San Diego is riddled with so many hills, it’s borderline ridiculous. Biking is my weakness, and I had many bad rides after first moving here. Plus, the roads don’t go in straight lines and many deep canyons separate them, making exploring new routes without checking a map first somewhat risky. I learned very quickly to never leave home without a cell phone. There were several rides where I got hopelessly lost, bonked and had no hope of making it home, requiring the “call of shame” to a friend for a ride.
I hated hills, especially the dreadaed Torrey Pines hill, which I seemed to be confronted with on every ride, no matter where I went. Although only about 1.5 miles long and not especially steep, it got me every time. Sometimes, I just wanted an easy, flat recovery ride, and my arch nemesis would raise her ugly head at the end of ride to punish my tired legs, appearing seemingly out of nowhere. I cursed her but that only made her angry. I fought the battle every time, my legs screaming in pain, my lungs burning, my cadence agonizingly slow as I struggled. To make matters worse, other cyclists flew past me effortlessly as I toiled in agony. I was shamed and humiliated, brought to my knees by a little hill. I complained about it to my non-cyclist friend from L.A., who callously commented, “It doesn’t seem that bad,” as we drove up it on the way home from the beach one evening, my ears popping on the way up in the car. I fought the urge to tie her to my bike, drop her off at the bottom, wave goodbye, and say, “See you at the top”.
Over time, the hill became mentally less challenging. Being confronted with it on a daily basis like the playground bully stealing your lunch money, took the mystique out of my fearsome enemy, who seemed to be actually shrinking. She seemed smaller somehow. Panic didn’t well within me, and I no longer tensed as I approached the bottom. I had reached a stage of acceptance; I was going to be confronted with this bully of a hill on every ride so I might as well get over my fear of riding up it and just get up it and over with already.
After that, we made a truce. Now, the Torrey Pines hill and I are friends. I go up and down her repeatedly. I even do the inside road, by the park because it’s steeper (and offers spectacular views of the ocean). I eagerly look forward to the pain and suffering of going up the hill as fast and hard as I can; I know it will make me stronger in the long run. Now when I climb, I look forward to the shift in my inner focus. There is no room for other random thoughts. I have to focus. I focus on my breathing, my cadence, staying relaxed, maintaining an even pedal stroke. My mind is occupied with only the here and now. There is nothing else, only the hill and me. Nothing else matters but reaching the top. My legs pump like pistons as the bike crawls upwards slowly; I alternate between seated and standing. Upon reaching the top, I am rewarded with an expansive view of the Pacific, so breathtaking it’s almost obsence. The sun’s rays play with the surface of the rippling ocean, littering it with a million twinkling jewels. I love doing the hill repeats in the evening so I can catch the spectacular melting of the fiery sun into the cool, blue waters. I gape in awe and have almost crashed several times with other cyclists mesmerized by the enchanting sight, who have equally forgotten to look where they are going.
Who is your arch nemesis, and have you made friends with her yet?