Friday, January 13, 2012

My Long Shadow

PAIN. Someone had taken the time to spray paint the word PAIN in all caps in red and with an arrow pointing up on the shoulder of the road. I wasn't sure quite what to think of that right then. PAIN. I was heading up the "Draper Wall" section of Wasatch Boulevard on the way to Hidden Valley Park and I was actually feeling pretty good riding with my long shadow. It was painted there about one quarter of the way up and I don't know if it was a leftover from the Tour of Utah back in August or if someone had put it there more recently. It looked more recent but I had no idea and I wished it had said COFFEE instead.

It was cold today. Right at freezing and I was quickly plodding my way up this steep hill wishing I had a cup. Quickly for me anyway and it was the last hill of the day. I had decided to ride some hills today. Hills as in two hills. I had already made my way up to and back down from the South Mountain Golf Course and was heading up to Hidden Valley park to turn around and head back home. Almost 1800 feet of elevation gain on a 36 mile ride and when I saw the word PAIN there it was illuminated by that perfect light of the day where the sun is almost ready to set but still has a bit to go.

My ambition always seems so high right before I go up a hill. I'm always optimistic. I think I might hammer up this hill in the big ring and use the 17 tooth rear cog. It's only about a mile and a half so I'm going to stand and mash all the way up and I'm going to make it look smooth and easy. Yeah OK. Then reality sets in as I plod away seated crawling in the small ring using every gear I have on my hubcap size cassette. If I stopped pedaling I would fall over.

The wheezing muscles on the sides of my quads and back of my hamstrings feel like they're herniating through slits in my bibs and I swear I can hear them screaming. My right knee is popping out a little tiny bit at the top of my pedal stroke as I fight to maintain good form. My aching lungs are pumping like a bellows as I fight to hold 80 then 70 then - please - 68 for a cadence. I would tell my legs to shut up too but I don't ever have enough breath.

PAIN is right. There is pain in hills and every cyclist knows that but someone had decided to paint it right there on the shoulder of the road anyway. No problem. I was feeling pretty good riding with my long shadow. I love to ride my bikes when I have a long shadow and I'm not talking about in the morning in summer. I'm talking about riding in the winter when it's freezing cold. Riding when the sun never quite feels warm and never gets to arc that high in the afternoon sky. When I see my long shadow riding with me I feel like I have been given something extra. I feel like I have been granted something special. Something I should be grateful and appreciative to have.

That long shadow means I have an opportunity to turn out the weakness and listen for hope where instead I might have been expecting snow covered roads or icy wind. It means I have been gifted a day outside instead of inside. It means I can enjoy the fresh air instead of a fan. I have been given the special privilege to pedal fast enough to go 6.5 mph or 45 mph and that pedaling is going to mean something. That long shadow means I'm going to be cold and sweaty with snot dripping and eyes watering. It is a gift and a treasure and - like an old friend - something you can always count on. Just like PAIN. And when I can ride with my long shadow it's an almost perfect extra special and welcomed kind of PAIN.


  1. Great post Steve! I was out yesterday in frosty conditions and had the same long shadow from the low setting sun. I didn't quite match your efforts and no PAIN written on the road. A stunning ride none-the-less.


  2. I enjoyed your post and your photos. And I thought it was cold on my own long shadow ride this afternoon, in Los Angeles. It was probably 60 degrees.