At a rest stop on last year’s Bridge to Bridge ride, a kind gentleman looked at me with a confused look on his face. “Can I ask you an honest question? Please know that I don’t mean any offense. I just gotta know.” I nodded. He pointed to the climb just ahead. “I just gotta know, why?”. There were a group of us standing around and we all laughed at the question. I quickly joked back “Because we can.”
We continued to talk and nobody could give a great answer. It’s just what we did. This man didn’t ride and thought it was amazing that we would ride up these mountains, but he didn’t understand why we put ourselves through such suffering.
It is a fair question and it’s one I’ve pondered on many climbs since. Why indeed? Why not just ride our bike around and enjoy it?
The more I think about it, ‘because I can’ is a pretty good answer. Another one is ‘because it’s there.’ Why do people climb any mountain, on a bike or otherwise? Why did Edmund Hillary climb Mount Everest when nobody else had done it before? Why indeed?
Converging Fitness and Nature
My climbing passion came at the right time in my life. I have long been passionate about being in nature. Part of that is from my childhood time in the west. I have fond memories of camping in Yosemite National Park. I’ll never forget peering at Half Dome Mountain, marveling at its beauty.
In my adult life, my passion for nature was mostly unsatisfied. I have spent my time in large metropolitan cities like Atlanta and Los Angeles. For the last seven years I have lived in Columbia, SC, which is a large city, but has access to a lot of nature. You can drive to either the beaches or the mountains in about an hour and a half.
After getting married and gaining a few pounds, I decided to get fit around four years ago. That started with gym exercises and continued in a lot of different directions, including running and WiiFit of all things. I lost a lot of my weight and developed a habit of exercising several times a week.
Almost two years ago, I finally got a bike. At first I used it locally. Later in the year I joined a cycling club that got me free entries to organized rides. My first ride was the Tour de Leaves out of Tryon, NC. I chose the short version without many major climbs, but fell in love with the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a beautiful, frosty day. At one point I looked out and found myself at a higher elevation with a breathtaking view of the valley below. Right then, I was hooked.
Training for my first Mitchell ride came shortly afterward and I fell further in love with each subsequent breathtaking view. And there have been quite a few of them.
If I don’t have a goal, I am an extremely lazy person. When I have a goal, I am like a man possessed. I’m not sure if it is the fear of failure, or letting myself and others down. When I set my mind to something, it usually happens. In order to hold off the laziness, I try to keep goals out there. Registering for big mountain rides is a great way to keep myself motivated. If I don’t prepare for them, the experience will be miserable and I could fail.
I have also found climbing is the best training for cycling. In the short time I’ve been riding, I have improved beyond my wildest expectations. I can thank the mountains for that. Now my goal is to continue in that direction. If I try to improve my Mitchell time every year, I’ll be able to ride other, steeper mountains.
I am a perpetual tourist. I love discovering places. My camera is always on the ready to snap something new. Part of this is because I want to capture the memory. This is also my way of planting a flag. Been there, done that, and I have the picture to prove it.
While I set goals to improve on certain climbs, I also like to find new and and interesting challenges to tackle. My recent foray to the highest mountain in South Carolina was for that reason. I knew it was there and I knew it was difficult. That meant I wanted to climb it.
Fortunately I have access to a lot of different mountain areas. So far I have mostly climbed in North and South Carolina. At some point I will venture further other climbs in the Southeast. I’ve even thought about making a trip back to California someday to try out some of their mountains. The possibilities are endless.
The Thrill of the Descent
Perhaps the best part of the climb is the descent that follows. At first I was tentative when descending a mountain, but have since come to love it. Nothing feels better than screaming down a mountain, banking around tight corners with the wind in your face and the sun above your head.
If I could do nothing but descend mountains, I probably would, but that’s an impossibility. What goes up must come down and vice versa. The descent won’t happen without the climb.
Is it worth it to grunt up a steep mountain for an hour in order to descend for 15 minutes? If you ask me, absolutely, unequivocally, yes!