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Hills with (almost) pleasure

Today's 50-mile ride took me someplace I'd never been on a bicycle: to the summit of Sierra Road just outside San Jose, about 2,030 feet high above Silicon Valley. I took the "easier" route to the top up the backside, unlike the Tour of California cyclists who climb the massively brutal Sierra Road directly to the top on a steady 3-mile grade of more than 10%. But "easier" is all relative here; I still had to gain all that elevation in just a few miles, and once up there, a series of rolling hills kept me on my toes.

It was difficult ... and even mildly painful at times. But I didn't end up in a foul mood, like I do on so many other hilly rides. Why not? I didn't do any special nutrition tricks today; moreover, the ride wasn't really long enough to cause issues -- I reached the summit only about 27 miles into my day. The temperature was warm to slightly hot in places; much of the climb was exposed to the autumn sun. And the hills were sufficiently steep that I had to take several breaks just to keep my pounding heart under control. (Who knew ... mine can still thump at 183 bpm!)

But there was an important difference today. I was by myself.

This isn't about being antisocial. But many of us are inherently competitive, and this spirit can easily manifest itself even on a recreational or group ride. With nobody in front of or behind me, I could climb at my own pace, stop when I wanted, and not worry about what anyone else would see or think. In fact, early in the ride before the climbing began in earnest, another cyclist passed me on Tasman Drive, and I instinctively sped up to keep pace with him until it was clear that he was far faster.

On my entire climb up Calaveras and Felter roads today (and back down Sierra), not a single cyclist passed me, nor did I pass any other cyclists, a total distance of about 12 miles -- perhaps a positive side effect of my relatively late 10 a.m. start from Mountain View. (Several were traveling in the opposite direction, so I wasn't out there all alone.)

In my years with AIDS/LifeCycle, I seem to have developed a reputation as a "fast" rider -- a reputation I can sometimes uphold on flat to gently rolling terrain. But when the hills get steep, it's another story, and more than once I've burned myself out trying to maintain a pace that just isn't right for me. The time limits on the ride and during many training rides -- sunset, if nothing else -- impose a deadline on me, and my style when given a deadline is usually to be ahead of deadline as much as possible. (Oh, those years in the newspaper business.)

But unless you're on a timed ride where the deadlines are near the limits of your performance, there's often little need to stress out over them. And, just as important, there's no need to stress out over what others think of your pace or abilities. (It's also a lot easier to say this than it is to practice this.)

Whenever possible, try to make every ride your own.

Photo: Sierra Road winding through the hills, about 2,000 feet above San Jose (in the haze at the bottom).