By Michael Heffler
We know the world is not flat! There are hills and there are many good reasons to climb them. More good news – for every hill you climb there is generally,at some point, an equal but opposite downhill. After writing several pieces about climbing hills, I was asked to write something about going downhill. Here it is!
Going down hills
when the road surface is smooth
when you can see what’s in front of you
when your grip is firm but not on the brake
can be delightful!
Flying down Federal Twist when no cars are on the road, and the road is clean,is exhilarating. The wind whipping by, tears streaming from my eyes, the rush and the focus onwhat’s right ahead while moving at more than 40 miles per hour makesme shake my head and smile every time I reach Route 29.We all tend to check our odometers to see what our maximum speed was. It’s scary enough to capture one’s full attention, yet so much fun!
There are long, sloping hills that are just like a fine glass of wine.You appreciate them and savor each part of the descent.Rick Road is like this. It’sa two mile downhill and just keeps going at a slow but steady pace down with a few turns and several terrific big horizon views.Turkey Hill is a very different vintage.No big views but several easy turns and short burst of acceleration mixed with lots of greenery and stretches where you bank into a gentle curve or two. A big fruity Cabernet of a hill is the aptly named Sweet Hollow.You descend for about two miles, there’s a short stretch where you even have to pedal, but most of it is steady, but not too fast,acceleration around woods and streams that have soft curves and a few twists. You rarely touch the brakes or the pedals and you have enough speed and control to even see the wisteria painted on one of the homes. By the way, don’t drink and go downhill!
There are some hills I will not go down.I’m more than willing to climb them, but won’t take the risk of the descent. Short Road and Tumble Falls are the first to come to mind.Short Road is way too steep and I have no desire to experience flying over my handlebars. Tumble Falls Road is steep enough and the surface is chopped up enough that nothing good would happen on a descent.
I have been down some hills on cold days where I was not sure what was ahead, either because the sunlight was dappled and I couldn’t see the road clearly or the road curved enough that I didn’t want to have too much speed and hit a sharp curve by surprise.If the downhill was long enough, and the temperature cold enough that my hands started to cramp from sticking to the brake levers so closely. Not fun!
Dappled sunlight plays tricks as do the streaming tears that come when my speed exceeds 30 miles per hour. When the wind whips past my face, my glasses just don’t stop it from hitting my eyes and the tears start as a means of protection.They protect my eyes but play havoc with my vision.There will always be one too many reasons to have good brakes.
One of the most dangerous and most beautiful downhill roads in the neighborhood is Covered Bridge Road.It starts on Route 523 on the way from Stockton to Sergeantsville. You turn left onto Covered Bridge Road. It ends on Lower Creek Road.We often take it on my Wednesday night ride.
As soon as you make the left off of Route 523 you go up a very short, steep incline. It’s a perfect opportunity to stand up and keep your momentum.It is dangerous because it is short and steep and a car coming in the other direction has no way of seeing you.Once you get over that hump you start descending slowly.On your left is a beautiful view of a field going off into the horizon that over crosses the hills on the other side of the Delaware River. The road twists to the left and you have another slow descent to a flat stretch, a short ascent and another nice descent. This leads to a blind left turn – stay right – and another slow descent through the woods to yet another blind right turn with a pond on your right where I’ve seen ducks, geese and, once wild turkeys.You have to be alert to appreciate the beauty and the potential hazards, but it’s worth it every time.
Keep climbing and, particularly on the difficult parts, remember there will be a reward on the other side.Now that age and a slower metabolism has taught me the dangers of good pastry, down hills are my new dessert.