Big Wheels and Big Hills

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Summer mornings on our neighborhood in Upstate New York during the 1980s were quiet—until eight o’clock  At that hour—designated by the parents to be  late enough to ‘start the engines’— the garage doors on almost every house opened one by one. A fleet of children, all sitting low on seats of their Big Wheels, flew down their driveways and began circling the ‘track’ that surrounded the grassy knoll in the middle of the cul-de-sac The Daily Devon Court 500 was officially in session.

Biking had been part of  life since I was a child. I spent hours riding a second-hand three speed on rolling hills past apple orchards and Lake Champlain beaches  Larry and I pedaled through the back roads of Albany County, me on that ancient three speed and Larry on the bike he had ridden to deliver newspapers in Saratoga Springs. Once our children graduated from Big Wheels to two-wheelers, the four of us took family outings on the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Trail.

When we turned forty, Larry and I traded in our relics for lighter, more efficient ten speeds. Larry had to give up competitive running in 1996 due to an injury, and he began biking more frequently. He encouraged me to join him, and we pedaled our way around Southern Saratoga County.

Cycling became a social event.  For a couple of years, a group from Congregation Beth Shalom met on Sunday mornings in the synagogue parking lot for a ten to fifteen mile circuit. Larry and I were enjoying our biking.

And the length of our rides together increased: twenty miles, thirty miles at a clip. As a members of the Mohawk Hudson Wheelmen, we participated with several other riders in metric half centuries, one in which I rode the sixty-two miles in honor of my sixty-second birthday. Larry completed a hundred miler with a more hardy friend.

Despite all my biking, I never was totally comfortable on hills. While Larry gleefully viewed them as a challenge, I dreaded every long, steep incline. I usually made it with a great deal of effort. Once in a while, however, I had to resort to getting off the bike and pushing it to the top.

My fear of hills prevented me from taking advantage of all the all the biking trails near Julie and Sam’s home in Summit County, Larry had taken some rides with Sam, but I bowed out. On our visit in July 2012, however, I had several months of biking long distances in New York under my belt. Larry and I finally took Sam up on his offer to join him for what Sam billed as an easy, fairly flat twenty mile ride around Dillion Lake

“There is a little incline at the beginning of the trip,” Sam explained while we adjusted our seat height on our rentals and snapped on our helmets, “but I am sure you two can handle it.”

As Sam had promised, the first four miles on the bike trail, were flat and straight. Then we arrived at the bottom of Swan Mountain. I craned my neck to view the bike lane that ran along a fairly busy two lane highway. The summit appeared to me to be five miles away,

“Sam, this is not a little incline,” I said. “This is a mountain! How long is it?  And what is the increase in elevation?”

“We go from 9100 to 10200 feet, an 11,00 foot ascent over about a mile,” Sam conceded. “I promise we’ll take it slow.”

Within one half mile, I was huffing and puffing. And sweating. My shirt was stuck to my back; under my helmet, my hair was glued to my head; my socks were drenched. I even had sweat running out of my ear canals.

“I can’t do it,” I yelled to Larry and Sam, who were riding with little effort 200 yards in front of me. “I’m going to walk the rest of the way. I will meet you at the summit.”

“Are you sure?” Larry asked. They barely waited for breathless “Yes!” before they pedaled off and left me to push my bike to the top.

Fifteen minutes later, I met up with Larry and Sam at the Sapphire Point Overlook.

“I made it!” I said to Sam. “It’s all downhill from here!”

Then I took a look down the trail. Whatever goes up must come down, but this down was a steep descent on a narrow, serpentine bike path crowded with other cyclists

“What the heck, Sam?” I exclaimed. “I thought climbing up was bad, but I can’t handle going down this obstacle course!”

“Sorry, Marilyn, but it’s the only way back to our house without adding another ten miles,” said Sam. “Just take it slow.”

“Don’t worry!” said Larry. “I’ll be right behind you.”

Larry’s ‘right-behind-you’ promise lasted an even shorter time than Sam’s ‘we’ll-take-it-slow’ promise. Terrified and white knuckled, I kept hitting my brakes. Larry couldn’t bike slowly enough to follow behind and had to go ahead. I prayed all the way down to the bottom, where I caught up with Larry and Sam for the second time that day.

The remaining miles were less dramatic. And, by the end of our vacation, I had actually forgiven Sam.

Since my bike ride from hell, however, I haven’t attempted a repeat in Colorado.These days, I love riding through my mountain-free community in Florida—elevation in the Orlando area peaks out at eighty-two feet above sea level. Big hills—like Devon Court’s Big Wheels—are in my rear view mirror. And that is fine with me.

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