"Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am vast. I contain multitudes." -Walt Whitman
Saturday, November 06, 2004
the englishman who went up a hill but came down exhausted
in an effort to thwart my body's increasingly agressive offense to turn me into the pear-shaped man, i decided i'd leave the car in the lot today and run my errands by bicycle.
what the hell was i thinking?
the wisconsin glacier retreated some 60,000 years ago, leaving behind long island, a strip of land that is relatively level on the south shore and rather hilly and jagged on the north shore. i grew up on the south shore, with its beaches and long plains. on a decent hill the surrounding land was so low you could see the empire state building 30 miles away. now i live on the north shore, where it's not uncommon to encounter two or three sizeable hills leaving the driveway.
the trip to the bank was enjoyable, riding west down little plains road (note the false sense of comfort the name implies) to broadway and then to my savings institution to conduct a financial transaction (read: make the necessary deposit so the rent check doesn't bounce). then off eastward to the library.
east of my house is a bit of a bump called cuba hill. cuba hill nearly killed me earlier this summer when i decided to bicycle to the park. today i had headed out west, thus avoiding cuba hill.
but no matter how i sliced it, the library is east of the bank, and there was cuba hill's longer, no less evil little brother waiting for me. i shifted to low gear, bent over the handlebars, and peddled up that damned hill. during which time i considered several ideas:
sisyphus had it easy.
walking might work.
i could go back, couldn't i?
how the hell does he do this?
maybe i'll die. that wouldn't be so bad, would it?
i made to the summit, and was rewarded with the coast down the other side. this should have been a relief, but by not pedalling i had the freedom of mind to focus on my heart trying to pound its way through my ribs and out of my chest. my lungs were ready to call a cab.
by the time i reached the bottom of the hill, however, cardiac arrest no longer seemed a certainty. so, idiot me, i continued on to the library. picked up the cd they were holding for me.
and headed back home. westward.
into the waiting maw of cuba hill.
now, logistically, there was no way i could've avoided a hill on the way home without a good five mile detour. i could've gone back the way i'd come, but that would've added another mile or so onto my route.
plus, being the pighead i am, i had to show that hill who was stronger.
i reached the base of the hill and, once again, bent over the handlebars and focused on pumping the pedals. the asphalt actually started to blur a bit as i ascended. i thought back to high-school cross-country, when i'd hit that wall and then go past, just to finish (usually in the bottom five). i wondered if i'd hit that wall now, and be able to climb the hill as a man/machine, pumping adreneline with a lizard-brain focus.
but i didn't hit the wall. what i did almost hit was a landscaping wagon parked on the side of the road, ramp down. i glanced up from the road and there it was. i wish i could amuse you by telling you that i rode up the ramp and crashed into the back of the wagon, but the truth is i swerved around it at the last moment. the distraction robbed me of any last remnants of athletic discipline; now i was moving on sheer stubborn pride. the top of the hill didn't seem to be getting any closer. i pushed. i cursed internally (no breath for swearing audibly).
i crested the top. from that point, i can literally coast all the way back to my doorstep.
i pulled over instead, and stopped at the curb, ten feet down the west side of cuba hill. i didn't care if i collapsed, or if i walked the bike home, or if i sat at the curb for the rest of the day. i'd beaten that stupid hill.
i sat down on the sidewalk, holding the bike against my knees, rinsing and spitting out the contents of my water bottle. looking back up the hill behind me.
eventually, i got back on the bicycle and coasted home.
i don't know about you, but some days i need those little victories.