That hill was a journey in itself.
I remember seeing it for the first time. As we’d inched our way up an incline tailing the dozen before, this unassuming beast had risen from the crest of our latest achievement. My friend, pushing ahead, released an exasperated groan. I would soon echo it as I gawked at the climb ahead of us.
It was a country road. To a car the stretch would have been an effortless task—full of fresh country air and sweet sunshine—but for us each breathless push of the pedals led to a cycle that grew heavier. It was like winding up a spring. I glanced at my tires to make sure I hadn’t caught something in the brakes or chain, which could be adding friction. It couldn’t be me could it? I didn’t feel tired. Where was the weight coming from? Was this the reality between physical strength and will?
Before going on this trip with my closest friend, who’d flown across the ocean to come see me, I’d written an article about an author who thought mindfulness is best achieved on the bicycle. Ben Irvine, who’d written Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling, had said it’s is a great way to let go of our thoughts and simply live in the moment.
I can’t help but contemplate the truth of this as I sit here snuggled at home writing about the experience. Despite my tired state at the time, it seems I picked up and managed to tuck away so much from the moment.
We were almost 100 km into our 142 km trip from Norwich to Wells-Next-The-Sea to Kings Lynn. While we’d intended to follow National Cycle Network Route 1 straight east to Burnham Market we’d somehow missed all the routes and instead found ourselves far south and back in Fakenham. We’d had to cycle north once more through South Creake and North Creake.
As we travelled deep into the countryside the toll of the previous day’s journey and the unintentional 32 km detour was hitting home.
Life’s an Uphill Battle
My ass was rimmed with fire from the seams of my jeans and the seat rubbing against the skin. Sitting unleashed lances of pain but I couldn’t muster the energy to push up on the pedals and stand.
“I’m ready to get off and walk,” my friend mumbled through deep breathes. Her bike wobbled.
“C’mon that would be slower,” I weakly threw back and tossed some ego energy into the pedalling.
There comes a time when competitive spirit kicks in to provide a necessary boost. My friend was tired. I’d be the one to pull us through. It was an honour I wasn’t about to back down from.
“Almost there. Almost there,” I said as I kicked passed her. I was exhausted but I’d be damned if I’d let it show. We pushed. We climbed. We breathed. We pushed. We climbed.
After what seemed an eternity of staring at pavement, the concrete finally met the sky.
Victory is Reaching the Peak
“The top!” I shouted.
When I reached it the world opened up. Cracking a smile I glanced around. A chuckle swirled up my throat as I took in my surroundings. It certainly wasn’t the largest hill on the map. Heck it probably wouldn’t even register as a foothill. More like a bump.
But the view, oh the expanse of sight beyond our new perch and I was gleefully eyeing the long easy stretch of road we’d be whirling down soon.
The fields were as flat as the light, melting into a haze as fog blanketed the distant horizon. A group of trees loomed beside us where the forest stretched up to the road.
A car was coming up. It crawled past us and rolled down the way we’d come. In the distance a tractor was speeding along the road following the car’s path. Its small form began to grow as it drew closer.
“Let’s get out of its way and then ride down,” I suggested, lifting my bike up on the grassy bank.
“It’s going to take it forever to get up here though,” my friend replied.
“… I think it turned off?”
“Really?” I stretched my neck to peer down the hill. “No, I think… Oh wait, yeah there it goes in the trees.”
The sound of the stuttering engine began to fade.
“You can go first. I suggest going as fast as possible to get up that next hill,” I nodded at the smaller hill at the foot of our own. She was much better at keeping momentum so I’d only block her if I went ahead.
She rolled forward. Then gravity grasped her and she fled from my mind. Seconds passed and I was alone watching a blue form recede into the distance.
Queen of the Hill
I looked back down the side we’d crawled up.
Hills have been granted a rather special place in our perspective on life’s events. The whole “life is an uphill battle” story has been retold since the dawn of the storytelling tradition. There’s always a warning too. Once you reach the top, you are vulnerable to descending again. It’s curious that travelling back down the hill of life is never considered good.
The slippery slope into addiction, the fall from greatness… the sayings go on.
I’d think that climbing a mountain and travelling back down to be greeted by a bowl of steaming soup and mouth-watering hot chocolate would be the real triumph.
Is coming home from a long day at work considered the peak or the down slope in today’s productivity-obsessed world? Are we most satisfied by the job of the day or the soothing bath that comes after?
Time To Fall
Apparently Nelson Mandela once said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
I was sitting atop the dragon’s head and staring down at a rolling body of slopes and dips. It wouldn’t be easy. I knew that.
But as German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, once said, “Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.”
Cracking a grin, I kicked off. My tires began to spin. The grinding texture of the pavement began to blend into the flash of movement. My fingers tightened around the handlebars, my arms locked as I lifted myself to hover over the seat in the growing breeze. In that moment I saw the road, the fields, the sky, the grass, my bike and myself. The scent of moist foliage and the whirl of my tires crept into my senses. I was melded to my bike. We were one unit traversing the planes of time and space together. Crushing forward through a sea of air and light. My grin bloomed into a smile as laughter erupted from my mouth.
Moments later the speed began to bleed away but I started to kick my pedals. I pressed hard, keeping up speed to hit the next hill with everything I’d gathered.
The challenges ahead were suddenly thrilling opportunities.
My body buzzed with excitement. I could already feel the thrill of the peak and the joy of the next descent.