Ride Report: Memorial Day Hills

In a newly minted tradition, a whole bunch of us went on the indefatigable Mr Greene’s Memorial Day Hill Ride. An incredible 30+ people showed up to climb hills and suffer 90F temperatures. I thought it an excellent way to really begin the summer, catching up with friends and meeting new faces.

After last year’s ride Kevin and I talked a bit about my theory that good rides are hard or fun, but truly great rides are emotional. Last year was exactly that. I hadn’t done a big group hill ride in years and was a little concerned beforehand. It was a moving moment then to get an hour in and realize I was killing it.

This year I couldn’t defend my title, but I did pretty well against a large group with a bunch of guys I respect as well as some new ringers. I did though have a deeply satisfying weekend and rode a lot, in near-brutal heat: A fast century on Saturday (Vino Velo, then TTing to Valley Forge); Sunday in Belmont & Wissahickon for a metric MTB century (62mi; this is quite a bit in MTB world); Monday the hill ride and then some for another century worth 8200ft (corrected) of some of Philly’s best hills. Very rewardingly, this is pretty high volume and mostly hard miles, but wasn’t overwhelmingly crushing; I feel pretty good. It did though give me a lot of time to think.

As many people have realized—and pointed out unnecessarily often!—at the top of the year I turned thirty. Despite cliches, it’s kind of a big deal. As my mom put it, “How do you think your father and I feel? We’ve got a son who’s 30!” Not that long ago envisioning anything past twenty-seven was just a fathomless chasm; thirty was as remote and alien to me as the dark side of the moon.

This year also marked the first time cycling eclipsed soccer as the sport in which I have spent the most years of my life, fifteen years now. It is quite a different scene than it was. When I originally joined QCW ten years ago, I think Colton and I were basically the only ones under thirty. Now there are collegiate riders, recent alumni, even juniors all over every group ride, often dominating in both numbers and strength. It’s a huge shift in culture that’s been fascinating to watch and to help drive.

Looking back, twenty-five year old Joe was pretty fit and a strong racer. He could sprint a bit faster, probably get up steep hills a little quicker. But thirty year old Joe would absolutely crush that me; any one of this holiday’s rides would have made a good weekend. Looking further, eighteen year old Joe couldn’t have even really appreciated the power, endurance, and competence involved.

That’s a strong statement. So much of our culture is predicated on looking back at college, back at high school, as high points. It’s quite different to say, actually, no, these¬†are my best days—not when I was twenty-five, not when I was eighten, but right here and now, when I’m thirty.

From the opposite end, I remember when I was twenty looking up to riders in the club and being blown away. I’d watch racers I rode with a lot like Rick and Ted and think “Hell, I just hope I’m still riding when I’m thirty, let alone strong like these guys.” And now I am thirty, and I am strong.

There’s a defiance and a force behind both those lines of thought that I try to pool up, a reservoir of strength to put behind every pedal stroke when I really need to catch that wheel, when home’s a long way to go. Through miles, hours, and sheer willpower, that abyss has been turned into one of the badges I clutch dear when things look grim; a source of power instead of doubt and fear.

I’m away for work through June and July, so I’ll see y’all in August. Prepare to defend your favorite hills!