KC/DC Cycle

Ride to live... live to ride

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Since I haven't done much cycling lately I'll hearken back to better days before the latest wreck when I would ride intrepidly through city streets. Something reminded me of Cliff Drive which is near where I lived for a time in Kansas City. It was one of the few roads in Kansas City where you could ride with very few cars interfering. It is perched on a cliff, appropriately enough, overlooking the river bottoms 3 miles from downtown. There are so few cars there it's a little scary. There are a mixture of socioeconomic backgrounds in the neighborhood near the park. Groups of hispanics congregate in and near the park. I remember seeing some of them bathing in one of the fountains. Nearby was an overflowing trashcan with trash and baby diapers.

Most of the road most of the time was wonderful because trees arching over the road. The road itself was fairly level and wound around the edge of the cliff. There was an area where climbers had strung ropes to practice climbing and rappelling. The park had so much potential.

We lived nearby and it was easy to take a quick tour through the park. In 5 minutes we could get from our door to the start of the park. We had a special name for one part of the park: "the Hill".

The Hill was a very steep section of switchbacks that led out of the middle of the park to a mansion converted to a museum. The Hill was always a challenge. Whenever you approached the Hill you prepared for it. You either prayed to your God, or you decided how far up you'd try to make it, or tried to make gearing decisions on the approach. Everybody prepared in their own way but once you hit the Hill your plan had to go into action and quick decisions had to be made constantly. Plans fell apart quickly and dreams were shattered on the hill. I can also say that blood was shed on the hill.

The Hill was a test of conditioning. If you made it up without stopping the next test would be how fast or in what gear. The Hill didn't change; you changed.

When you approach from the downtown side you could make a rush at the hill without encountering oncoming traffic. The rush toward that first slope quickly is countered by the strong and consistent force of gravity. The first slope is steep but short. Next is the first switchback where you want to cut on the inside track to the right. Of course the inside track on a switchback is the steepest. For a short period, then, you bear a 20% slope. That sure takes the wind out of your sails. If you're not in the right gear for that portion it can spell disaster. You come to a grinding halt. Shifting going up that steep incline is out of the question. You have to turn back to shift. After the first switchback you just hit a wall with no relief. I don't know if I've ever done it out of first gear or without standing. I remember getting through most of it in about 3rd gear before collapsing into first one time. There is only one switchback then the road inclines on a fairly winding curve.

I've done this challenge with my kids several times. Sometimes the Hill becomes a pall over the ride, but other times attitude overcomes the dread.

The blood was shed when my intrepid daughter was making her leap at the first grade of the hill. She was pedaling a little too crazy without clip in shoes and missed the pedal. She went down. She was about 11 at the time. She is such a trooper. I picked her and the bike up to get out of the way even though there is so little traffic. I wanted to make sure she felt safe. After she got back on the bike, I pushed and she pedaled and walked the rest of the way up. I was so proud that she kept going. This was before I had a cell phone so there wasn't a lot of choice. Ah, those were the days.