"So how do you feel about the climb?" a friend asked recently.
"The climb?" I replied. "I think it's probably Miley Cyrus' best work so far."
But I should have known: She was talking about the 38th annual Bogus Basin Hill Climb, a 14.5-mile bicycle race ascending 3,500 feet to the Treasure Valley's local ski resort--a monstrous challenge comparable to at least one of the climbs sometimes included in the famed Tour de France.
I had spent the month of July immersed in bicycle racing, but I had done so from the comfort of my couch, flat screen tuned to Versus for the 97th Tour de France. I felt like I was pedaling through the Alps, except I drank Cote du Rhone instead of Gatorade and ditched my Power Bars for baguettes and brie. The result was that my sometimes-hard edges softened, and my VO2 max deteriorated to a VO2 min.
Further complicating the matter of my participation, I had sold my road bike on eBay. To be fair, the endorphin rush from the bidding war similar to what I've experienced following a sprint finish in a bike race, but it did nothing for my quad strength.
Still, last weekend's climb is Boise's classic race, so I called in a favor from a friend with connections. He loaned me a sexy carbon steed, anorexic-light with aerodynamics designed to cut through the wind like a knife. Its paint job and graphics demanded instant respect, and its barely-there heft would surely compensate for my lack of fitness. However, in this bike race, as in life, you have to keep a few important things in mind.
For starters, on the Bogus Basin Hill Climb, there's little coasting. In its 14.5 miles, Bogus Basin Road only has three short sections that are truly downhill, and that doesn't make them easy. The first is after the two-mile marker, one of the hardest sections of the race because the field launches so aggressively when the gun goes off. The second is between miles four and five, and it's over quickly--no time for recovery. The last mile-and-a-half to the summit is considered "false flat downhill" because the descent is barely perceptible. You still have to work all the way to the finish. Just as in life, the thrill of the downhill may be fun but most of the gain comes from pedaling.
Second, you won't suffer alone. More than 350 riders of hugely varied abilities came out to climb the hill. By alternating pulls at the front with sitting in the leader's draft, we riders conserved energy and maintained faster paces than we could alone. Trust me, Lance Armstrong didn't win seven Tours without a lot of help from his team. Collaboration brings a better result than a solo effort and sometimes even leads to an amazing breakthrough--like a new course record set this year.
Finally, there's the balance. It's what keeps you upright on two wheels, as long as you keep moving forward, which on a hill like Bogus also requires a balanced output of energy. In this race, the reward for all your work is nothing more than bragging rights. In life, balance itself is the real prize. The winner is whoever can hold onto it.