Friday, 22 May 2015

Hill Dread

I have this thing that I have termed 'Hill Dread'. I don't remember exactly when it started, but I remember suffering from it acutely on our first multi-day mini-tour from Sheffield to Devon when I found out about Porlock Hill. For days beforehand I was consumed with a gnawing anxiety about facing this hill and as the final day of our tour approached, the day we would ride up this hill, waves of panic would sweep over me and I would picture all the ways things would go wrong on the hill. Notice the use of the word would, not could. It's totally irrational. My rational, normal self knows this, but it doesn't help. My irrational, fear-filled mind pictures the hill looming ahead and me running out of puff, unable to pedal any longer, but incapable of unclipping my foot from my pedal and toppling sideways, this is when it gets gruesome. Depending on the terrain I have imagined falling into the road and being hit by traffic, smashing my head on rocks or fences by the side of the road, falling off a cliff and/or at the very least falling into a soft hedge but landing in nettles/dog poo/thorns. I am so sure that one of these scenarios will inevitably happen that I will unclip my right foot at the first sign of any steepness on a hill as a precaution so I'm able to put my foot down when I run out of steam.

It's somewhat ironic that being unclipped makes hill climbing less efficient and so increases the likelihood that I will have to stop or get off, but it's a price I'm willing to pay to not stove my head in on a rock or fall in the path of a truck.  I think that cycling up hills in a constant state of fear and anxiety also sadly uses up a load of energy I'd be better off spending on propelling myself up the hill, but alas once the Hill Dread had set in nothing could cure it, I just had to put my head down, grit my teeth and make it to the top.

But here's the thing, at some point over the last couple of months my Hill Dread has abated. I no longer unclip at the first sign of a steep grade, knowing we have to climb a mountain pass no longer fills me with panicky worry for days beforehand and I'm not choosing routes based on avoiding hills. Fitness is definitely part of what's made it better. Whereas at first when climbing all, and I do mean ALL, of my energy went on keeping the bike moving forward and trying to control my terror which meant both hands on handlebars & eyes entirely focussed on the two meters of Tarmac in front of my wheel; I'm now able to look up, I smile at passing cars, I check out the scenery, I can eat sweets out my handlebar bag and blow my nose, and I don't feel like my lungs might spontaneously combust at any moment.

My confidence in my cycling ability has also grown, probably helped along with improved fitness, but also by the realisation that I can do this.  It may be hard work, it may take a long time, but I can keep rotating my pedals and eventually I will make it because, like the biker we met in California said: 'I am so tough!'  I'm semi-kidding, but I'm also kind of serious.  This trip has made me realise I am capable of enduring quite a lot of physical exertion, as long as I don't have to be fast.  I seem to be able to find reserves at the end of a long day, stay positive in the face of a head wind and keep pedalling when we've already been in the saddle for 10 hours and it feels really good to be able to rely on yourself to get you where you need to go. We've come a long way since those first few days of getting beat up by Old La Honda. I don't know how many mountain passes we've conquered, but I'm most proud of getting over my Hill Dread as it feels like we can take on anything now.

Unfortunately the highest pass we've climbed so far was Cedar Mountain (9898ft I think) but there was no elevation or summit sign at the top.  The steepest we climbed was over Teton Pass (10%), but that also was lacking a summit sign.  But hey ho, we know we've done it and that's the main thing!


  1. If you believe it is achievable you will achieve your goal! Mr P

    1. Thanks Mr P! Have you been watching Happy Feet 2?

  2. This is definitely a case of 'feel the fear and do it anyway. What a great outcome! As I have said - 'this journey will make you' ...

  3. Go Sophie! It's really interesting to hear about these elements of your trip as well as the sights and shennanagins ;)