I donned my cycling gear for the second time in three days…and 9 months. This is the longest time I’ve spent away from my road bike and the reunion was bittersweet indeed. I have missed being on the saddle, clipping into my pedals, the wind kissing my face. Mentally I was ready for the long-overdue bike ride but would my legs be up for the challenge? I rode the beginner route that my husband mapped out for me as a new cyclist a dozen years ago; a scenic, mostly-flat 30-mile bike ride that would hopefully give me back my cycling legs. It was like starting over again but I made it and it felt wonderful to get that “first” ride out of the way.
Two days later, though still a bit sore in some places, I was ready for another ride. My husband and I thought it best for me to avoid the hills for a while and planned to do the flats again but I can never help myself. The flats bore me; it was only concern for my legs that made me consider the same ride again and I knew that after a 9-month absence from riding a flat ride would be best. I fried an egg and made an open-faced sandwich; it’s all I would need to get me through the second 30 miles of the weekend.
There was a time when 30-40 mile hill rides 5 days a week was the norm. On the weekends we would up the mileage and ride one 50-60 mile ride, a fun (and tiring) activity that would take the better part of the day when we opted for the round trip ride to the coast. We would stop for lunch in Pescadero, a small rural town south of Half Moon Bay. We would stop several more times just to savor the clean country air and enjoy the views of the ocean.
This statement is not meant to be boastful…more wistful really. We live in a big cycling community and most cyclists clock in as many miles–if not more–each week. When I was in better shape this was normal. I am a long way from even contemplating that coast ride but surely Old La Honda, my little hill in the neighborhood, would be okay? Old La Honda is the gateway to a lot of even bigger hill climbs in the area. It’s the baby of the bunch. I’ve had my power breakfast after all–maybe I will manage?
At the last minute, I changed my plans. A hill ride it would be. It would be short and hopefully sweet. I wanted to take my heart rate up and feel the burn in my legs. But would I reach my limit before even making it halfway up the hill? There is always that possibility and the easy solution would be to turn around and coast downhill if it gets too hard.
But I know myself better than this. I hate to turn around halfway up the hill, any hill. Especially this baby hill.
A few miles later I reach the base of Old La Honda. I stopped at the bridge partly to remove extra layers of clothing but mostly to mentally prepare myself for the climb. The bridge is the starting point of this hill. It is the benchmark climb for many local cyclists (also explained here). We all know our best time on Old La Honda. Word around the local cycling circuit is that someone has made it up in 14:30 minutes. My husband’s best time is 24 minutes. Mine? 26. An average ride? 3o minutes. That is my benchmark.
This brings to mind another concern. Everyone will pass me. I don’t like it when people pass me. Never mind that the cyclist may be half my age or that I haven’t ridden in so long. I don’t like to be left behind. This is unreasonable thinking, I know, but it is also a source of motivation for me and most other cyclists. We are all competitive to a degree. As soon as someone passes you, usually coming with a warning “On your left”, the adrenalin starts pumping and you’re compelled to give it all you’ve got to stay with that cyclist as long as you can. Beating them up the hill is always better. We are all the same and we understand this about each other.
I am a third of the way up the hill. My husband is several switchbacks away, having disappeared long ago. A few cyclists pass me, chatting with one another as if they were riding the flats. I’m in my own world. My pace is slow as I try to keep my heart rate steady. This is not a race…right? I feel a slight burn in my legs but surprisingly, I’m okay. I’ve made it this far though the worst is to come.
At the 40% mark there will be a switchback with a steep grade and the next few turns will be just as challenging. I take a few sips of water and take a deep breath to slow my heart rate just a bit. This is not the time to go anaerobic. I focus my attention on the chirping birds perched on the oak trees lining the road and watch out for the occasional squirrel crossing. One revolution of the pedals at a time. That’s all it takes. You count your successes where you can.
But wait, is my left leg pulling its weight? My right leg always seems to work harder than the other. Must focus.
As the oak trees fall away behind me making way for the redwoods, I know I am nearing the top. I pass by a couple of street signs: Upenuf Road and Summit Road. They are not entirely accurate since I have a way to go before I reach the actual peak, marking a 1400 foot climb. A few more cyclists pass me but I have conceded my inferiority to them…at least on this ride.
My heart is pumping hard now and my legs are burning a bit more. It hurts. It feels good.
Before long I see the rock–my three-minute rock, marking the time remaining before I reach Skyline Blvd, the top of the hill. Only this time it would be more like 5-8 minutes before I cross my imaginary finish line. I passed the 30-minute mark just moments ago.
A few more switchbacks…I hear the traffic on Skyline. It’s cooler up here near the fog line. I hear cyclists approaching behind me but enough people have passed me for the day. Must pedal faster.
Then I see my other rock–my husband. He is resting on his bike watching all the cyclists arriving at the top. I know he is waiting for me. As soon as he sees me he flashes a big smile as if to say, “you made it.”
I did make it. My legs didn’t fail me though I doubted they would be able to take me up the hill at all. It was a sweet finish to the top seeing my husband’s face so happy that I’ve started to ride my bike with him again. Why did I stop in the first place? However, it will be sweeter still when I am again strong enough to reach the top with him. Nothing that (hopefully) a second fried egg won’t help me accomplish.
Everyone has their favorite way of preparing eggs. I tend to like mine fried over easy or over medium, served with rice (with kimchi fried rice here) or on toast. I don’t like my eggs fried in butter and I’ve found that I don’t need a nonstick pan to get a perfectly fried egg every time. I learned this old saying years ago, “Hot pan, cold oil, food won’t stick” and it’s true. I heat up a stainless steel skillet over med-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, I spray a bit of cooking spray on it and add the egg. I turn the heat down to medium. In just a minute the bottom of the egg will set and you’ll be able to swirl egg around in the skillet. A slight flick of the wrist flips the egg to set the top just the way I like it (Alternatively, you can add a splash of water to the skillet, cover it and let the steam cook the top of the egg). At this point I turn off the heat. In a matter of seconds you will have a perfectly over-easy egg. Just a few seconds more for over-medium. Works every time.