My ride up to the watertower hasn’t gotten any easier over the years, that’s for sure. Blame it on getting older or blame it on those couple of beers I had with dinner last night, but this climb sure seems steep today. I struggle up the first part and briefly consider turning around, soft pedaling along a flatter section. A river of sweat flows behind me and vanishes as it becomes one with the drought-parched earth of California.
I’ve been riding this area for many years now and I know exactly what to expect up ahead: just around the bend is a steep pitch filled with loose rocks and sand that curls around the mountain like a snake around its victim. It sucks the life out of me every time. Sure, there’s a line through this section but power is your friend if you want to clean it as the loose rocks require some momentum to roll over – and since I haven’t been riding as much as I’d like the power in my legs sometimes seems in short supply as of late. But as long as you never give in you can usually summon the power.
Then again, too much power results in a hopelessly spinning wheel that can also doom one to the walk of shame to the top. As with most things there’s a thin line between success and failure – and only old men walk their bikes up hills. I’m not ready to be an old man – not today. If I spin out, I spin out.
Luckily it’s been (uncharacteristically) tropically hot and sticky in these parts for the past few days so while my sweat may be flowing freely at least the traction is ample as the flour-like soil has been transformed to a dough-like state by the moisture. The grade steepens and my legs begin to burn as my worn old tires stubbornly struggle for traction like unspoken words in the eyes of an old man watching a child at play. I shift my weight to compensate until they grip the forlorn earth, the loose rocks momentarily grunting as they shift beneath my effort before holding fast and providing a reluctant stairway to the top of the pitch. Powering through the crux I make the top, my minor victory as sweet as the perfume of chaparral lingering in the humid air.
At the top I rested for a moment and admired the rust I’ve accumulated. Down in the valley below two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.
“Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth” – Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower