The Abominable Flatlander
There was a time when the idea of a climb being too steep on any given day was a foreign concept, an idea beyond comprehension, when shrugging off a ride because he thought it might be too much, that he wouldn't be able to keep up with the others, was a void, unfathomably deep and dark.
Time passed, the kind measured in years. The twenties, when belief in his ability exceeded the very concepts his mind sought to measure; the thirties, the peak years; Zeus, even the forties, almost unbelievably came to an end, and abruptly becoming the fifties. Through those first two decades gaps between climbing weeks simply did not exist, every week included multiple days of multiple climbs. Some were solo, others in the group. Each was reveled in, equally. There were always older guys on those rides, on those days. They were the guys who reached the summit well after his breathing returned to normal, after the sweat on his arm had begun to dry. If he had looked, he might have seen the bell-curve in that; but he was at the top and the downward slope was beyond his field of vision.
It wasn't until the forties that he noticed a slowing of the legs, the more frequent spinning rather than pushing of the big gears. Those bottom two gears on the cassette took on an oily grime like all the others, where once they had been spotless and dis-used. He might not have admitted the reason, but more often rides became solo ones, without pressure to keep up or, for that matter, ride at the front. Mountain biking became the perfect escape.
He convinced himself that the climbing he did on the mountain bike was enough to maintain his status, if not the fitness and ability level required of the roadie mountain goat caste. The comparison between the two - climbing on dirt, and climbing on pavement - was equal to comparing apples and oranges, dachshunds and wolfhounds. Sure, some similarities existed - fruits, dogs, ascension (yes, ascension. Lets face it there is no greater claim than King of the Mountain, the pinnacle to which all climbers surely aspire, and thus, ascendance to that elevated state of being is surely the correct word in this instance). The short punchy climbs that punctuated most of his regular road routes were a mockery of the word 'climb', but they did traverse in the correct vertical direction.
It was a sham, and he knew it.
back in the mountains, almost a grin
Not that he would have considered the climbing he did in the dirt to be in some way deficient. On the contrary, if asked to decide which he liked better - road or dirt, he would have been hard-pressed to choose. But they were different, and riding more of one, meant riding less of the other.
The smile spread across the lower half of his face belied the pleasure and satisfaction he took from the road whenever it turned toward the sun, the cloud-filled sky, or the forested slopes leading to the rocky heights of distant summits. That grin appeared less frequently, simply because he less frequently did the kinds of rides that brought it on. He might as well call himself a roadie flatlander. It was an abominable thing to imagine. He thought back to those older guys, how they began to show up less often. Had he become them? Had he reached that point in the cycle? If not, how could he avoid it, and if so, was it too late to alter the course, to get back on track for, at least, another few years?
Time, as ever, will tell. Get out and ride.