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To Climb the Steepest Hill - A Journey of Self Discovery

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

To Climb the Steepest Hill - A Journey of Self Discovery

Old 03-07-11, 01:35 PM
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To Climb the Steepest Hill - A Journey of Self Discovery

It was a day of victories, and a day broken dreams. Yes, it was another Fargo Street Hill Climb, which has become one of the more quirky traditions in my laid back city, Los Angeles.



The hill, which rises in the decidedly Bohemian district of Echo Park, took the measure of many cyclists. One woman would ride into history with a record-breaking number of runs to the top of Fargo Street. Many cyclists were victorious, others were found wanting in the balance.



The day for me was like a dream, a fever-induced dream. The night before, after dinner out with my wife, I had gone to bed too late, slept badly, and arisen too early in the morning. My gut churned, my legs were achy. Clearly my body, if not my mind, was unhappy wit the prospect of what was to come.



Perhaps that's why the rituals of the day are now just a near-hallucinogenic series of linked images in my mind: the deceptive first view of the street with its 33% grade; the colorfully-clad riders, zig-zaging across the face of the hill or trying to power straight up it; the awed collection of neighbors and spectators; signing in (I was number 26); watching some cyclists crest the top of Fargo Street; hearing a few others crash heavily to the pavement.



Or maybe weighing heavily on my mind, enough to have kept me from a sound sleep, was the thought that this year I was going ignore my toys: my mountain bike, with its super-low gearing that made child's play of the climb, and my road bike with its triple crankset, that could also cut Fargo Street down to size.

This year I was going to ride my road bike, the one with 34/27 gearing.

On my old legs, a 33-inch gear was going to make for a serious struggle, pitting my muscle and my bone and my sinew and my heart, and most importantly my mind, against the force of gravity.

Before my attempt, I watched others struggle on the hill for a while. One rider broke a chain. A few riders, in honor of the 50th birthday of one of them, accomplished the difficult feat of 50 ascents each.



At least one woman set a new record for most runs up in one day for her gender. Some cyclists came close to victory, only to fail yards from the top. Other made it only a few yards. Some riders fell, only to try again; some would succeed, some kept falling.



Part of the hallucinogenic aspect of the event became, for me, conflated with a crazy-looking tower built around a tall palm tree, the top of which had been loped off sometime during the previous year, when I had last been to Fargo Street. The tower and tree belonged to Leon, one of the street's long-time residents.

Many of the regular riders know Leon, whose hospitality on the day of the ride is legendary. Leon told us he had to cut the top of the palm off because its heavy leaves, if they fell, could damage a car or kill someone standing underneath.

While Leon's tower may be a construction project, it's more than that. Given his colorful past, which includes working in a circus, his lively and creative mind, and his experience as a contractor, I'm not surprised that the tower looks like a massive piece of art. Leon, wielding his saw, not only cut down an overgrown palm tree, he was a performance artist.



Leon allowed me and my brother to ascend the tower, to take in the awesome view (which includes the Hollywood Sign and the Santa Monica Mountains, and a fair chunk of city) and make some photographs of the riders far below us. It was a unique perspective, and somewhat vertiginous when I stared straight down. The tower, sturdy though it was, pitched a little this way and that in the light wind that had sprung up.



Meanwhile, I'd had a good warm-up, with a nine-mile ride through streets without traffic on an early Sunday morning. I'd spent a little too much time talking with friends and watching other riders take on the hill. Now it was my turn to try the climb. I started my ascent slowly, tacking back and forth carefully on the narrow street. At first, the tacks were easier, my breathing under control. "I can do this!"

Each turn up through the 33% fall line, though, took a toll. It became ever-more difficult to find the strength to turn the pedals and to keep my balance on the steep slope. I had to muster all the experience I had from my many years riding Fargo Street.

How much did the ride mean to me? What would it mean to topple off my bike, like the top of the palm Leon had cut loose? In my moment of free-fall, would I lose some of the meaning, the very purpose, of my life? Could a single, age-related failure do that? Maybe.

What would success bring? Affirmation that I still have what it takes to live life in a fully physical sense? Maybe.

The outcome wasn't assured until I was 20 yards from the top. That was, for me, the point of the ride: to dance my way on my pedals up a narrow ridge of concrete, balanced between victory and defeat.



With those last yards, I turned my wheel straight uphill and tried to show off, powering my way up. Instead, it was all I could do to keep the bike moving forward. Later, after I recovered my breath, my brother posed for me in a mirror after his own ride to the top.

The hill is still mine. I am still alive. Yet there must come a day when I will fail to make the top of Fargo Street, no matter how light my bike or how low the gears. That's part of my journey, not just on Fargo Street, but through my life.



When most of the riders had enough, lots of us headed to downtown for one more tradition, lunch at Phillpe's, "home of the original French Dip sandwich!" We met some of the riders from the Veloce Santiago club, as well as many of the members of the club that sponsored the ride, the Los Angeles Wheelmen.

While I was done once more with Fargo Street, I knew I wasn't done with my last ride up Fargo Street. Now, sitting with my brother, surrounded by friends, chowing down on a tender roast beef sandwich, with my fever cooled, I never felt better.
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Old 03-07-11, 01:47 PM
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Thanks for sharing!
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Old 03-07-11, 02:09 PM
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Nicely done!
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Old 03-07-11, 02:12 PM
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More pics from Fargo Street.



















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Old 03-07-11, 02:18 PM
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Great post. I am ready to try it.
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Old 03-07-11, 02:34 PM
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Any recumbent riders?
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People here don't get it.
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Old 03-07-11, 02:38 PM
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nice work, i always enjoy your posts.
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Old 03-07-11, 02:39 PM
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There was one recumbent rider. I don't know if he made it.
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Old 03-07-11, 02:40 PM
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Awesome - that was a great post
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Old 03-07-11, 02:48 PM
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did the guy on the Elliptigo make it?
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Old 03-07-11, 03:26 PM
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Originally Posted by AngryScientist
nice work, i always enjoy your posts.
+1. Always good reading.
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Old 03-07-11, 03:47 PM
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Incredible post! Thanks for sharing.
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Old 03-07-11, 03:54 PM
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How do people ride down? (On another street?)
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Old 03-07-11, 04:10 PM
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neat story, neat shots. Even neater that you were able to shoot it with a 126 camera, go back in time and get the negs printed at a 1960-70 era photo lab with round edged square prints, some even with some real looking magenta cast that looks like 40 year old prints.
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Old 03-07-11, 04:11 PM
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Pictures!! Please.
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Old 03-07-11, 04:13 PM
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Looks awesome and "fun". How long is the hill (didn't see it in your text), and why - at least from the pics - were there so many mountain bikes/commuter bikes and not road bikes? I figure knobby tires would take its toll with friction/weight. But hey, what the heck do I know?
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Old 03-07-11, 04:45 PM
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Originally Posted by mpath
why - at least from the pics - were there so many mountain bikes/commuter bikes and not road bikes?
I'm guessing because they are set up with easier gearing.
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Old 03-07-11, 04:55 PM
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Thank you for sharing!

Someone did it on an unicycle:
Originally Posted by UniGeezer
Since my last climb up Fargo street on 2/23/11, I was filled with both anticipation AND apprehension about today’s (3/6/11) “Annual Fargo hill street climb challenge”! When I did my climb back on 2/23/11, I had nearly collapsed upon finishing, and by lungs continued to burn like fire for the next 24 hours! So I had serious doubts as to if I could ever do it again!

Plus, I just got bad news last week from my doc, that I have Hypothyroidism, of which a hallmark symptom is fatigue! But I just said to myself that I MUST do this! I’ve trained too hard and prepared myself, and I will do make this climb if it kills me! And it almost did the last time, haha! But with the hundreds of bikers, spectators, media, plus my LBS sponsor and my brother were there, I had everything riding on this!

I got to Fargo early, and signed up and got my lucky number “7”, and then it was showtime. So after some stretching and a good deep breath, I mounted my 24" mountain unicycle, and went for it! After about 100 feet I realized that, unlike last time, THIS time there were other participants…on BIKES…that I had to contend with during the climb!

They space the riders out but invariably people tend to bunch up now and then, and it happened to me more than once! I found myself having to balance in one spot, and sometimes hop in place, to avoid a collision! That slowed me down a bit, and gravity would throw me back down the massive 33% grade hill each time I hopped!

But, at the ¾ point up, I started gaining confidence that I might pull it off! To my great surprise, my legs felt strong with no noticeable lactic acid, and my lungs weren't burning like last time. With 50 feet to go, I knew I had it in the bag, and as I crested the top, I felt relief and great excitement, and this time, instead of nearly collapsing after my last climb when my buddy Steve was there, I THRUST my uni over my head in victory, as a tribute to my broter waiting below. I got my patch and now it was official!

After a few minutes, I rode back down, got lots of high fives, and chatted with several people. After giving a couple interviews with media that was there, a reporter from OC Register—who was late getting there and missed my climb—just asked me to “recreate it” by riding up for only about 20 feet, so he could snap some shots for the paper.

I said sure, and casually started my short, 20 foot climb. But after he said thanks and got the shot, I decided to keep going! So many more people had arrived since my first climb, so I thought, why not. I’ve already got my patch, so if I can’t make it a second time, no biggie, I’ve got my patch anyway!

So I kept going…and going…and…I made it to the top for a *second* time in a row! Wow! Oddly, I still felt strong, but after hanging out for a little longer, I drove another 35 miles to do a nice 10 mile MUni ride on my 29er! What an epic day! :thumb

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Old 03-07-11, 05:04 PM
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"Even neater that you were able to shoot it with a 126 camera"

You noticed, djb!

I used my iPhone, with the aptly named "Hipstamatic" app, which can create all sorts of retro looks in-camera, er, in-cell.

The non-retro shots were made with a Panasonic ZS7, which fits into my jersey pocket.
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Old 03-07-11, 05:11 PM
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Very nice!! Thank you.
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Old 03-07-11, 05:18 PM
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Originally Posted by mpath
Looks awesome and "fun". How long is the hill (didn't see it in your text), and why - at least from the pics - were there so many mountain bikes/commuter bikes and not road bikes? I figure knobby tires would take its toll with friction/weight. But hey, what the heck do I know?
The hill is only 1/10th of a mile long. With a 33% grade, though, it's a very long 1/10th of a mile.

The weight of a mt. bike and the size of its tires aren't an issue. Mountain bikes have very low gears, compared to road bikes. Which means most roadies would fail on the hill. A couple of riders on road bikes did power straight up the hill, and my brother, who's 59 and in awesome shape, pedaled up on his Klein road bike in a 39/27 gear.

Was it "fun?" In a masochistic sort of way, yes!
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Old 03-07-11, 05:34 PM
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I'll definitely put this on my 'to do' list one day!
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Old 03-07-11, 05:47 PM
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That is one brutal looking hill. Whew !!
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Old 03-07-11, 05:50 PM
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Has anyone ever done it on a unicycle?
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Old 03-07-11, 05:55 PM
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Originally Posted by icyclist
"Even neater that you were able to shoot it with a 126 camera"

You noticed, djb!

I used my iPhone, with the aptly named "Hipstamatic" app, which can create all sorts of retro looks in-camera, er, in-cell.

The non-retro shots were made with a Panasonic ZS7, which fits into my jersey pocket.
--figured as much (iPhone app or thereabouts) but couldnt resist goofing ya.
Yup, been around photography for 30 odd years, worked in it for over 20 in commercial stuff, and do actually have 126 prints in our family album from when I was a kid. Speaking of 126, remember the Minox spy cameras? They were square too I think (in the mid 80s I worked at a photo shop for a summer job and there was still a guy who used to bring in the little itsy bitsy cartridges to get processed, we sent them off somewhere where they still did it)

-again, nice shots of a goofy hill event. Doubt I'll ever be in L.A, but if I do, I would certainly check it out.

cheers
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