As I’ve wandered the pathways of Google, I’ve been happy to find that the late amazing Mr. R. Williams was an avid bicyclist. I used to be one as well. Although I’ve never had the kind of money he had to spend on the latest in titanium and carbon made beauties, I’ve held my fair share of purchases in the name of a good ride.
Years ago, when I worked at Sesame Workshop (Elmo is still in my blood), I had a massive crush on a VP who was a major cyclist. During the warm months, he’d ride to and from work, stomping into the office in his bike shorts and clip ons. On weekends, he’d leave his apartment in Morningside Heights on the seat of his bike, and high tail it across the George Washington Bridge to head up route 9W – a road that runs parallel to the Palisades Parkway. He’d cycle for at least 25 miles into the suburban sprawl of Rockland County, or on some weekends – to Westchester, and bike it back – making it a full day excursion. That kind of freaked me out – being so vulnerable to space and mileage, being away from your home on a bike where your muscle and energy is the main way to get to and from one’s destination. I remember a summer I spent in Cambridge, England where a friend and I biked several miles out of town into the country. I felt a combination of exhilaration and panic. Wide open spaces and beautiful fields thrill me, but being alone on a bike so far from home – freaked me. I almost went off track and began cycling off the country road down a ramp leading to the motorway.
Always the athletic kind, and pretty happy to catch my crush’s addiction, I purchased a Specialized hybrid bike from a terrific cyclist shop in Piermont, NY – which is along the way of a well known bike route. I bought the shoes that clip, the shorts with the butt padding, the helmet, and gloves. I kept the bike in my apartment in Manhattan. Come spring and summer, when the days were long, I’d pull out the Specialized after work and bike it over to Central Park where I’d ride around the drive that circled the entire span until I approached The Great Hill.
The Great Hill is a bugger. It’s at the northern tip of the Park, well above 100th street. Most seasoned bikers probably think of it as just a lump. To me, it’s the great monster – the monstrosity that needs to be concurred. After riding the changing terrain of the drive, dashing around joggers and pedestrians, you approach the Meer – a waterway at the base of The Hill. That’s the landmark. It’s where you pull your shit together, gird your loins, get the lungs ready, because that road was going to begin to turn upwards to the heavens.
As I pulled my bike up the incline, I’d see the fallout of those who could not make it, and the glory of those who could. While others would zip up that majesty of steepness, others would slowly climb it, only to get off their bikes and walk it, their wheels ticking in defeat. Yet, it was worth keeping oneself steady up this high road. Once you saw the top of the hill, the euphoric snap of adrenaline would hit. With each thrust of the pedal, each pump of muscle, you were about to accomplish a personal heroic feat of reaching the pinnacle of that giant mount. Then, you’d be rewarded with the speed, breeze and ease of rushing downhill, cooling down with another ride around the drive, where you would face the Great Hill again.
I still have my Specialized bike. Sadly, throughout the years, I’ve taken a few serious spills on the old thing, causing great injuries that I can still feel today. The last time I tried to ride was Memorial Day weekend in 2005, when going down hill, my gears snagged. I gripped the brakes and was thrust off the bike where I landed and rolled on my ankle so badly, I broke my foot. It’s almost a decade later, and getting on this old friend makes me dizzy with fear. Yet, I’ve carried it with me from move to move – even across country to Los Angeles where it sits in my hallway waiting for the day I overcome my strange fear of the ride. I’ve tried to sell it, but can’t seem to. I want to get on that bike again one day. I want to find the courage to concur the Great Hill again.