Still Hilly after all these years

All pictures by Craig Burgess

My friend, Craig Burgess, is an architect. The fact that he is an architect has nothing to do with this story, which he wrote at my insistent badgering. I just like the idea that I know someone with design skills. Here Craig writes about Hilly Hundred, a ride that I used to do every year, years ago, and that he recently completed for the second time. –Sam J.

I love autumn and beautiful scenery, and enjoy being out in it. It’s always been my favorite season, regardless of what I may or may not have said after I became a homeowner.

This autumn I decided, pretty much at the last minute, to pedal the two-day Hilly Hundred invitational ride near Bloomington, Indiana. It had been 30 years or so since the only other time I rode the event.

Discounting the effects of age, I was fitter than I had ever been. I had lost a bunch of weight over the past couple of years, and I had completed my first 1,000-mile-plus season in a long time.

Hilly would let me compare my current fitness to my past performance on more or less the same ride. Unfortunately, that old benchmark was based on faulty (and old, really old) memory.

I arrived at the high school by 7:45 a.m., fifteen minutes before the official 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. start window. The organizers have been discouraging a single start time because of the crowds.

Saturday: It’s all downhill from here, until it’s not. The route out of Ellettsville was a long, gradual downhill, which made me think that this loss of elevation was going to have to be made up somewhere, and probably not just at the end of the ride.

The first couple of hills were harder than I remembered, but once I got the first one under my belt, I got that little boost of confidence that comes from knowing you’re capable, even if it isn’t going to be as easy as you’d imagined.

The next hill was longer. It was the first hill with large groups of riders standing by the side of the road at the crest of the hill.

I rarely pedaled hard on the downhills. The dappled sunlight in the woods, while pretty, also made it hard to see the occasional rough patch, so discretion was in order. A couple of times I had a clear line of sight and got up to 40 miles an hour. That was when I discovered how much it hurts to get pelted in the face with falling maple seeds.

It was interesting to see the variety of riders and vehicles. I saw folks who ranged in age from 7 to 70, riding everything from racing, touring, hybrid and mountain bikes to recumbents, tandems, recumbent tandems and recumbent trikes.

Even so, I was surprised at how many riders would dismount and walk at the first tug of gravity.

I was still thinking of the ride as a personal challenge and myself as tough and capable, so “giving up” early and often was anathema to me. I realized later that this was idiotic thinking on my part.

Most riders were there to have fun. When an incline slowed them to the point that they weren’t having fun, they’d get off and walk. Their experience was no poorer than mine for taking that approach. In fact, they may have enjoyed themselves more than I did.

Musical entertainment was provided at each stop. However, bad timing meant I arrived during the performers’ breaks.

The lunch stop came around pretty early, but I guess that happens when you split a relatively short route into four roughly equal segments.

Lunch consisted primarily of cold KFC, with crudités and dip, a couple of cold pasta and bean salads, potato chips, lots of cookies, and bagels and peanut butter. Apple cider was served at the water truck, and Schwann’s was there, giving away a variety of ice cream treats.

More hills came on after lunch, and for the first time I walked part of one. It wasn’t the steepest or longest hill but because it came so fast on a too-full stomach, I thought it prudent to try to hang onto the fuel I’d just ingested.

Each successive hill took its own toll on my legs, until toward the end of the day I had little energy left. Standing to climb was pretty much out of the question, and my quads wanted to cramp if I was sitting down, so the last several miles were tough, especially Skull Cap Hill, which followed the last rest stop of the day.

Sunday: Shorter, windier, steeper. Sunday morning arrived earlier than I would have liked, but I felt reasonably good—good enough to have another go at the ride. Besides, I had to experience the infamous Mt. Tabor, a regular fixture of the Sunday route.

The map indicated two shortcuts, both of which I opted for. Since Saturday was a hair long at 57 miles, the short, 40-mile Sunday route would still put me within spitting distance of the full 100.

The shorter ride followed a beautiful stretch of old State Route 37 through the hamlet of Hindustan and then took a long, gentle rise through the heart of the forest where I stopped for a few moments mid-climb at the edge of a small bluff overlooking a sparkling lake.

Just like Saturday, lunch was immediately followed by a tough climb, this one up Turkey Track Hill. The roads that followed were beautiful, but the headwinds were absolutely brutal.

I finally arrived at the base of Mt. Tabor. The last half of it looked impossibly steep, very much like the top of Forest Park Drive in Peoria—a hill I’m uncomfortable with when I’m in my car.

I believe the sign at the base of the hill announced something like a 22 percent slope. I knew if I tried to climb it, I’d have to stop part way up, and because the road was narrow and crowded, that would definitely cause a traffic problem. So I joined the other walkers at the bottom and cheered on those who rode beside us. I only felt marginally guilty about it.

The rest of the short route back to the high school was uneventful, though it did have its share of small hills and the usual rolling terrain.

The final climb through downtown Ellettsville to the school grounds took the last little bit of strength I had. But even though the weekend had humbled me, I was feeling much better about the whole ride than I had been the day before.

I think most of the riders were there, at least in part, because of the challenges they established for themselves: a personal best time, not walking any hills, climbing a certain hill in a certain gear—something. One way or another, we were all tilting at our own personal windmills.

I may even return next year. Especially if I can shed this last 20 pounds and find some real hills to train on.

–Craig Burgess

About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
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1 Response to Still Hilly after all these years

  1. Lar Davis says:

    What a wonderful account – kudos for the success of entering, and surviving, and may the road rise up to greet you and the wind be at your back next season.

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