There's something special about New York City on National Holidays. There's a particular quiet and peace that's present, and this peace was definitely present as the sun was rising on this particular Indepdendence Day morning.
There were only a handful of pedestrians and runners around as I cut through Central Park en route to the George Washington Bridge. A welcomed change to the usual congestion of human beings that occupy the park on a regular basis. There were practically no cars as I cut through Harlem via St Nicholas avenue. No delivery trucks in the bike lane. No reckless delivery bikes going the opposite way of traffic. The streets were mine that morning.
As I was crossing the George Washington Bridge towards New Jersey for the x-hundreth time, there was that quiet again--that peace. The view of the Hudson River from the GWB bike path will never, ever, get old. Most of the time, I just peek back at the incredible Hudson river and say to myself, "damn." But that day was a special occasion. The sight is just that incredible; you need to get off your bike and take it all in once in awhile. I did just that halfway through the bridge on that July 4th morning. Life in the Big Apple can get pretty chaotic at times, and it's really easy to feel trapped. But for a brief moment, as I stood there on that bridge, alone, with no one in sight, for the first time in a long time - I felt free.
Forty five miles to go until I hit the base of Bear Mountain, then a 1,283 foot ascent by bike. It might not seem like much elevation to some, but that is the highest and nearest one we've got around our way. I've taken that trip many times before, but on that day, it was different. July 4th, after all, was a special day for me. It was on that particular day, in 2011, that I decided to quit smoking cigarettes after 11 years. A personal independence day, you might say.
For those forty five miles en route Bear, I reflected on my journey as a cyclist, and how I got to here and now. I remember bonking during every ride. I remember making excuses for being the last one up the hill. I remember being tired of it after a while and deciding to quit smoking.
Bear Mountain was different that day; I would be celebrating my 2 year quitting anniversary by beginning a new tradition. I've decided that as long as I lived in New York, I would complete a repeat of the 1,200+ ft climb as many times as years I've successfully quit smoking.
I took it easy on the first ascent. The thing with climbing mountains though, is that taking it easy is really never that easy. It was a perfect day for repeats as the sun accompanied me up the ascent, with not a cloud in sight. I remembered how terrified I was the first time I attempted to climb Bear Mountain, and fearing my not being able to make it all the way up without getting off the bike. Climbing for 30 minutes used to feel like an eternity of suffering, and today it’s an opportunity for reflection. One pass down, one more to go – but first, a mandatory pit-stop at the soda machine for a can of coke.
Round two. I pushed it a bit harder this time up. As I climbed out of the saddle – there were moments where I would flash back into my favorite and most painful moments on the bike. That time I almost got in the support car during HUNT1 because I didn’t think I had the legs to carry on, but instead, pushed through the pain. That time I felt like Marco Pantani as I KOM’d my way up Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles. These moments made me smile through the suffering. Before I knew it, I was at the summit of the Bear again. Quitting is winning. Mission accomplished, though I might have to re-think my tradition for next year … as 3 repeats sounds quite harsh.
Sometimes we’re limited to where we can go, or what roads we can take to get there. My route to Bear Mountain on July 4th was one that I’ve taken dozens of times, but on that day, it was something new. On that fourth of July, it was an 80-mile journey back to who I no longer was, and a journey onward to who I am and can be. It was wheeling back to the moments when I didn’t have the ability to climb a mountain, as well as moving forward to committing to myself that it can only get better from here. Happy anniversary, to me.