Although we ride bikes every day in Oriental, those bikes are plain, lightweight, gearless models. Simple: you want to go, you pedal; you want to stop, you kick back. It's easy to get lost riding for a long time there because there are no hills. None.
Today we took mountain bikes to the trail that runs from Meredith College to Umstead Park. It was the first time I've been on a bike with gears since I was a kid, and I didn't really get how to operate one even then. I rode around the parking lot a few times to get the feel of the ride. The front wheel felt unstable, wobbling back and forth, but after a minute or two I thought I could manage a straight line.
We headed down the trail. For the first hundred feet the trail is fairly level. Then a big downhill ride. Of course the pessimist side of my brain would hardly let the optimist side enjoy the breeze and ease, reminding me that soon I would be going uphill. But before we got to the up-hell part, we rode over the beltline. I'm not really one for heights, but it was not a problem. I just didn't look down. In fact, I couldn't look down because I had to try to keep the bike on a straight and narrow to keep from swerving over and crashing into the walkers and riders on the other side.
On the other side of the bridge, the big hill came into view. I made it about a fourth of the way up and had to walk the rest of the way. Walking's good, I kept telling myself.
We rode maybe a fourth of the entire length of the trail and rode back. I alternated between euphoria down the hills and exertions beyond anything I had experienced walking/riding up those long inclines.
My middle daughter rides her bike all over Asheville, and I have a new-found respect for her strength and stamina.
I was red-faced, sweaty, wobbly, and whipped at the end of that ride, but elated too. I had ridden a bike with gears for the first time in over forty years and lived to tell the story. And I plan to get back on and ride some more hills as soon as I can. Now that I know that I can.