I wrote this some time ago but never got around to posting it. I was thinking recently about the experience of achieving a goal. In particular a goal that is physically hard. Something that you have to work hard and suffer for so I thought I should finally post this:
Recently I was on a ride that I had to cut short. Having put in maybe half the miles I had intended, I decided not to let the day slip past without committing to something serious. Rather than attempting to set a PR on an old climb, I decided to try 24th Street again. I had never completed the climb up 24th. Each failed attempt (there were several) had only grown it’s specter in my mind. Until it grew into something almost insurmountable.
As the legend of 24th grew in my mind I was reminded of mountain climbing. I love Mountain climbing. To be fair I’ve yet to do any of the actual climbing and that may someday effect my opinion of the activity. As it stands I’m very fascinated by it and perhaps when my chances at cycling glory have passed me by I will find more time to hike the tops of Baker, Ranier, Denali and more.
One of the world’s truly infamous climbs is the Eiger Nordwand. The German name translates to the Ogre North Wall and this is what it looks like:
It’s a practically vertical face to the top of a 13,000 foot peak. Eight climbers were killed before someone successfully climbed it. In all, since the first serious attempt in 1935, the Nordwand has claimed the souls of no less than 64 climbers earning it the nickname “Mordwand”, the “Death wall”.
Though improvements in techniques and technology have diminished the challenge of the Mordwand, it remains a dangerous and iconic climb. Most serious climbers have been kept awake with either dreams or nightmares of one day testing themselves upon it.
Many cyclists, especially those of us infected with the crazed desire to tackle the fiercest hills we can find, can understand a bit of the madness that infects the world’s great alpinists. In a way, we regularly face our own Eigers: That route that always kicks your ass. That one hill you always avoid. Every cyclist knows one, an ogre they can’t seem to beat. There are often more than one. As we improve as riders, old hills are tamed and new ones rear up in front of us. Hills that used to make me walk or detour around when I first started riding are now utilized as easy routes.
For some time I have faced a true ogre. A hill worthy of being called the Eiger. It’s less than half a mile in length and only a couple hundred feet high but it is steep. The average grade is over 10%. The maximum is over 20%. Half a dozen attempts to reach the summit had failed. Each time I was forced to take refuge in a cul de sac agonizingly near the summit, rest there before riding the rest of the way up. Until I reached the top without stopping i could not claim the climb.
Much like the Eiger, there are tougher climbs out there. Taller, steeper, longer, but this hill, this climb, is only a few blocks from my home. To leave it unclaimed challenges my abilities as a cyclist. So my failures there gave it more power over me.
Power that it no longer has. I have slain my ogre. I have reached the summit of the Eigre