In which a Rookie meets Checker Hill
In those first months, maybe mid 2010, I snooped around on line for information about cycling. I’d always had good experiences hooking up with photographers online to share ideas and knowledge so maybe bike riders did that sort of thing too? There were a few sites I tried. It was all a bit confusing. There was even a locally based one called “Adelaide Cyclists”. It didn’t look very active, but I tagged the URL, and moved on. A few months later I came across it again, and this time it was a happening place. There was a busy forum and even plans for some people to meet “in real life” and actually go for a ride together.
The fish out of water feeling rose up again, but I jotted down the details and fronted up to Norwood oval where a group was headed for Checker Hill to scope out some of the route for the 2011 TdU challenge ride. It was far and away the longest ride and the most climbing I’d yet tackled. The day covered about 120 km, and if you don’t know Checker, it’s only short but nasty. Maybe half a kilometre hovering around the 20% mark. It also nails you psychologically when you first turn off the main road toward the climb. You crest a gentle rise and suddenly the road rears up in front of you like a wall. No twists and turns or little gullies to follow- just straight up. It’s intimidating. Along with the group I rode three quarters of the way up Checker and as some started to wobble and step off all around me, I decided it was OK to do the same. I walked to the crest. In hindsight, I deeply regretted it. That’s pretty easy to say later at home when you’ve got your feet up and a beer in your hand, but I really think I could have made it. I’d taken the easy option.
The take home message of the day was never again did I want my brain to be a weaker muscle than my legs. I’ve never unclipped on a hill again.
The better memory of the day was that I’d met a dozen or so great people from all sorts of backgrounds and careers, and we all just got along and rode a bike. It was the most egalitarian and informal sports I’d come across. That’s why I still ride with some of you guys today.
When January 2011 rolled around I excitedly donned the ugliest lime green jersey I’ve ever seen, and lined up with about 10,000 others to kid ourselves that we could ride like pros for the day. Despite breaking a chain at the bottom of “That Hill” I affected some roadside repairs and climbed Checker without missing a beat. It was a great day out, but that was the only time I've rode the challenge. I have an ambivalent relationship with crowds. At the start it's a buzz to feel like you are part of a much bigger movement and there's validation in seeing lots of other people on bikes too. But after an hour or two of being wobbled into on the road, and fighting your way to the refreshment tables like a seagull after a chip... not so much. It started to feel absurd. This wasn't the freedom and peace of the wide open road I'd enjoyed when I started cycling. All day I kept noticing small groups of riders (not wearing lime) coming and going, obviously planning to stop somewhere and see the Tour when the peloton passed, but they could please themselves. It was almost a Homer Simpson “Duh”- moment. The roads are open to all! I could go wherever I want instead of following this route of thousands like green sheep. Before I got to Strath that afternoon I was already drafting plans about how I was going to experience the next tour on a bike. It was certainly going to be in a smaller bunch.
If I’d stopped to think about it a bit more, I would also have realized that the “fish out of water’’ feeling had long gone. I was feeling good on a bike. Weirdly I didn’t shy away from the pain of climbing hills, and I reveled in the bone-deep tiredness after a long day of riding. I was fitter than I’d probably ever been, and I’d met some great people along the way. If only I’d started riding 20 years earlier.
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