Wait till you see the downhill

I always think there’s a band, kid.  – Professor Harold Hill

If you are a believer in the expression that “everything that goes up, must come down”, you might find comfort in being my riding partner.  One of the strategies that I employ to make the seemingly never-ending succession of hills tolerable is to imagine a downhill on the other side of the hill’s crest.  It just seems like “hills” should have an up and a down.  Most of what we encounter are mostly just changes in elevation in the landscape–and mostly increases in elevation.

On more than one occasion I’ve ridden next to new cyclists as we train to talk, assist, and give encouragement.  As is often the case, our rides seem to be a constant series of uphill climbs.  For those accustomed to cycling, hills are just part of experience and nothing to worry about to be afraid of.  You just shift into the proper gears and roll up.  For newbies, who are still learning the mechanics of gears and cycling, who have not yet developed leg strength or stamina, and who lack the confidence and experience to conquer one challenge after another, hills can be daunting and demoralizing at the beginning.  *But by the ends of our rides, hills are practically overlooked (pun intended)–by then, riders HAVE developed the strength, stamina, experience, and skills to overcome anything they face.  It is fun to see their growth and development.

To encourage, and in some ways to be hopeful, I try to imagine a downhill waiting for us on the other side or our current challenge.  To encourage my riding partners, I often share that expectation with them while they huff and puff up the hills.  Strangely (and consistently) enough, it seems like nearly every uphill that we tackle has another uphill waiting for us over the crest.  It is rare to actually find the hoped-for downhill waiting for us.  I’ve almost come to the conclusion that my riding partners don’t believe my words of encouragement, but they will share the hopefulness with me.

The ride from the edge of Abilene near campus to Albany, Texas is a good one for training.  It is hilly, about 30 miles, and works well with winds from the south or southwest.  When winds are more from the west, we often ride from Abilene to Cross Plains, Texas (40 miles).  Strong winds from the north are a good invitation to a ride south to Ballinger, Texas (50 miles).  All three of those rides are good ones for hills and distance.  They are known entities and I am familiar enough with the terrain to help guide teams of new cyclists.  There are frequent downhills, but the work comes on the uphills–which come frequently and in succession.

The known terrain of our training rides gives way to the unknown on our big cycling adventures.  We’ve had some overlap on roads across several of our rides because we’ve gone through Abilene on each journey.  The real adventures begin as we leave the known roads for the unknown.

As we continue our rides into new and unfamiliar lands, I am going to keep hoping and looking for the series of consecutive long downhills that match the uphills that we’ve ridden over the years.  I am going to keep hoping that it will be over the next crest.  Probably not.

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