Oregon Ridge

I coasted smoothly into the curve of the familiar cloverleaf. I have made this ride down route 35 into Lawrence Harbor at least twenty times. It was a favorite cycling route despite the high-traffic roads and rude jersey drivers. My Bianchi and I were humming along, content with the effort, ready to sprint home. I heard the scrape of sand and gravel before I felt the bike slip. I felt the glass and gravel and stone grind, deep and violent into my right leg, hip, and elbow. I stumbled, bleeding and limping, to a nearby bar. The bartender asked me questions. Patrons lazily looked up from their beer glasses. I called my boyfriend for a ride home.

After the wreck, I avoided my bike for years. I carried it on my car to North Carolina when I left for college, and a year later, I began pedaling around campus. Six years later, I married a competitive cyclist.

He encouraged me to participate in the beginner’s road cycling clinics offered by the Baltimore Bicycling Club, so maybe one day we could ride together. I did participate, and I slowly rode away from my fear, the scar from my crash, and back to the freedom I once felt on a bike. I had joined the cycling group on several rides through Baltimore county; my fear had abated, so I asked my (then) husband to pace me on his 30-mile Wednesday night training ride through the area of Baltimore County known as Oregon Ridge. This route is notoriously difficult. It is all steep hills, fast flats and scary downhills. While the traffic on the roads is often sparse, blind curves and intersections pose significant dangers for cyclists. I chose this specific route because I am my own fiercest competition. I needed to know: Did I have the legs and the mental strength to finish the ride?

Since I remounted a bike, I’ve been slowly developing confidence in my cycling skills. I get stronger every time I challenge myself because these challenges scare me stupid. With a knot in my throat, we started up Cuba road, the eye-opening climb that launches the Oregon Ridge route. Halfway up the climb (about 2 miles in), my legs were dead. Two leaden stumps. I panicked. Lance* asked how I was doing; I told him there are lead weights on my pedals. He told me to, “…gear down and spin it out, so you warm up. Then it will get easier.” do-wha? Huh? Warm up? I was already dripping sweat onto my handlebars. And what of this “gear down?” Which way is “down?” I tapped the little shifter on Dolce (that’s what I call my new, sweet whip – an awesome ’04 Specialized Dolce Comp) and suddenly I was pedaling a Mack truck. Wrong way, couldn’t possibly be the “down” he spoke of. I tapped the larger shifter that doubles as my rear brake and felt my legs spin more freely. I was climbing the hill.

It never got easier. The hills got steeper; the downhills were, indeed, scary, requiring all my focus; and the flats were sprinting opportunities for Lance. These sprints tugged my competitive spirit, so I kept close to his wheel without drafting. I wanted to complete this ride on my own, not on his wheel; so when he took off on a flat, I took off.

One of the impending climbs is a 7% grade that culminates in a right turn that keeps going up. I’d like to be able to say that I summited that climb with grace and mettle. I was in my both my granny gears (the smallest gears on the derailleur that reduce resistance to its absolute minimum), yet my sweet Dolce was replaced by that damn Mack truck again. I got out of my saddle and pumped, but when I saw the right turn and the climb it brought with it, I stopped. I clicked out of my pedals and walked up the remainder of the hill. I was furious.  At the top, I muttered, “let’s go,” remounted, and took off, keeping pace with Lance pedal stroke for pedal stroke. He knew I was pissed; he knew to push the pace, so I could get my head back in the ride. He was right.

We had reached the 17-mile point, and I was feeling pretty good. Confident. A tad cocky. We rolled through some beautiful country, past rambling estates and trotting horses. I was riding easy in my seat, feeling my legs’ power. Then we started climbing again. I whimpered my way up the mountain, fueled by the fury of my last failure. Lance promised it was the last hard climb.  Until Cuba, that is. We still had to climb the backside of Cuba road – a painful, leg-melting series of stair step climbs. I swigged Gatorade and blew a snot rocket to hide my brimming tears. I was spent. One more climb was going to kill me dead. More Gatorade, more steely resolve. Let’s go.

The first step wasn’t too bad; we had a bit of a downhill prior that gave us a boost of momentum. The second was almost easy. Then we enjoyed a small, false flat, a brief downhill, then the third climb. Lance paced me strong and solid. It hurt, but I met him stroke for stroke again. I was out of my saddle more often than not. Another flat and the promise of the final push. I “grannied down” all the way and got up out of my saddle. Lance joked about me looking like I was climbing Alpe D’ Huez. I laughed. Then I lost it. Cramps at the top of both knees seized me. I almost fell over; they were so sudden and so severe. I stopped, dismounted and told Lance to go on ahead, to get the truck and come back for me. I was done. Fuck this. I walked, defeated and spent, calves burning, up the hill as Lance pedaled off.  All that was left was a little laugh at my hubris. And a tiny promise that I’d try again when I got back from vacation.

The summit came quickly. I had ridden more than halfway up the hill. My hubris tapped me on my shoulder, so I gingerly clipped into my pedals. My legs softened then found their rhythm. I pushed the pace a little more and my legs responded like a horse that has been nudged into a canter. I geared up and really pushed, gained momentum and plowed up another climb. As the top loomed, I racked my memory. Was there one more? I couldn’t remember. There had to be. If this was the last, it would be too damn easy.

There wasn’t. It was over – all downhill coast and two miles of flat. I laughed out loud, hooted and hollered. I conquered the Oregon Ridge Ride! As I flew down the final straight towards the parking lot, I punched the air, victorious and proud. Then they came, hot tears of accomplishment. I let them flow. I earned those tears.

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2 Comments

  1. Lauretta Chiarini

     /  August 18, 2011

    This is your strong point…….you never give up!!!!!

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    Reply
  2. I love a woman that can blow a snot rocket.

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    Reply

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