Tomorrow, once again, I will test myself for a couple of minutes. The test will take place on the steepest street in Los Angeles. I'll try to ride my bike non-stop to the top of street, to see if I can conquer the mountain, slay the dragon, and hold back time one more time.
It's a ritual I've repeated most years since 1978, when my brother Dan, who will also try his will and his strength against the hill, invited me to the spectacle. In fact, I think my brother and I have ridden the Fargo Street Hill Climb longer than anyone else. Not many others are so foolish, and those that might be have moved away, or onto safer, saner pursuits, or have mercifully passed away.
What physicists call the "weak" force of gravitation doesn't seem particularly weak when pedaling up a 33% grade, even if the length of the climb is only 1/10th of a mile in length. This year, the outcome for me is in doubt, because I'm going to try the hill on my road bike, on which I've put a new, and higher set of gears. These new gears are not designed to help carry an old man on such a vertical jaunt.
My brother Dan, interviewed by Huell Howser
The event, loosely sponsored by the Los Angeles Wheelmen, is a true, and zany Los Angeles tradition, now dating back decades. Fargo Street, rising above the southern terminus of the Glendale (2) Freeway, is in the Echo Park district of the city, just off Glendale Blvd. The fun starts about 9 a.m., when riders and spectators show up en mass.
There will probably be a few hundred colorfully dressed, lycra-clad, helmeted cyclists, a contingent of neighbors (some who will provide weary cyclists with coffee and donuts), and spectators (on and off bikes) from around the city. Perhaps a few scores of cyclists – men, women, kids – will try to climb the hill, and most of them might make it, sweating and gasping for breath at the top. Some will fail, a few houses into the climb, half-way up, even yards from the top.
As humiliating as failure might appear, the truth is that making the attempt to pedal up Fargo Street, to climb the mountain, to slay the dragon, to hold back time, is in itself a win. It's an affirmation that we are alive, and a chance to hold Death's scythe at bay for one more day.
Of course, to even attempt the ride tomorrow, I'll have survive the 20 mile ride I'm about to make first, on this winter's day, with the sun out and the temperature in Los Angeles standing at 75 degrees. A day like today is forecast for tomorrow, and that's probably reason enough to hang for the hill climb.
Last Man Up
Results – or obituaries – posted tomorrow.