Is it harder or worse?

By Haven Lindsey  in  blog  on  05.26.2014

Oh the questions that arise when we learn, grow, travel, contemplate, evolve and suffer. It is said that those who question are the most alive and vibrant of us all. Their curiosity and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge keep the questioner young, interested and interesting while providing the rest of us an opportunity to think and become.

                To be or not to be?     Is there life after death?     Is anyone really free?
Will good always triumph over evil?     Is there such a thing as a selfless act?
What is the meaning of life?

And then there’s my question, posed neither from a contemplative nor thoughtful state, rather one that spewed out in a dialogue I was having with myself as I tried to determine a particular route home on my bike. It’s not thought-provoking, growth-enhancing or soul-evolving. But at that moment, it made all the sense in the world.
                                                           Is it harder or worse?

I have enjoyed riding a road bike for many years and while I am not a hard-core cyclist, I love being on my bike. Sometimes I take long rides and sometimes I don’t. At times it can be a zen-like escape and even in the toughest head winds and steepest inclines, riding is almost always a fun diversion from the hustle and bustle of life’s obligations and chaos.

But recently I’ve been introduced to ‘The Hill’. I am fortunate to live in a stunningly beautiful part of Austin. The ‘beautiful’ part is obvious: deep canyons collide with intensely steep hills that wind and cut their way through seemingly endless hillsides. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that the paved roads loosely resemble a roller-coaster that climbs and falls, twists and turns in every direction…which brings us to the ‘stunning’ part: trying to ride my bike up them.

As much as I loved riding the flat and often windy roads of coastal Maine they did not prepare my body or mind for these Texas-sized monsters. In their defense, the roller coaster hill country provided me with a lot of clues that, in my ignorance, I noticed only in retrospect.

Clue #1
My car has a manual shift transmission with six gears…in order for me to ascend ‘The Hill’  I have to downshift to third gear or speed up much faster than the 30 mph speed limit.

Clue #2
My ears almost always pop when I drive down ‘The Hill’.

Clue #3
A neighbor compares the area to a ski resort where he likes to vacation.

Clue #4
The people I see cycling in my area look like they could qualify for the Tour de France in their sleep.

Clue #5
While riding up a smaller hill one Saturday afternoon and struggling to gain any speed whatsoever, I was passed by a deer who was walking along the side of the road.

Clue #6
Really? Clue #1 wasn’t enough?

The determinate factor that must be acknowledged each time I ride from home is whether or not to, (1) ride a somewhat less steep route (i.e. medium grade roller coaster) which is pretty but doesn’t qualify as postcard beautiful and has more traffic (including the deer that walked passed me as I was riding) or to, (2) ride a much steeper route (i.e. big honkin’ roller coaster) with significantly more natural beauty, rivers, streams, horse farms, abundant wildlife and virtually empty of traffic. I almost always opt for the second option with the knowledge that the ride must end with a requirement to climb ‘The Hill’  in order to get home.

I find Ausinites and Texans to be friendly, accommodating and easy to be with and I love where I live. However,‘The Hill’  must have moved here from some inhospitable, undesirable place because it is none of those things. It seems to taunt me with its steepness, all but pushing me off my bike with its message to get off, you are not welcome. It is, without a doubt, the steepest hill I have ever climbed on my bike and likely one of the steepest I’ve ever driven in my car.

My quagmire with ‘The Hill’  comes at the end of the ride, which so far, has always been in the hot sun, when my body is depleted of fluids and energy and my mind has left for the day. With Option 2, ‘The Hill’ is the only way for me to get home; it is my ingress, my egress, my everything. There are two ways to access it: a straight forward shot from its base or a cut-in a few hundred feet from the base alongside a beautiful, craggy, steep creek.

So there I was, nearing the end of my ride and trying to decide whether to start from the base or the craggy creek and the question surfaced: ‘Is it harder or worse?’. The nonsensical question made all the sense in the world at that time. Rather than round my tires felt square, my compromised mind had me convinced that the brake pads were rubbing because the pedals refused to turn at my command using my energy-depleted legs and my body interpreted the slightest hint of a breeze as a gale-force wind.

On that day I chose the craggy creek route and willed myself to keep pedaling despite riding a bike with square tires, brakes frozen in the on position and a completely invented headwind. I may not be smart enough to recognize Clues 1-5, but I am smart enough to respect the fact that ‘The Hill’  will be there long after me. I will never conquer ‘The Hill’  which I graciously accept, but like an annoying neighbor I think it would be better to be friends than enemies if, for nothing else, the bond may prevent me from devolving to a place where a nonsensical question make sense.

The question: “Is it harder or worse?”
The answer: “Yes”

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven


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