Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Hilly Hundred

If I may be allowed a conceit, I would like to pat myself on the back. I am pretty darn proud of myself. This past weekend, I biked the Hilly Hundred.

For those of you outside the fair state of Indiana, the Hilly Hundred is a bike tour of south central Indiana that covers 100 miles of hilly terrain over 2 days. It is a gorgeous ride, a wonderful way to meet new friends, and an incredibly grueling event.

Allow me to put this into perspective for you. I am 41.2 years old, and I make my living by sitting at a desk and typing. Before 2 years ago, the farthest I had ever ridden in a single day was 10 miles. Before 4 days ago, the farthest I had ever ridden in a single day was 40 miles. And to top it off, I own a Schwinn Criss Cross hybrid bike. Think of it as the Subaru Outback of bikes (sturdy, reliable, poor gas mileage, and definitely not a Ferrari). At best, I am an Aspiring Cyclist. By that, I mean that I am definitely a step above the general cyclists who only bike occasionally or for fun around their neighborhood, but I am not yet a Pserious Psychlist. I am sure you all recognize the Pserious Psychlists. They have the equipment, the uniform, and above all, the attitude. They zip by you on the Monon Trail at 200 miles an hour on their Trek bikes with pencil-thin tires and seven bottles of water clipped to the undercarriage. They wear skin tight biking pants, and they sport biking jerseys advertising their favorite sponsored biking team including (I'm not making this up, I really saw it) TIAA-CREF.

With mid-life staring me in the face, I needed a new physical challenge in my life. The Hilly Hundred was just beckoning. I thought, "What the heck?"

When I arrived at Ellettsville High School Friday night to register, I fully expected to be surrounded by 25 year old hardbodies with bad attitudes. Instead, I found myself surrounded by thousands of friendly people, ranging in size from skinny to portly, ranging in age from 8 to 85. Maybe, the Hilly Hundred isn't so tough, I thought to myself. Sure, it's 100 miles, but look at all these "normal" people. Heck, if they can do it, I can do it. I even rented a spot in the gym to throw my sleeping bag to show everyone that I was a normal person just like them. Just a bunch of normal Aspiring Cyclists out to have fun.

The next morning, as I was pulling on my eclectic biking gear gathered over two years of sporadic spending (bike helmet, $80 biking shorts, $10 sweat pants, $2 gloves covered by what I think were old gardening gloves, two sweatshirts, a fleece jacket, and three pairs of socks), I noticed that everyone around me...and I mean EVERYONE...was putting on quite a different uniform. Everyone had biking tights, nearly everyone had windbreakers, and most had biking jerseys. I felt like an outsider at a superhero convention. I started to feel just a weeee bit out of my depth. And this was before we started biking.

The first couple of miles were uneventful, although they were misty and cold. I got used to people zipping by me with a friendly, "On your left." What they were really saying was, "On your left, but aren't you cute for trying!" At about 7 miles in, I decided that I needed someone to bike with, someone to help me keep my pacing. I saw a gentleman in front of me who seemed to be going my speed. I sped up a bit to introduce myself and see if he minded some company. Just as I got close enough to see his face, I realized that man was about 80 years old. There is nothing more demoralizing than realizing that the one person you can keep pace with is an old guy of 80. "On your left," I said and forced myself to pass him.

Luckily, I did eventually meet a lady who was there with her family. Her family members, who had all zoomed ahead of her, met up with her at the first rest stop. "This is Zev," she told them. "He's by himself." Thankfully, she didn't add, "And isn't he cute for trying." The group immediately adopted me as one of their own and became my cheering section. I would like to give a shout out to Mary Therese, Bill, Kevin, Andrew, and Joe. Thank you. You kept me going.

Saturday, the first day of the tour, was all about survival. My goal was to get through the tour without requiring the assistance of an oxygen tank or rescue from a pick-up truck. I made it up as many hills as I could but walked part way up some of the steeper ones. Mary Therese naturally rode up every hill at 4 miles an hour. "That's OK," she said. "Many people walk up the hills at their first Hilly. I don't anymore, of course. My family would give a hard time if I did."

In other words, she was saying, "Don't you worry your pretty little head about those big hills. When you grow up, you'll be man enough to ride them all the way." Grrr. So, naturally, Sunday I had to ride up every stinking hill. And the hardest hills...they were all on Sunday. When I hit Mount Tabor (0.2 miles but a 20% grade), I found myself ascending at a glacial speed, repeating my new mantra, "I paid for this...I paid for this..."

The important thing is that I signed up, I showed up, I rode it, and I loved it. The Hilly Hundred is not just a bike tour. It is truly an event unto itself. They feed you, they entertain you, and they thrill you. You meet Aspiring Cyclists, Pserious Touring Psychlists, and yes, occasionally some Psuper Pserious Psports Psychlists. The guy who slept next to me in the gym rode 100 miles on Saturday...and THEN rode the 50 miles on Sunday. Why? Because he could. And good for him.

The funny thing is that I thought the Hilly would be an endpoint, a single tally on my bucket list. I thought I would finish the ride, flip the bird to the universe, and get back to my office and computer. But even as I sit here nursing my hobbled legs, I am planning for next year's Hilly. I am hooked, and there is no turning back.

Of course, I hope to meet up with Mary Therese and her family again. We'll ride together, eat lunch together, and laugh about the wimps carrying their bikes up the hill. And of course, there's an old guy I need to burn past. Hopefully he'll be back. He is so cute for trying.

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