The observatory sits atop one of the Blue Hills, 635.05 feet above sea level, at the end of an 0.9-mile service road. Those measures aren’t that impressive. What’s impressive is the degree of incline – as much as 13 degrees in some places – that makes the climb so difficult and yet so fun and challenging to overcome.
Even the seasoned rider who annually travels many miles on a road bike may find him/herself standing off the seat, pounding the pedals, zigzagging up the steep concrete path, calf and thigh muscles screaming with pain, burning from the buildup of lactic acid, heart muscle pounding so heavily it feels as if all the oxygen on earth is not enough to supply its appetite, unconsciously gripping the handle bars so tightly, fingers start to cramp, all the while shutting these things out of mind, with eyes intensely gazing up the twisting, winding road, anxiously seeking to find its end.
Ah… Doesn’t it sound like fun? It is fun. For when you’ve made it to the top, you feel a great sense of accomplishment muted only slightly from the pain and exhaustion.
That’s the way I felt the first time I climbed this hill, five years ago. And even though I’m in much better shape today, at age 46, than I was then, this hill still gets me. That was, until a few days ago when something unique and wonderful happened.
On Sunday, August 2, 2010, while climbing up the hill, I passed a man on his way down. “No big deal”, I thought, “I’ve seen him here before.” He climbs this hill more than once. I know, because when I’m done, I see him turn around and start climbing yet again.
As I came down, he was climbing up. I hollered over to him, “How many times you climbing this hill?” “I’m on seven of twelve. What about you?” I replied, “One of One!” He said something back to me, but I was laughing too hard to hear him. I think he hollered back, as he slowly continued to climb and I quickly descended, “Oh come on! You can do better than that!”
As I continued to descend down the hill, I asked myself, “Hycel, what are you waiting for? It’s almost the end of summer. You’ve climbed this hill more than once before. You didn’t give out, you didn’t fall over and you didn’t die. You want to climb it more than once this year and yet you keep giving yourself excuses not to climb. Isn’t that guy a clear example that it is possible?”
At that moment, I was reminded of a phrase my father said to me once or twice, when I was a little boy complaining about something trivial.
“I once saw a man who had no shoes, so he wept, until he saw a man who had no feet”.
Way back then, my father was telling me that the excuses I gave myself were of my own making and often trivial when compared to the challenges of others. And here I was doing it again.
When I reached the bottom of the hill I turned around and started to climb again, and again, and again. On my fifth time up the hill, the stranger was on his last decent. He hollered out to me, “You’re king of the hill now!”
Until that fateful Sunday morning, my personal best up this long, steep, menacing hill was three times in a row. That morning, I smashed my record and traversed its foreboding inclines seven times before my legs said, “enough”. On my final decent of the day, leaning into the curves, slicing through the cool, soothing wind, descending swiftly down my intimidating friend, I took a moment to smile and bask in the breeze of my success.
“Today”, I said, “I am king of the hill.”
One week later, I shattered my record again, ascending the hill ten times.