There’s nothing quite like climbing hills and I’m sure I’m not the first nor last cyclist to ever say that. Many climbs give you a sense of achievement, that you’ve defied gravity and natures elements to get up there, that you’ve progressed as a cyclist and you’re stronger than ever before. Some, though, will break you.
Behind a quaint town in the Lake District just at the top of Windermere lies The Struggle and before you ask, yes it does live up to its namesake.
There’s a sharp kick as soon as you enter the road and probably the hardest section averaging about 11% but with frequent kicks of over 15%. On Sunday, the traffic was particularly heavy with many drivers making up for lost time given that Saturday was torrential. This only made the climb harder because I was unable to zigzag! As each car crawled past revving its engine, the smell of burnt clutch was enough to make me want to throw up the potato and cheese pasty I’d scoffed just minutes earlier.
I had already run out of gears at this point and with the second kilometre punching up at me, I was in a bad place. A slight bit of respite allowed for breathing and not much else before ramping up again. It was at this point that I snapped. My legs could barely turn over and no matter how I rode (in or out of the saddle), it hurt. I wasn’t alone either and I don’t recommend sobbing up a hill in front of your friend and manager! I wanted the pain to end but as I looked up for air, I saw what still laid ahead. I could see the others further up than me, dancing on their pedals, effortlessly curving around each switchback (at least, that’s what it looked like from afar). Me? I was taking my time on the brief descent before I hit the very same altitudes I’d just yearned to be on. I made the first switchback by the skin of my teeth. Tears were still rolling down my face, my glasses fogging up, my wheels barely turning, my legs shot.
You can see where I called it a day (just over the 400m contour line) and I can assure you, it was still a painful walk to the junction where I said very little, ate a slice of flapjack, dusted myself down and pulled myself together.
I don’t think I’ve ever cried up a climb before but I owe it to myself and to others to share this and to show that doing so demonstrates just how hard cycling can be. In those 40 minutes it took me to do it, I zapped all my physical and mental strength until all I had left was emotion and I couldn’t hide that. The others had already made it to the top and were likely freezing waiting for me and my former self to meet them but I gave it absolutely everything I had. Even recalling how I felt in those moment has me now holding myself together as I write this!
I had frequent compliments from my friends: “you’re doing so well, Grace, this is a really tough climb that many would go out of their way to avoid and you’re attempting it” but at the time, I couldn’t appreciate that sentiment. I was the dropped one, the one who can’t climb for shit, the one who, despite riding every weekend even throughout winter and in conditions more suited to otters, breaks up a little climb like The Struggle.
Despite this and looking back now, I gave more effort than the guy who found that climb easy, I’ve tried to do something many others haven’t, I’ve learnt lessons and I have no doubt that one day (not soon) I’ll find myself at the top of that climb having ridden it all. In the meantime, I’ll be tackling other hills and proving to myself that I am strong, I can get up hills and I won’t let one negative experience put me off.
I also owe my fellow riders an apology for turning into the devil, cursing names and wishing misfortune upon you all, the entire way up the climb (and perhaps again up the one to Gummers How…). You guys know who you are but deep down, I’m glad you threw me well out of my comfort zone and we should ride together again soon but maybe not up The Struggle…please!
Link to the Strava activity. I’m off to buy a 30t sprocket.