Long climbs do not exist in central Maryland, especially in the sense they do out West. So, when we’re feeling especially daring or in the mood for a struggle, we Maryland cyclists go up our short but nasty steep hills as fast as possible. And on ridiculous days, we go up more than one of these hills, or even the same hills more than once. After a good suffer, we tell ourselves that we’re actually good climbers. Whether or not this is true, I don’t know. But it’s the best we’ve got.
Today, The Ironman, Twin, and I went up two nasty hills around school. The roads are called Westchester and Illchester. Twin and the Ironman told me that Westchester was the hardest hill around, but I said Nay, Illchester is certainly the hardest around. So, we went up both today to prove once and for all that Illchester is in fact the hardest. Or is it?
Westchester is about four miles from campus, where we started. When we got to it, we took a right and went straight on up. It starts with a pretty steep pitch, turns right, switchbacks left, and then goes straight on up and up for a mile. The grade at the beginning was a challenge, but it did not last long. The whole way up I kept waiting for something bigger and harder, but it never came. When we got to the top, Twin and The Ironman were tired, but I felt alright. The Ironman assured me, yet again, that Westchester was the hardest hill, but I was far from impressed.
We moseyed on over to the base of Illchester and stared at the steep asphalt before us. The road has posted signs for an 18% grade (which is easily a low estimation) at the beginning, which lasts for about a quarter mile. Then, the road turns left, lowers in grade just a bit, but then turns back right and gets steeper again before the climb finishes up. The entire climb is around three-quarters of a mile long (feels like two miles) and is brutal. The first time I attacked it going way too fast. I sprinted up the 20% grade and then had nothing left for the remaining half-mile and got to feeling dizzy with limp arms. So this time I went easier, but still at a good pace. I beat Twin and The Ironman to the top by half a minute. When we reached the top, we each laid our bikes down and talked about the climb.
It was definitely harder. The 22% pitch (yes, the grade gets steeper every time anyone tells the story of Illchester) at the beginning does not leave you with much to continue on up. It is the only paved hill to leave me dizzy after just 3/4 mile. But it is all worth it to turn around and come back down. I hit 51 mph my first time down. My vision blurred and tears ran straight back to my ears. It was wonderful.