So I’ve got this mate who is as keen as they get when it comes to cycling. To them, the best start to a day is to get out on the bike and sneak in a few miles before work. Foul weather or fine, muddy trails and water crossings make no difference, as long as they are out and about on two wheels, that’s what matters. So, I was particularly taken aback to find they don’t do hills. Or rather, they do them because they have to, in the same way that you have to finish your Brussels sprouts before you can have dessert.
I was out riding with them the other day and we turned a corner to be faced with a long steep climb that disappeared around the corner. As I scoped it out and tried to decide a suitable gear I heard a crashing and grinding from behind as my riding pard’ner went tumbling down through the ratios to the baby ring on the front and pulled the derailleur hard across to the left to find the biggest gear on the back. Suddenly their feet were a blur as the bike crawled forward, and we hadn’t even hit the climb. I think they must have read my expression of disbelief
“i’ve got a bad knee” he offered weakly.
I just don’t get this “hills aren’t for me” attitude, unless you live in Lincolnshire they are part of the package, but then I also like Brussel sprouts. I’m usually to be found on Boxing day morning tucking into a tupperware box containing the cold left overs from the previous day’s excesses before heading out to the Southdowns. In the same way, I love climbing, I love trying to catch that balance between pushing yourself to the limit, but not so far as to black out or bring up the brussels.
Wuhan doesn’t have a lot of great climbs, but the few they have are steep and wind back and forth across the face of the hill in a series of switchbacks. The highest is only about 500ft, but do that six times and you’ve got 3000ft under your belt before a more conventional breakfast.
Unfortunately, these hills are in the middle of a public park. This wasn’t a problem until recently because the gates were left wide open and unattended until about 7am every day, so as long as you nipped in before then all you had to do was to wind up the bike to about 30mph on the way out so you were through the gates before the guard even had to time to say “hey……”
But then they padlocked the gates.
I was worried I might have played some part in precipitating this action because I would try to descend as fast as possible to try and keep my heart rate up and I thought perhaps somebody had complained of a rider coming round the mountain at 40mph+. But this is China and everyone carries on like that; in the end it turned out the gates were locked because they were overhauling the park to turn it into a family entertainment centre.
In the meantime I had sought out a back route into the park via a fairly circuitous route that involved a 15 mile detour around a lake. But the bigger problem was that the whole area was enveloped in large scale engineering projects that cut vast swathes through the landscape, razing whole villages and tearing up roads in the process. I finally figured out a route through the torturous and ever changing backdrop only to find the road had disappeared upon my return. It was then that I found the original gate I used was now open, but when I went past the next time they had erected barriers to stop anyone wheeling a bike through. Bastards
Yesterday I went back for another shot at finding the back entrance. From Google Earth I had a pretty good idea at which point I needed to start looking for a side road by the position of the railway line relative to the main road and the lakeside.
The first three turn offs turned out to be dead ends, but interesting nevertheless. Further progress down the first was barred by a large set of padlocked gates that looked as if they would topple at the slightest provocation but there was a bloke standing on the other side in his underpants watching me from a doorway and smoking a cigarette.
The next road took me to the lake side which, while picturesque, wasn’t what I wanted. The third also dead ended, this time in a small smelly farmyard that reminded me of riding stables. A cockerel strutted provocatively across my path and a pack of dogs watched me nervously. As I turned around one of them cautiously trotted towards me and then started barking loudly as I rode off, chasing me half heartedly down the road. When I yelled a “come on then son” at him he whimpered slightly and gave up. I allowed myself a smug grin and then almost collided with a car tooling down the road in the opposite direction, forcing me into the undergrowth.
The fourth road yielded success. And I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon because it passes underneath the new railway line that started off the whole revision of the area. I found the other end of the original road I had taken to the park and followed it back towards the main road to find where it stopped. I encountered two large cranes lifting metal girders into position for the new highway. Beyond them was a sea of mud. No wonder I lost it.
In any event, I had found my hills. Bring it on.