14.7.17

Of hills and writing

Some two years ahead of getting my adviser's blessing to start writing my doctoral thesis, I already had the core part of the acknowledgements sketched out within my head. In a sense, those two pages were one the reasons for me to soldier on, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous Ph.D. fortunes, so that in the end I could have those two pages published.

To different measure, I can trace similar patterns between last month's race chronicle, or a previous blog post on two similarly motivated hikes: seeking new experiences for want of a life worth writing about. Sometimes the ensuing essay or photo album may already be vividly on my mind before I even set out on such adventures, and may - like pages IX and X in the above - even lend the necessary impetus to see them through; other times the storytelling follows as an afterthought, perhaps if, by looking back through a different angle, I find something interesting enough to entice the writing spirits (who would otherwise picture me writing about shoe shopping?).

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Upon first moving to Munich, a friend commented on the Facebook status where I announced my relocation: "Head South along the Isar, the first hill comes at Schäftlarn". 

The climb from Schäftlarn Abbey to the village of Höhenschäftlarn quickly became my standard go-to hill for interval work. It's not such a beautiful ascent which rewards one at the top with majestic views of the Alps, as is the case with the Peißenberg, but it's close enough for rides during the week, and with 1.5km and 80 vertical meters sufficiently long and steep to enjoy the reputation as "The" Schäftlarn within the Munich cycling scene.

The summer of 2013 saw Christoph Listmann take over the crown from Peter Maly, improving the 3'14" that had stood for over three years by a single second. With such distance and steepness favouring my rider profile, I eventually set out on a quest to stamp my mark, and two years later, I first matched the then-new best time of 3'12" by Austrian legend Klaus Steinkeller, and then set a 3'06" to seal my name atop the leader board. I was happy to let that mark stand, continuing to do hill repeats on its slopes, but no longer with any concern for the time. It wasn't until Spring this year that I started conjecturing designs of being the first one to break three minutes, but my illness put those plans on hold. In the meantime, between fellow amateurs and professionals alike, some had come within a second of my time, yet still my name stood. Until last Friday.

A relatively unknown, a hobbyist for his lack of a proper license, posted a 3'04". The wind was not unfavourable and his bike could potentially be below the minimum weight stipulated by the regulations, but nevertheless, such a time doesn't come without the legs. Chapeau, I said, and vowed, half jokingly, now I'd have to actually bring out my carbon hoops instead of my regular training setup. 

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A very similar feedback loop between experiences and their written expression takes place with my training and racing entries on Strava. My activities' titles are as if mini-blog entries, where I attempt, on occasion, to convey a bit of poetry replacing the standard naming conventions. Trying out new gear: "Shiny shifters, sunny skies, speedy Saturday!" . Warm, sunny day in winter when I decided to cancel or postpone all meetings and go on a ride: "Of global warming and work-life balance" . Rained on? "Wednesday weather warning withheld, wet ways wearily wandered". Most often, though, the titles are nonchalant, fact-of-the-matter ("Breakfast Lactate" or "That warm-up thing"). 

And so I contemplated - as I rode off early Tuesday morning, bringing my Pride and Joy, with its shining, cut-to-measure carbon galore, for the first time outside of a racing event, to a (if this could be classified as such) training ride - how this endeavour would eventually be titled, and the entire story behind it: from discovering the climb, to countless repeats up and down again, walking its length with my father when he last came to visit, my illness, the first workouts on its slopes when I was healthy again, and now this symbolic moment representing my return to the top of the rankings, to performance levels that ultimately I grew so used to employing to define me. "Sorry, Felix" ? No need to rub it on the poor soul that had just enjoyed his moment of glory. "Schäftlarn Sub-3 Minutes Club, Member Count 1" ? (There is a "3 Minutes Club" for all riders who have managed the ascent in less than 240 seconds). No, though it would be fun to start a second club. "Ops, I did it again?". My mind wandered.

I felt slightly sluggish; and contemplated how I often struggle on early morning rides against my body still craving to stay longer in bed or another cup of coffee; yet last week in spite of similar sensations I had still managed to post pretty usual numbers on my series, so why expect any differently this time? I rode on. It was a beautiful morning. Blue skies, little traffic, even a gentle breeze aligned with the climb. I made my way down, enjoying the aerodynamics and stiffness of my racing machine. Rolling out on the flat section at the bottom, I turned around and waited for the last car to disappear from sight, stretching one last time as I took a deep breath. Then I darted off.

And I failed.

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Writing is like reading, except the book is trying to kill you. This chapter, it seems, won the first battle.

But I'll vow: not the war.