Life Is Lived On The Up — A Cycling Story For July.
Col de Tourmalet. L’Alpe d’Huez. Passo Stelvio. Mont Ventoux.
The names that inspire both hallow and horror in the heart of every true veloist.
These are the legendary mountain passes and heavenly ascends, that have brought many a wanna-be conqueror to his knees, and in some instances, to his ultimate demise. Generations have tried to make light of their impressive stance, only to be reduced to rubble by their ancient architecture and indignant inclines.
The few that have dared to scale their sides can attest to the fact: that on the slopes of the world’s most daunting, you’re never as much confronted by the severity of the climb, as you are by the shortcomings of your character. It is in the face of this unrelenting comparison, that you finally find out who you are, and what you can do.
That is why these mountains, and the passes that graciously grant us access, are the stuff of both fear and fantasy. Like true two-faced deceptives, they lure you from afar, peer into your soul, and at your most vulnerable, turn you inside out for the world to see.
It is almost July in Europe, again.
And you’d be forgiven for thinking that Dumoulin’s guts or Sagan’s grit is a direct cause of either their inhuman capacity for continued wattage output, or the hunderds of thousands of miles buried in those leathery legs.
You’d be forgiven, sure — but you’d still be wrong.
Because its neither legs nor lungs that slay the mountainous beast. Its heart. And not the cardiovascular kind either.
So, the next time you see the spectacle being broadcasted from halfway across the world, of martyrs slumped over their machines, or even running up the mountain in their carbon shoes out of sheer desperation — know that their tears, whether in victory or defeat, are never cried from physical exhaustion.
They are professionals, for goodness’ sake.
Their blood and sweat are shed in the context of a spiritual surrender, like weapons being cast down amidst an overwhelming sense of self-awareness, something that these unforgiving forces of nature so efficiently bring about.
According to Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Nowhere else are you so forcefully being laid out, so unwittingly against your will, than on the twenty-one hairpins, or those windswept turns leading up to more, well… up. Never can it be so direct or real — the way courage is drilled into your core by the cobbles of Arenberg, or the peace you make with death during the diabolical descent past Dutch corner.
Life is not only lived on the hills, it is found there.
In being allowed to suffer the tops of the Tour, you’re also granted a glimpse of yourself — whether you like what you see or not. Flat roads are for resting, for feeding and for repairing punctures. Slopes are for believing, for becoming, and they require persistance.
Whether its Coppi or Contador. Miguel, Marco or Froome. Not only have they accomplished something we, reaching from below, will ever dream about. They have also come to know by experience something we have only heard about.
That life is lived on the hills.
Whether laboring through the landscapes of northern France, or merely rising up against the ridges of your own soul.