Cycling is catching on around here, but I like to think I was first. Eight years ago, I bought a hybrid bicycle and hit the trails around the Pittsburgh area. I’d ride the Montour Trail, Great Allegheny Passage, the trail at Moraine State Park and the loop around North Park lake.
I would alternate between them based on how I was feeling that day. The GAP was for special occasions – when I had a full day to drive to the trailhead and ride a good 50. The Montour was for shorter days and those bright June mornings when the wildflowers were in bloom. Moraine was for the hottest days, when the tree-lined trail would provide shade the whole way. And when I wanted a relaxing, easy ride with no sweat, I would go to North Park.
The loop around the lake is five miles, and there were days I would go around five or six times. It was an almost effortless 30 miles. Driving home, I would open all the windows and reflect on the ride the way we all do after a task is completed. My mental picture was of me, on my bike, pedaling through a flat oval.
“What’s the trail at North Park like?” my beginner-cyclist friends would ask.
“Pretty flat and easy,” I would say.
It is neither.
I’ve been riding the North Park loop the past few weeks, and I’m feeling the gravity. The loop along the whole back side of the lake is an uphill grade, climbing and climbing until things finally level off at the front of the lake before starting the tilt again.
How can it be the bike route that, for years, was my go-to easy ride was suddenly ramped up? I know crews were doing work in and around the lake for a couple years, but would they really have tilted the whole thing like that? Or built hills into the pavement?
I wish it were so.
Of course, the fact is I’ve reached the point where I notice the hills. The gently climbing stretches that, in 2009, flattened out to meet me are now refusing to budge. In another five years, I may have to get off my bike and walk up that part.
No, not really.
But isn’t it funny how age sort of creeps in? The map of the world that, for so long was smooth and flat, now appears in bas relief, a 3-D challenge.
It’s not that I feel too old to ride, and it’s not that I even feel that tired after my rides. I just feel the hills more now.
Never one to be outdone by a slight upward slope, I plow up the hills faster than usual now. OK, not faster but harder, proving to myself and the younger people I pass that I am as young as ever.
Except I’m not really passing those younger people. And when they finally pass me, I notice they aren’t all that young. And, wait a minute – what’s this? Where’d this hill come from? I swear it wasn’t here last week.
I just pedal harder. And that, I guess, is the way we get older. We feel the hills.