I remember when I first moved here out to Mt. Hamilton road and saw the weekend and daily bicyclists heading up the hill, most on their way to Lick Observatory. They ranged from the relatively young to the very old, and I thought to myself: those are people in superhuman shape, to ride 40 miles round trip from an elevation of perhaps 300 feet up to 1600, back down to 600, then up to 4300 and repeating the whole thing in reverse. Superhuman shape.
I was right. Dear god, I was right.
Last Monday I bought a 21-speed Specialized Hard Rock mountain bike, about 14 years old and not the prettiest thing in the world but in pretty good mechanical condition. I’d ridden a bike about once in the last decade, but I’ve spent an hour most days on a stationary bike in an air-conditioned gym for the last few months, so it’s practically the same thing, right? Right?
Maybe not quite.
First I went up Mount Hamilton, which is a ludicrously scenic twisty two-lane highway with an average eight-degree grade, and this is, indeed, a pretty good way to get some exercise: go uphill until you’ve reached your goal, then turn around and cool off and air dry on the thrillingly effortless coast back down.
Today, my goal turned out to be about ten minutes uphill, because my seat is, in technical terms, maladjusted and what us bicyclists like to call “a pain in the ass”. In non-technical terms, it felt like somebody was trying to rape my butt with a bicycle seat.
I was having such a good time on the way back down, however, that when I got back to Rose View drive, I foolishly said to myself that I should just ride all the way to the bottom of the hill (1.8 miles and about 630 vertical feet) and see how long it would take me to get back up. I think, basically, I was just really enjoying the terrifying slalom and didn’t want to stop.
I did enjoy it, too, tremendously, watching the valley lit golden in the evening sun, even though in the back of my mind I knew I was going to pay for it.
Here’s the thing: I can’t make it back up the mountain. Well, I can, but not in one go. I had to get off and walk my bike an embarrassing number of times. Partly this is because I haven’t ridden a bike in so long, and never one with so many gears; I learned several things about gear selection on the way back up that would have made things a bit easier. That damned seat didn’t do me any favors either, but in the end saliva was dripping from my lips and my mouth was full of sand and I felt just a little light-headed, so I’m not kidding myself: riding up a mountain on a bike is hard work and it’s going to take me a week or two to even do the little stretch I have to do in order to commute with any kind of panache.
It’s not all bad, though: that walk takes me 45 minutes, and on my bike I made it in 25, although a good bit worse for wear than I’d have been on foot.