I’m by myself, but when riding at 5am you will find that company is harder to come by. I don’t mind.
If it’s a weekday then it’s tradies that you see getting about at this hour. If it’s a weekend, then it’s taxis. Today is was the proud possession of an self respecting tradesman – the Hilux – that was my companion. Even then there isn’t a lot of traffic, so riding the main road to get to the climb I want isn’t an issue. It’s dark as all hell so there isn’t a lot to do but stare at the circle of light in front of you and turn your legs over, waiting to get warmer. A couple of traffic lights come and go, a couple of pot holes come and go, and then all of a sudden, I’m on the climb.
Everything changes now. I’m no longer thinking about the temperature and there are even fewer cars about. It’s still black, and I’m still staring at a circle of light on the road in front of me, but there is a hill to lean into now, and I love this shit. No hiding, no rolling through, no rest.
I know what’s coming. There is a 20% ramp ahead, so I hold back and keep my legs cool. Stay seated, turn your legs over steadily, don’t push yet. The road dips through a bend and then rears up like a snake, ready to attack. Now is the time to drop all of your gears and stand – I have little choice. Shoulders relaxed, grip light, gently rocking the bike as I climb, the hill is steep, and I am strong.
I reach the top, but that was just the warm up. Even a ramp that steep still isn’t the crux of today’s climb. I relax and recover across a flat section, ready for the big one. Another ramp of 20%, this time longer. The whole time I’m riding towards it, forcing my legs to turn quickly, holding nothing back, even though I know what I am about to face. No shying away from the effort, no-one is here, I will win nothing, but I refuse to be afraid of the hill.
OMFG, how is this so steep? Click of the levers, but I’m already in bottom gear. Click again, just in case I somehow missed the bottom gear on the last two clicks. Nope. This is all I’ve got, stand up, lean into it, pedal. I can’t see the top, and start to believe there is no top. It’s dark, it’s cold, my lights show only a small patch of road in front of me, and I’m standing on the pedals, gently rocking the bike back and forth. My breath is the only noise I can hear, and it is getting fairly loud. Sweat pours off of my brow and drips down the inside of my glasses. This hill is now my whole reality, pushing so hard, I can’t think of anything else: the bitumen in front of me, the sweat dripping off of my face, my gasping breath, and the stem of my bike.
“This it. I live here now. This hill is the entirety of my life. I am one with the hill now.”
Then I can see it. The top of the climb draws near. It’s right at the edge of my sight, but I can see it. There’s nothing left in the tank, I’m giving all I’ve got to give. It doesn’t seem to be getting any closer, but I know it is. Left….. Right….. Left….. Right. My cadence more closely resembles a track stand than actual progress. The finish is so close, why can ‘t this hell stop?
And I am there. The top. It feels like I’ve aged a decade as I blow hard to try to make gains on the oxygen debt I created. In reality it was a few minutes. There are a few rolling little pinches to go, but they are nothing in comparison, the back of the climb is broken. As if to reward my efforts, the sun starts to think about coming up too, and I can start to see further than the circle of light in front of me.
The rolling hills come and go, little pinches, but I can get there. Sometimes in the saddle, out of the saddle on others, but the back is broken, and I reach the turn around for the descent. It’s light enough to see now. My legs are recovered from the steep section, and I’m ready to fly. Point the nose down, and hit it as hard as I can. No let up through the turns, no brakes needed, push, push, push, get low and go fast. The descent is the reward for the efforts to make it to the top. The long, sweeping bends come and go, the conditions are perfect, and I fly down the hill in record time.
There are other people starting to wake up and make their way up the climb now. I smile. It always makes you feel better to be the first one out on the ride. It’s so much more badass to know that you are killing yourself whilst everyone else is sleeping. Especially so when you are flying past them at blinding speed on your way down hill.
Back into traffic now and it’s a lot heavier than when I started. No bother, it’s still downhill to home, so I race the cars between lights. A couple of turns through backstreets, and I am home. In the front door, and my kids are waiting – it’s time to get them ready for school. This is just a normal day, with a quick ride before work…
More from David Edwards can be found at his regular clearing-house of thoughts and musings relating to cycling at With All I Have.
Oh, and… Merry Christmas!
Header image: The Sticky Bidon