Welcome to Pennsylvania

Ohio is ideal for biking. College memories of summers spent cruising along the bike path on my 10 speed have one thing in common: no change in elevation. Occasionally the sun would make you unpleasantly hot, the wooded sections of the path might give you mosquitos to fight, there might be cars coming every time the path crosses the road, forcing you to stop and dismount; but you could always count on the path to be flat.

Full disclosure, there were actually two hills. One in each direction. But both forgivable.

Leave home heading south and you shortly come across the first. It’s the kind geriatrics use to increase their heart rates – a gentle upward slope only perceptible to those who are the source of their own locomotion.

Leave home heading north and at the end of the path there is another formed by a bridge over train tracks. But it’s at the end of the path and no one forces you to ride that last tenth of a mile. Cut that stretch out and you’re guaranteed a smooth journey.

These abnormalities aside, biking in Ohio only requires sitting on your bicycle and pedaling, no altimeter necessary.

Pennsylvania is bad for biking. I’ve yet to encounter mosquitoes or frustratingly busy roads. But all rides have one thing in common: unwelcome climbs. In fact, the moment you leave the driveway, climb is your only option. If your parents walked to school uphill both ways, it’s because school was in Pennsylvania.

Question: Is this even possible? Do not the laws of space, time, and topography preclude every trip from being an ascent? If you start at point A, ride uphill to point B, turn around and ride back to point A along the same route, won’t the return be downhill?

Answer: it will not. Nature conspires against the shrewdest logicians.

This past weekend I went for a ride. I spent a good portion of time and energy climbing the hill on Fitzwatertown. As I crested the hill I relished the idea of speedily coasting in the opposite direction on my return. It would be due payment for the work I put in to get 300 feet closer to the sun.

On my return, as I approached this decent, I shifted into a higher gear. Legs churning, I anticipated gravity would pull me down the hill at speeds faster than I could manage on my own. Four pedal pumps into my descent I was ambushed by an angry headwind.

The moment I should have been accelerating with ease found me pushing pedals that had fossilized – frozen mid-rotation for future generations to look at with wonder. Not caring about what future generations would or would not be able to look at with wonder, I forced the pedals to continue turning. Though slowed by the wind’s ambuscade, I wouldn’t have it bring me to a complete stop.

By the time I made it to the bottom of the hill I was traveling the same speed I was going when, earlier, I had crested this earthen formation. Welcome to Pennsylvania, where coasting downhill is climbing up.

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