I just got back from a vacation to Alaska, where my parents live. My mom, knowing about my angst when I can’t squeeze in some decent aerobic exercise, took the unprecedented step of purchasing a bike for me before I came to visit. My mom is not a bike person, and therefore, she spent a whopping $15 on this gorgeous piece of machinery you see here:
As you can see, it’s a circa mid-’90s chromoly steel Huffy complete with those trashy tension shifters, a bent small chainring, a massive saddle, oh but an upgraded front tire.
My mother expected me to turn my nose up at it, but I showed up with pretty low expectations. And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to give this thing a fair shake. I mean, after all, if Greg Lemond and Mark Allen rode Huffys, surely I could too. And besides, my mom had told me about this freaking awesome paved climb near their home, so I had to go check that out somehow.
After a few test rides and some modifications (you’ll notice I turned the handlebars around to give me some extra reach—the bike was pretty short on top), I decided it was time to take that puppy, er, Huffy on its maiden voyage.
The road my mom recommended was a zig-zaggy section of switchbacks that climbed up the side of a 2,500-foot mountain, the sister peak of the main mountain in town. I’d start climbing around 800 feet above sea level and then gain a little more than 1,300 feet in about 3 miles, coming out to about 8% in gradient. So overall, a potent little climb.
The first day I rode it (or maybe it was the second—I don’t remember), there was thick cloud cover the whole way up and even a light rain—perfect climbing conditions. I quickly discovered that the granny gear was bent beyond usefulness, so I wound up toughing out the really steep sections in my middle ring. The most beastly part of the climb came near the top when the pavement gave way to dirt:
Muscling my way through that section was a genuine challenge, particularly on the junk bike. But it was also a lot of fun.
One morning, as I got rolling, I came through a neighborhood with garbage scattered everywhere on the road. I asked one guy who was cleaning it up if some bears had gotten into his trash, and he confirmed my suspicions. That was a little freaky, knowing I was riding through bear territory, but in the end, I never saw a wild bear while I was on the bike.
I guess my parents have a black bear that frequents the neighborhood. But the last day, a lady out walking warned us that two grizzlies had been seen out that morning getting into someone’s trash. That’s Alaska, I suppose. You’re constantly on the fringe of wilderness, even when you’re in the thick of suburbia.
The last day I rode there, which just happened to be yesterday, I got halfway up the road when I noticed a bunch of teenagers going up the road on roller skis—the type with the hinge in the front to mimic XC skiing. I passed a handful of them jawboning their way up the mountain.
Then, as I came closer to the dirt road at the top, I noticed a bunch of them had gathered around a vehicle. I figured it must’ve been a local nordic ski club, or the high school XC ski team out doing hill repeats. Either way, I thought it was pretty cool to see them out doing that sort of thing.
As I passed by and said hello, the coach (or some silver-haired fella who looked too old to be a member of the team) said to me, “You’re not huffing nearly as much as that Huffy you’re on.” I responded, “Yeah, it’s doing all the work.”
The truth is, the Huffy had kind of grown on me. My position was relatively comfortable, and I felt like I was getting some decent workouts with it. I was almost sad to leave it behind, truth be known.
But, alas, the top of the dirt road came eventually, and with it came the end of my ride. My trip home, after all, was little more than a spiraling downhill. As I came back down to the last switchback, a female XC skier said something inaudible to me. I stopped and said, “What?” She responded, “Don’t die on the downhill.”
Good advice. After all, if I’d croaked while descending an 8-percent hill on a mid-’90s Huffy clunker mountain bike, I might’ve qualified for a Darwin Award.