Managing hills with a smile

The one constant that comes with bike touring is hills. There will always be hills. You can check Google’s terrain map, plot out a mellow day of riding and there will still be hills. They are inescapable. So how does one tackle yet another steep incline after 5+ hours of riding, exhausted legs and a tired mind? With a smile.

No matter what my mental state or how much my body complains, at the bottom of each hill I physically form my face into the shape of a smile. And even if my grin is forced at first, that artificiality quickly fades. I ignore the pain by thinking about how fortunate I am to be experiencing the world on two wheels. I wonder how much stronger my legs will be at the end of the day. But mostly I just say thank you, and of course, I smile. 🙂

A group effort

Bike touring alone has its benefits: following a schedule while traveling solo is a cinch and finding a campsite is never a problem. However, there are times, especially when grinding up a long highway grade, when a girl sure could use a bit of external motivation. Such was the case for me last week.

I was traveling south through the Redwoods on the Coastal Highway and had heard rumors of a killer climb in my immediate future. In order to waylay the inevitable lung-buster I had stopped at a roadside café to refuel and gather my courage. While browsing the surprisingly healthful aisles of the mini mart, I happened upon a couple of other cyclists immediately recognizable by their spandex and sunburns. Rick and Debbie were headed south just like myself and as luck would have it, Rick was a seasoned coastal bike tourer and knew of the terrain that awaited us only a few miles up the road: 2,000 vertical, 3.5 miles of climbing and narrow roads with no shoulder. He recommended that we tackle the monster hill as a group since with cyclists there is safety in numbers.

Although I had already pedaled almost 40 miles and was considering stopping for the day, I agreed to his suggestion and steeled myself for a tough afternoon in the saddle. After a delectable meal of fresh oysters and other delights (be sure to stop at xxx if traveling along Route 101 in Humboldt County), we acquired a 4th member of our party – an enthusiastic Reid of a guy (haha… loving this pun. He IS tall!) – and hit the road.

Our group settled into a groove and though I was assuredly the weak link, they never left me behind. As we spun slowly up the seemingly never-ending climb, we had plenty of time to chat and found commonalities such as Nordic skiing, life in Santa Barbara and sustainable living. Though my legs complained mercilessly as the miles crept by, the company of these new found friends kept my spirit afloat. After what seemed to be an eternity, we enjoyed an exhilarating descent and finally zoomed around the final corner to reveal a dazzling view of the Pacific.

We had miles left to pedal that day, but as we stopped for photos and I gazed around at our sweaty, smiling faces, I knew that the positive spirit of our ragtag group would buoy us along to our final destination for the evening. And so it did.

 Memories were made and new friendships formed during our conquering of Leggett Pass. Such is life lived by bicycle. Big thanks to my cycling companions that helped keep the School Food Tour moving forward on a challenging day. Pedal on, friends!