The nastiest little hill in the neighborhood

. . .and its raucous cousin, Fretz

By Michael Heffler

Breathe! There are schools of meditation that ask you to focus on your breathing. They are pleasantly persistent, stating that being in the moment and watching your breath is the key to a calm and peaceful mind.Meditation can be a powerful discipline to get one to focus,breathe and get a better understanding of how one’s mind works. Just like climbing hills.

Sometimes you just have to wonder why we do certain things. It’s not as if life doesn’t throw us enough curves.Some people feel about hills the way W.C. Fields felt about small children. Looking for challenging hills, to me, is fun. I remember the most challenging hills in a very different way than I remember challenging people – the hills always have a crest.

Climbing hills, like facing real difficulties, is a matter of relative degree.Personal strength, persistence and perseverance all make a tremendous difference in the outcome.Hills, in contrast to life’s true difficulties, are bounded and, if it’s really too tough, you can get off the bike and walk.While meditation provides a very different perspective to W.C.Fields, experience teaches that cursing can also be a timely motivator on the hardest sections of the hills.We can learn from almost everyone!

If you meander up Route 29 and enter Bulls Island State Park, cross over the Delaware River into PA using the walking bridge and make a  right onto Route 32 you’ll come to Fleecydale Road about a quarter mile down on the left. Fleecydale is a very pretty road. It’sa hill on a hill. As you climb up the very moderate hill in front of you, you’ll notice there is a very steep slope going from right to left.There’s a lovely, oddly painted house that always catches my attention at the bottom. As you continue to climb, and the climb is pleasant most of the way although the road itself is often a bit choppy with some gravel and sizable holes, you see some very attractive homes and notice that onthe left there’s a creek and at times a steep drop.On the right there are some homes regally overlooking the road.

Abouta half mile up Fleecydale you’ll see Fretz Mill Road on your right.A bit farther on Fleecydale on the right you will pass ShortRoad. Those not looking fora true challenge will not turn. At the top of Fleecydale sits the Carversville General store, which is agreat place for a rest stop. Once you reach Carversville there are very few options, other than turningaround, that don’t require some climbing.Even with that, opting for Fretz Mill, or even more so, ShortRoad, is no one’s idea of a daily ritual.

If you do decide to make the right turn on either Fretz Mill or Short Roadyou will get a true appreciation for your hill climbing gears.The steepness of the grade on sections of Fretz Mill, and on all of Short, is not something one takes on lightly.

I’ll start off with Short, the nastiest little hill in the neighborhood.If you look at www.njbikemap.com on the Lumberville map, you’llsee Short Road off of Fleecydale. You’llsee that it rises 180 feet in what looks like less than a quarter mile.I estimate, given those figures, that the average grade is about17 percent. Averages can be deceiving. There is only one spot – I didn’t say stretch, I said spot – on Short Road, right in the middle that approaches a single digit grade. That spot is about the length of my bike. The rest of Short Road is so steep that the first time I rode upit I could not keep my front wheel on the road.I was sitting, putting everything I had into every pedal stroke, pushing down on my handlebars as best I could, afraid to stand up as Ithought I’d fall backwards. Thisis a great way to find out what adrenaline does to your body. My heart was pounding. Aftergetting about ¾ of the way up the hill – again the half way point is that spot with a mere 9 percent grade – I had to dismount. No small feat to accomplish without falling over when I was barely moving, my heart was beating like a drum, and my front wheel was several inches off the ground. This was the first time I ever got off my bike going up a hill.I walked up the last portion and saw the stunned faces of myfriends who made it up and expected me to do the same.They stood up as soon as they made the initial right turn. I didn’t know what to say.

My heart had been pounding so hard that I knew I did the right thing.But the right thing and getting off my bike on a hill wasn’t acombination that I had ever experienced.I did not like this feeling at all.

The second time I climbed Short Road, the following season, I stood up as soon as I made the right turn.I did not sit down again until I reached the top at which point I sat down, stopped the bike and breathed deeply for several minutes –in truth I gasped for air. Did I mention that I was also in good hill climbing condition? This little hill is nasty.

Ihave taken several of the rides I’ve led up Fretz Mill.Fretz Mill is longer than Short Road.It has a couple of big twists in it and its steepest part is morethan a 20% grade. But,unlike Short, it is not that steep all the way.Its steep part is like a surprise that you hope is over soonenough for you to be able to get the next pedal stroke in.Then you pull yourself up the rest of the way glad that thesurprise is over. But youdon’t soon forget it!

Inevitablysomeone either falls over or stops their bike on the steepest part ofFretz Mill. Last time Itook a ride up Fretz Mill I broke the group up into smaller groups of 4to make sure there wasn’t a chain reaction based upon a fall or suddenstop. The inevitable chain reaction was small.I don’t take groups up Short Road anymore.I remember how hard my heart was pounding and how far my wheelwas off the ground. I figure its far better to let others get heartattacks in their own good time.

Short Road held a shock the first time I climbedit. Why is it so steep?Who planned this road? Whyis my front tire several inches off the ground?I’d never want to take a car on it or a bike down it.The second time I knew what I was in for.I got in my small gear in front and my biggest gear in the rear,stood up, and pedaled until I reached the top.Then I gasped for air and remembered what the meditation teachersaid about breathing and focus on being in the moment.I had no choice! Breathe!