Thursday, September 3, 2009

Great Hill

As you ride the bicycle path in Central Park, sailing through the graceful downhills, downshifting and pumping hard in preparation for the gentle inclines, enjoying the momentum of the long straightaways, you find yourself unable to resist the tendency to mentally brace for the impending Great Hill, the highest point on the ride, and just on the other side, naturally, of the long decline that winds around the very lovely Harlem Meer. This hill, which does require you to climb steadily for perhaps two to five minutes, depending on your strength and conditioning, is really not, in the scheme of such things, much of a hill at all. It isn’t especially steep, but because it is fairly long, it appears to be more taxing than it is. And, in the 6.2 miles that make up the full circuit, there isn’t anything nearly as challenging as Great Hill. Some runners have more understandably labeled it “cardiac hill,” but that’s because it takes so long, even at a good jogging clip, to get to the top. On a bike, the pain you experience, if you experience pain at all, is blessedly short lived.

So, then, why does my mind harp on Great Hill as I circle this great park? Why do I wonder if I have the staying power or even sufficient nutrition from breakfast to make the climb without a premature dismount? It is fascinating to me how in any self-contained system we assign each aspect a role. In this case, Great Hill is the villain, the gatekeeper that we must traverse before we can say we have fully accomplished our goal. Once you’ve done that, you can relax for a while until once again Great Hill looms in your mind and in the physical distance. Then this same process repeats itself until finally the great barrier is surmounted. It is only with repeated triumphs over the rigors of Great Hill that we gain the confidence to see that the Great Hills are not worthy of our fears and apprehension, and that it is the sheer joy of the ride and, yes, the climb as well that deserves our greatest attention and even our utmost appreciation.


  1. The ride is often better than the destination and all great hills erode with time. The trick is not to miss any of it. As the Zen Master said to the Papaya King, "Make me one with everything."