Monday, November 16, 2009

A Perfect Day on the Hill of Death

Yesterday was a perfect day for riding.  The sun was shining, the air was warm and there was that crisp warm smell/feeling to the air that can only be described as “autumn.”  We decided to head down the road to ride near the golf course, despite the fact that it has been awhile since we have ridden on the road and there is a killer hill on the way home.  It was warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt and the sun felt wonderful on my arms and face.  We start out slowly up a small hill, cut behind the gas station and then were whizzing down the hill towards the gold course community—this hill is much more fun in this direction.  I had recently put a mirror on my helmet and spend as much time adjusting it and looking back as I did watching where I was going.

We turn into the neighborhood which has wide streets and even a bike lane for at least half its length.  The houses are stunning, the golf course beautiful and there are always plenty of people out walking and running.  Near the end of the road there is a relatively easy hill, but today it leaves us both puffing for air.  Funny (in a sad, pathetic way) how quickly the body reverts to sloth mode.  A couple weeks hanging out on the couch rewatching the entire “Sex and the City” series is all it takes to turn my lungs into wimps.  My legs feel fine, but my lungs are struggling. 

We reach the end of the road where we normally turn around and head home and take a few minutes to discuss doing that or heading a little further down the crossroad to see if we can make it to this wonderful French bakery.  We aren’t planning on eating anything, but want to see how far it is for the future—it’s in the plans to take a jaunt down here on a weekend for some brunch.  We decide to go for it because it doesn’t seem much further.  So we push off and sure enough it’s not even 2 minutes further down the road.  This is now a definite plan for the future.  I’m thrilled with the idea of riding my bike somewhere that I might normally drive. 

As we go to pull out of the parking lot I notice a coworker pulling in, so we turn around and spend a few minutes chatting.  This, by the way, is the best way to meet your coworker's family—covered in sweat and wearing a bike helmet.  I highly recommend it. 

We decide to use the sidewalk (gasp) to get back to the golf course street so we can avoid crossing a busy 4 lane road twice in half a mile.  Of course no sooner do we begin our breach of biking etiquette than two pedestrians (who actually belong on the sidewalk) step out in front of us with their dog. Becca starts muttering about “this is why bikes aren’t supposed to be on the sidewalk” or some such and we slow down to coast a good ways behind the couple instead of passing and annoying the crap out of them.  Fortunately they notice us on their own and were gracious enough to step off the sidewalk and let us go by.  We thank them and hurry on our way. 

The ride through the neighborhood is easygoing and fun and the day still feels perfect.  About halfway down the street my nerves start to kick in regarding the monstrous hill coming up.  I think Becca calls it the devil hill or hill of death or something, but she can usually plug her way up it without looking like she is gonna die.  We try to get some momentum going and Becca rides right on my wheel yelling encouragements and cheering me on.  How she does all this yelling and still is able to breathe I don’t know.  I crawl my way towards the railroad tracks which marks the end of the most difficult part of the hill.  As we cross them I take a brief second to coast about 5 feet which feels wonderful.  Then it’s a slow measured pace for another hundred yards or so to our habitual resting area so I can catch my breath. 

We pull off and I’m feeling pretty good except for puffing and wheezing.  My legs don’t hurt and I think I can just drink a little water and go on.  But the longer we stand there the more I start to feel distinctly not ok.  Within a minute my head is whirling and I am so dizzy I can’t stand.  I sit down trying to get my head to stop reeling. After a few minutes I stand back up which is a mistake. Now I feel nauseous.  I kneel back down thinking I am actually going to throw up, head still spinning.  Becca waits nearby asking every couple of minutes if I am ok.  She suggests we start walking.  So we walk a few hundred feet up the sidewalk in which time my head does not feel any better.  I figure I might as well ride if I am gonna feel so shitty.  So we hop on and I start out very very slowly.  I almost cannot remain upright on my bike.  My brain is trying to figure out why I feel like this but all I can think about is how my head is spinning.  I stare at the road in front of my wheel trying to just push on through the dizziness and nausea.  Finally I pull over and collapse on the ground again.  At this point I’m thinking I would feel better if I DID throw up.  Becca pulls off and asks what is going on.  I’m irritated that she is irritated so I tell her to just go home without me -- which of course I don’t mean, and am very glad when she ignores my suggestion.  After about 5-7 minutes of lying flat out I start to feel better.  I get back on the bike and head home and it takes maybe only 5 more minutes to get there.  I feel ok by this point, until I have to heave my bike up to the 2nd floor.  Then it all comes back and I just collapse on the bed under the fan for 5 minutes.  The only thing that spurs me to move is that the Steelers game is on in 40 minutes and I have to shower and meet a friend to watch it. 

It was basically one of the most wonderful and awful bike rides I have ever been on all at the same time.    Sometimes when I have a bad day like this, it's easy to think about chucking my bike off the nearest bridge, or accidentally leaving it on the train tracks.  It's easy to kick myself and think about how I should have been riding everyday and this might not happen, or let myself focus on how from from my goals I am.  I can't always ignore those negative thoughts.  Usually, though I try to think about the fact that a year ago I was always sitting on my fat ass and watching tv, that I wouldn't have even attempted the hill of death.  I try to remember that it wasn't so long ago that I could barely WALK up the hill of death.  I think about the fact that my legs actually didn't feel bad at all during the ride and that when I started my legs would cramp after a few short miles.  And then I try to think about what I am trying to do, the goals I have made for myself, and the distance I have come so far.  I would rather fail on this hill of death a  thousand times, than be in the place I was at this time last year.   At least I'm trying now.  And sometimes it takes a rough day to make the triumphs more valuable. 

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