Column: A Saturday filled with hills
From time to time I like to write about riding my bike. It's possible you've noticed.
Usually when I do this it's to talk about the difficulty of some upcoming ride I have foolishly planned. This is a common tactic in sporting activities. It's like the football coach who talks up an inferior opponent to keep his team from becoming complacent. For example: "We definitely can't look past next weekend's game against the Gophers. We're going to prepare just like we do for every other game here at the University of North Dakota."
Besides, its easier to say funny things when you're being falsely modest. Once you've written something like, "I'm going to go out next weekend and do an easy 100-mile loop," there's really nowhere else to go. One time I tried to follow that up Terrell Owens-style by doing push-ups in my driveway, but nobody seemed all that interested. I guess they're less impressive when you do them on your knees.
I bring this all up because last weekend I took part in a bike ride about which I can't possibly be falsely modest. It was a ride hard enough that I started to consider quitting about the time I hit the halfway point, and at which I never actually did see the finish line. It was a ride, you might say, that kicked my butt. I might actually say it a different way, but I'm trying to be polite.
The ride is called the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, which some might have considered an ominous sign right from the beginning. It consisted of a 124-mile course that took in an estimated 10,700 feet of climbing. That's more than two miles straight up.
Add in the fact the thing took place in Wisconsin and the whole thing pretty much screamed, "Stay away!"
There were bad omens almost from the beginning. We were less than a mile into the ride, on the way down the first big hill, when my dad's back tire blew out with an audible hiss.
A flat tire at the start of a long ride is never a good thing, but it could be dealt with. The second flat tire was just bad luck. And the third was a little annoying. By the time we got to the fifth flat in the first mile and a half, we maybe should have figured something was up, but we were stubborn. On the day before Father's Day, my brother and I sent our dad back up the hill to look for help and pushed on. He eventually found a new tire and set off on his own.
Things didn't really get better from there. The next hundred miles or so involved a wrong turn that took me close to 10 miles out of my way, another missed turn that added about 12 miles to my brother's route and hill upon leg-straining hill. Tour de France riders get cheering crowds to urge them on. We got an overweight, shirtless guy holding a beer can and a couple of women in tutus who were there to advertise a separate, potentially even harder ride. By about mile 70 I was so worn out I actually thought it was a good idea to accept pills from a stranger. He swore they were sodium and potassium to help restore my weary body, but I'm watching closely for any unusual growths.
I took a few shortcuts along the way. By the time I reached the bottom of the final climb -- the biggest of the day -- I'd ridden about 105 of the 124 miles on the route. I'd gone up roughly 7,000 vertical feet. It was good enough for me. I sat down to wait for a ride.
When my dad finally showed up I got in the car and we headed back to the hotel.
Then we ran out of gas.