Here in Madison, Wisconsin, mention names like Cleveland, Enchanted Valley, Blue Mounds Parkway, Garfoot, or Knight Hollow to cyclists and you'll get an all knowing look. A look that says "I feel your pain." These names essentially translate to17-18% climbs that make you look down at your cassette to see if you really are in the lowest gear. Another kicker is that you can head West of Madison and hit ten of these hills in less than fifty miles. If you're a real masochist, you may even sign up for events like the Horribly Hilly Hundreds (100,200 or 300 km) or the Darilyland Dare. I tend to shy away from these since riding next to my friends or husband and having my ass handed to me is plenty grounding enough. I don't need several thousand riders watching me blow up on a final accent.
When my husband and I moved to Madison, I can't say I was fond of hills. Two grueling hills that my junior team trained on back in Minneapolis--Ramsey and Fort Snelling--still taunt me at times in my dreams. When my coaches said it would be a hill repeat workout, I would be begging them to do pacelines or sprints instead. It wasn't until I was forced into appreciating hills that my mind shifted.
You see, my husband is a natural born climber. He's the type that doesn't have to train much and can still dance on the pedals. He'll put in less than half my miles and still out climb me...with easy breathing I might add. If I wanted to ride with him, I had to look at hills as a positive instead of a negative. I had to see their beauty--that they offer jaw dropping views, that my lungs feel enormous once on top, and of course there's the wild ride down after the hill crests that has maxed me out at 54 mph (I'm still hoping to break 55).
This past weekend, I had three days of ups and downs...literally. Not the wisest training but it sure was fun. Friday was my early morning solo ride. One that brought me gifts of hawks, wild turkey and deer. Spotting wildlife is easier when not in deep conversation. Saturday, which is supposed to be a group ride from my workplace, turned out being with just one good friend who was new to the hills yet did amazingly well. Sunday was a "date ride" with my hubby. I let him plan the route and he picked a winner. Red barns everywhere, tight valleys, 6 or 7 hard climbs, a ride by our CSA farm and smiles galore. In my head, I thanked him for easing me into this terrain many years ago.
Looking back, it took me four or five seasons to really fall in love with climbing. Now, it feels strange to go on a flat ride. My body even hurts a bit more on non undulating rides than on big climbing days. I've lost my ability to sprint and I'm sure my pace line skills are worthless. I'm okay with that. What I've gained in the process is the ability to go anywhere I wish. No longer are tight lines on a topographic map blockades. Instead there are only panoramic views and a childlike "wheeeeeee" sound coming from my lips on the way down.