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Friday, August 27, 2010

False Summits

It's a long way to the top. And, when you get there, it's a lonely place, so I've been told. But we climb. To get away from what's below? Or to get closer to what's above? Whatever, it seems to be in our blood.

Growing up in New Orleans, you'd think I'd have no concept of hills and climbing. But you would be wrong. Thanks to a WPA project in the 1930's, New Orleans had one (a hill) - the 28 foot high Monkey Hill at the Audubon Park Zoo. It wasn't for the zoo's monkeys; they had their own island complete with castle and swing sets. No, it was for us, the children of New Orleans. So we could experience a real hill. And what a hill it was. There was a path worn in the grass on one side where we would run up then, after taking in the view from such a breathtaking height, run or, preferably, roll to the bottom. It was my introduction to hills.

Monkey Hill in the 1950's. Apparently today it sports a rope bridge and other "amenities." No comment.

Riding a bicycle also gives one a chance to ponder the meaning of elevation. I came across an article in a cycling magazine about how to ride on flat terrain and promptly dismissed it. There are, after all, no flats, only hills you never noticed until you saw them from behind the handlebars of a bicycle. Hills were daunting to me when I first started riding. In fact, I thought, in all seriousness, that if I could ever haul myself and my bike up Bliss Road ONE time, I'd retire from riding. But I did ride it. And I didn’t retire. Instead, I've been climbing hills ever since.

All of this climbing has introduced me to the phenomenon of false summits. When you get to the Alpine Inn at the top of Bliss Road, you have arrived. A destination in its own right and on a section of flat road to boot. But keep going just a short distance and the road pops up again.

Then there is the false summit on the climb up Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. After working your way up to about 12,000 feet, you find yourself at a rest stop from which you can see the road ahead, finally, start winding down. But after descending about 200 feet, you come around a curve and encounter a rising switchback. It is only after another 400 feet of climbing that you reach the REAL summit at 12,183 feet.

At the real summit on Trail Ridge Road.

Let's not forget the "rolling ascent" where the road undulates with each high point higher than the previous one. And this is ALWAYS the case on rollers. I've never experienced a rolling descent, even on roads that I ride out and back. Must be an Escher thing.

Rolling towards Lanesboro, MN from the south. See that last peak? The one waayyy out there in the distance? ...

...It wasn't as intimidating as it looked from afar.

But the thing is, false summits have, in spite of the somewhat negative connotation of the name, a certain appeal. For one thing, they provide a chance to rest and reflect on the climbs - the one behind and the one yet to come. And they are, as the name summit implies, high points in their own right. And isn’t it nice to know, that while you can enjoy the high of the elevation provided by the faux peak, there is higher ground ahead. More challenges to embrace. And a better view to enjoy.

It's been like that over the course of the ten mission trips I've taken. Each has had a high point or two. False summits, it has turned out. Some were more impressive than others, but each was special in its own way. Several were followed by brief "descents" that, at the time, seemed to be only lost ground. But a few have been revealed to simply have been leading to new highs. And some of the others, I expect, will eventually lead there, too.

As for riding, I'm pretty sure I've already been as high as I'm ever going to be on my Trek. Or on any other bike, for that matter. Breaking 12,183 feet is NOT on my list of fifty things to do...

So, keep riding. Accept the challenge to go up. And may all your highs be nothing more than false summits.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"If it weren't for the valleys below, mountains wouldn't seem so high . . . " as the song goes. We can't stay on the peaks but briefly, but what exhilaration! Even sitting on a roof like I did yesterday . . . why does being on a high make us smile?