Feeling Like a Proper Cyclist

Emily Woodhouse Living Adventurously

I‘m halfway up a hill. I think. My chest is tight like someone’s tied a strap round it. I’ve never been here before, but I’ve cycled past the turning most days now for the past 3 months.

I click down the gears. It gets steeper. I know it’s steep. That’s why I’ve always avoided it.

Not because I’m scared, but because it doesn’t make sense.

I would never call myself a cyclist. Other people do, but I wouldn’t – not unless I was really running out of characters on a social media bio.

Do I cycle? Yes, absolutely.

I currently cycle 20 miles to work and 20 miles back, at least 3 times a week. I’ve cycled 2274 miles across western Europe because it sounded more exciting than the job I was in (P.S. It was.) I’ve cycled the Danube from Passau to Vienna and the 410 km from Salzburg to the Adriatic Sea.

Would I call myself a cyclist? No.

I cycle to get places. My cycling is, for the most part, out of choice (perhaps, “self-inflicted”) but I don’t do it for the sheer thrill of cycling. I use it to travel.

The single track road narrows into tight, steep bends. The hedges close in. I hit bottom gear and settle into the push.

The idea that I might want to make my route unnecessarily longer or harder seems a bit ridiculous. Why would I do that?

I’m breathing so hard that, if I think about it too much, I feel like I might actually be sick. Don’t think. Keep breathing. Push! I rattle over the cattle grid and the hill starts to ease off. Panting, I click back up some gears and let the car that’s appear behind me over take.

Here I am, riding hills for the sake of hills. I could have gone the easier route (like I always do) but today I thought I’d take on the notoriously steep and unknown. After all, I’ve got to do the height gain somehow. Maybe it was because the ride was going well. Maybe it was from over-inflated confidence when the serious-looking middle-aged man on a road bike still hadn’t caught me on the previous mile of gentle uphill.

Either way, I smashed it – and I’ll be doing it again to make sure it doesn’t smash me. The question is: if I’m doing hills for the sake of hills, does that make me a real cyclist?