“It’s not often we get to accomplish something new,” Jeff said, “especially as we grow older.”
It was dark now, and we were riding by headlight and talking about why we cycle as we ascended Wykham Road, the climb after the climb that ripped my guts out.
The Paddy Hollow climb is only 6/10 of a mile long, but the average grade is 11%. The dirt section though, screams to an insane 40% in three places. After the first such wall, you get 100 yards that’s only a 20% grade to recover in. Then there’s another 40% bump followed by another 20% recovery section that is no wider than a water bar. The final 40 percenter is followed by pavement at about 10%, which shallows out to 3% closer to the cemetery at the top.
I’d never made it up Paddy Hollow without putting down a foot. I’d often walked parts. Last night, I didn’t set out thinking I’d make it up.
The first wall is at the bottom. I got up that just fine. Jeff and Jay, both good climbers, were still in sight. Thinking about stopping for a breather where a drainage chute created a shallower grade to start pedaling from again, I thought, No, you can keep going. Maybe take a break at the bottom of the next wall.
But there, I glimpsed Jeff’s orange helmet before he rounded the corner.
Fuck it. Your legs still work. Let’s see how far you can get.
The burn in my quads and calves had begun on the first wall. Now, stretching out over the bars to keep the front wheel down sent pain through my back. No nausea yet though. Approaching the top of the second wall my legs barely had power to turn the cranks. The bike wobbled toward the verge, but I corrected, staying on the outside of the curve where the grade is a little shallower. Standing on the pedals got me to the water bar.
The water bar. You made it to the water bar. You’ve never gotten this far before.
My brain was fuzzy, consumed by keeping the bike pointed the right way while its reptile id fought my Calvinist ego.
You can stop here. Breathe a minute, let the pain go.
You made it this far. You’ve got to try. Try motherfucker, try.
John Calvin wouldn’t have approved of my language, but he won the day.
I turned the cranks as the grade rose to the cyclist’s equivalent of a cliff. My torso almost touched the bars; my face overhung the front wheel like the prow of a sailing ship. Pain radiated through my lower back. My abs felt like they were at the tail end of 100 crunches. My biceps, my fucking biceps on a bike ride, hurt from pulling against the bars to anchor my pedal strokes.
My quads passed from painful to barely functioning.
Dude, you’re halfway up the last pitch. Do not quit.
But the quads didn’t have another half a crank in them. Strength ebbed and weakness flooded in.
Out of the saddle, motherfucker. Stand up. Maybe you’ll puke, but maybe you won’t.
Standing found strength that hadn’t been there seated. I turned the cranks. Once. Twice. The rear tire slipped. Shifting my hips slightly back regained traction. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down.
Queue the Everly Brothers: Here comes that puking feeling.
Ten feet. You cannot stop ten feet from the pavement.
Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down.
Holy shit, motherfucker. You made it up Paddy Hollow.
A 10% grade was never more welcome. The nausea receded, but reptile-me still wanted to stop. Godzilla was beaten though. Slowly, disbelievingly, I spun the pedals. The pain eased. The grade dropped and I increased cadence and gearing.
Jay and Jeff waited at the top.
Feeling hollow and light, maybe a little let down by how easy the last few hundred feet were, I said to them, “I need a minute. I just cleaned Paddy Hollow.”