On Riding One’s Bike Up a 2,000 Foot Hill in the Heat

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This guest post (poem and drawings) comes from Louis Anderson, who, years after running the Boston Marathon in roughly 2:37, picked up bike touring. He rode a 700 mile loop from Richmond, VA to Cumberland, MD, a ride that involved ascending about 2,000 (well, 1,903) feet in ninety degree weather to Afton Mountain, Virginia. A few years later he rode his bike from the Pacific to the Atlantic (which map I include at the bottom, since his artwork merits attention). The poem below captures the mental and physical stress of the ride to Afton Mountain, as well as the inability for those who drive to appreciate self-propulsion. — Louis B.

Climbing Afton

Never seemed that hard
She said.
But it was ninety
When we wheeled slowly
Out the gravel drive at Pollak’s
Turned onto the asphalt
Gaining speed on the curving road
Only to lose it again
As we started up a hill
That disappeared
Into the foliage
A quarter mile away
To further disclose itself
As we labored to expose it.

Eventually – as all hill climbers know –
The scenery telescopes down
To those few square feet
That frame your shoes
Conjoined to pedals, crank, chain,
Components of a machine of torture
Over which you stretch yourself
Both heretic and inquisitor
And gasp and heave
Resigned to a rate
Of four miles an hour
Or less.

You synchronize
Inhalations and exhalations
In delirious effort
To distract yourself
Watching sweat bee shadows
Orbiting your head’s umbral outline
Waiting for them to bite
While sweat courses down your face
Beads, and drops
From your swaying chin.

It never seemed that hard,
She said.
It’s not –
I said,
In a car.
(Louis Weems Anderson, 5 June 2011, Afton, VA)

Map of 700 mile bike ride, highlighting section from Charlottesville to Afton.
Map of 700 mile bike ride, highlighting section from Charlottesville to Afton.
Map of Louis Anderson's bike ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic
Map of Louis Anderson’s bike ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic

[As the creator of the poem and the artwork, Louis Anderson owns the rights to them. Don’t even think about using them without permission for he will catch you, by hook or by crook, on bike or on foot!]