The loneliness of the hill climbing cyclist

I love climbing.

No, I really love climbing.

OK, lets get things straight. If you’ve accidentally reached this place hoping to find a blog about climbing up rocks with ropes and crampons, you’re going to be disappointed because this is all about getting on a bike, finding a big hill and hurting yourself up it, so sorry. But read on, you might be surprised.

Also, if you’re hoping to find the tales of a prize winning climber who flickers over the pedals like a ballet dancer as the bike flies up a 1:4 mountain, you’re also going to be a little disappointed. At my stage of life (approaching 50) and enjoying my food and beer, I’m not going to be stealing any popular Strava segments away from some 8 stone whippet with a series of cat 2 wins under his belt. Sorry for that too.

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What you will find is an account of a middle aged man who riding along, loves nothing more than rolling round a corner to find a huge lump of rock with a slim strip of tarmac heading straight up it. If the tarmac has switchbacks that’s great, signs warning of treacherous conditions, brilliant. Warnings of danger and advice to take a different route, you’ve got me. And don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of offroad miles in my legs, I’ve earned my MTB and cross credentials up many a mountain. But it’s not the same. It’s good, but it’s not the same.

I’m not alone. Although actually, I am. That’s what I’m writing about. Still, lets get to the preamble. Every time I say ‘climbing’, I’m talking about cycling up a big hill on a bike.

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Climbing is something no-one ever just does. They don’t just quickly look at a big hill and decide to ride up it, then ride up it. Oh, I’m sure some people find a hill by accident occasionally or get taken up something they know nothing about by someone else, but largely, there’s some flirtation before the task is undertookClimbing requires some foreplay. It begins with some words, a picture, a reputation, a story, a legend. “this hill hurt me, it will hurt you”.

And so it begins. Like the lover who believes they can tame the wild one, every climber believes the climb can be beaten, can be brought to task. Brought round to their way of thinking. I’d not go as far as ‘dominated’, no climber owns the climb, they are simply permitted to experience the thrill, for a short while. The climb will always be there, the climb will always win. But for one leg-aching, lung-burning, heart-splitting, vision-blurring moment in time, it will belong to you. Lets talk seduction.

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eh? EH?

So you’ve found that hill. You’ve looked at pictures of it, you’ve read about it. You’ve maybe even talked to people who have climbed it. But you can’t just drive to the bottom of it and climb up it then go home. You’ve got to make a loop. And you’ll tell yourself this loop will be great and lovely and have lots of nice roads in it and maybe it will, but all you’re doing is kissing the neck of that climb. That gentle meandering along some deserted country lanes is the foot massage of the climber. What you’re doing there is preparing your loins for the main event. Get tickling because as you come round the corner, there it is. It’s rising up in front of you (the hill) and is giving you the nod.

Now at this point you may begin discussing things with your friends, you may have a chat about the hill to focus on it, or about something else to hide the fear that is burning in your stomach. Get it over with quickly though because climbing is a solitary activity. You might be surrounded by a thousand people, but grinding up that big bastard with your lungs burning and your legs aching, that’s just you and the hill.

And this is my point. You may be out on a social ride but when the climb gets tough, there’s you, the bike, the tarmac and the gradient. Everything else is nonsense. The weather, the loop, your mortgage, the football score, the state of the middle east, Katie Hopkins mental problems….it all falls away because getting to the top of that hill has just become your world. This is where the foreplay pays off. You know about this climb, you understand what it entails, you’ve heard the stories but now this is your epic.

Dig in, stare at the 3 metres in front of your wheel. And keep turning those pedals. There’s not much science ┬áinvolved to be quite frank. If it’s still going up, keep pedalling.

Find a rhythm.

Try staying sat down as long as you can, you’ll save energy.

But just keep turning those pedals.

Focus.

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If you’re doing it right you’ll find a little world where nothing else matters. You will carry on, you will not dab, you will not cry or complain. Silence will fall, the birds will stop tweeting. That annoying bloke who never stops fucking talking will just whisper away to nothing…..And the pain. Try and explain the pain to someone who doesn’t get it. You’re wasting your time. They’ll think you’re mad. How can that pain be something you want to put yourself for? For nothing more than fun? Why would someone go out, look for something that will hurt them so much they want to puke, and then ride up it? And while you’re climbing, you have to agree with them. This is insane! Your lungs are on fire, your legs feel like lead. There’s spots in your eyes, there is so much sweat on your face you can barely see.

Heh. Cyclists are funny. Soon the top will beckon. Not the false summit because those fuckers are bastards, the actual, real top. If you’re really unlucky, some smug bastard will have got there before you. Ignore them. This is your climb.

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Claim it!!!

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