Saturday, August 15, 2009


there is a road in the middle of nowhere that possesses some of the greatest difficulty, mystique, and cult respect afforded a stretch of pavement outside of the EU. it is called Letterkenny Road, and it stretches through the thoroughly unpopulated backcountry of rural ontario. it was on this road that i learned to love hills.

the way my current lifestyle has turned out, i remain tethered to my home, and am rarely able to venture beyond a 10-minute riding radius from my house. this has led required significant resourcefulness on my part as i work to map out routes with challenge, continuity, variety, and enough distance to prepare for centuries and the odd duathlon (let's not even go there). toronto is not a particularly hilly city, for that matter, but i have managed to land in a great area for small, steep hills with little traffic that i can ride to and repeat until my legs blow up completely.

the other night, some friends from days of yore came out for a hill ride in my part of town, according to my own ten-minute-tether, in preparation for a ride from vancouver to kelowna. i figured they're going to be going through the rockies or something, so loblaws would be a good place to start. to me, loblaws is the benchmark hill. it's not very long (500m or so), but it is astoundingly steep, and consistently devastating. i've never ridden it more than 6 or 7 times in a row, and i've certainly never found it less than 'very difficult'. my only saving grace, in fact, is that it ends.

so we got to the hill, flew down it, and turned around to begin the 'ascent'. it was fun, and painful, and steep. i was thoroughly impressed with my friends' performances, as they seemed to make it without much difficulty, and i started to question whether any of the pseudo-training i try to do every once in a while was actually worth anything in the long run. after a recovery lap at the 'summit' parking lot, we resolved to do it again. we chatted up the beginning of the incline, then another roadie passed us and called out encouragement and kept going. in an experimental mood, i accelerated to sit on the roadie's wheel. not wanting to be completely outdone by the team kit and viner frame, i struck up some conversation, asking him about his repeats and if he comes here often and FIFTEEN TIMES UP THE HILL was all i heard in response. the man was on his FIFTEENTH repeat of the hill that was deftly annihilating my very will to ride bikes at all, and he had the breath to talk about it. alas, i dropped off, more out of respect and despair than physical anguish (though there was that too), and slowly ground out the last few meters to the top. 

letterkenny road has one climb on it that i've only ever done twice, and both of these acts were long before i was of legal drinking, voting, or driving age. ahh, youth. the climb is called 'The Killer Hill' among members of my family, and is always referred to with a hushed tone and a moment of silence. it's never killed anyone i know physically, but it certainly has a way of divesting its challengers of their ambitions (or wills to live). the last time i climbed letterkenny, i was in high school, in the middle of the biggest ride of my life to that point, on a $300 steel department store mountain bike, equipped with very knobby continental tires and the first SPD pedals shimano ever produced. we took to the hill with the primary purpose of maxing out our speedometers on the descent, and that remains the fastest i've ever gone on two wheels. the world slows down at 56 miles per hour on a cool day in april. snowbanks stop melting, birds chirp once every three heartbeats, and friends atomize into the only static figures in an otherwise general blur. 

here's to long climbs.

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