The Zen of Climbing

I love to climb.  I always have.  Backpacking or cycling, climbing is my thing.  I love being on the high peaks where the air is cooler and the views are inspiring.  I spent this morning climbing from Balsam Gap (3,370 ft.) to Richland Balsam (6,053 ft.) on the Parkway.  Thirteen steep and challenging miles put my mind at ease and erased any worries or concerns.

If you’re new to climbing, here are a few things I found helpful to me. 

  • Get yourself some granny gears.  You may find that it is not very expensive to have your local bike shop re-gear your bike. 
  • Adopt a non-judgmental stance.  Judging yourself or comparing your climbing ability against others is a sure way to set yourself up for quitting before the summit.
  • Daydream.  When the going gets tough, the tough check out till things improve.  Mentally go someplace else (keeping safety in mind of course).  Zone out, make lists, plan a vacation, solve some of lifes’ mysteries (like why is the word “phonetically” spelled with a ph?).
  • Focus on your breathing and heart rate.  Stay calm and don’t push it.  It’s not a race.
  • Stop often.  Stop in the shade when possible.  Take the piece of Styrofoam off your head.  I try to stop in places where there is a slight downhill or at least a not so steep part of the road, like on top of a banked turn.  This is especially important with a loaded bike.
  • Don’t ride with people who run off and leave you.  If your riding partner has a “I’ll see you back at the car” attitude, you do not have a riding partner.  Ditch him or her as soon as possible.  Find someone who is either willing to slow down or periodically wait.  When riding with my wife, I’ll sometimes ride to the top, go back down and climb the hill again.  Did I say I loved to climb?

I’m sure there are other things I’ve not thought of, and that others have their own tips for better climbing.  Racers may bristle at my “don’t push yourself’ attitude, but I think we get better at climbing by climbing.  If you take it easy on yourself and make climbing as pleasant and enjoyable as possible, you are more likely to do more of it.

Just my opinion, Jack

  1. July 28, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Very nice thoughts on climbing. I was helped immensely by two seasoned riders (the Wood-man and Cross-Country Stan) when they led me up some climbs and helped me understand pace. I was always burning myself out on the bottom 2/3rds of the climb. Wood-man’s words “let the mountain come to you. Don’t fight it!” is a mantra I use when I feel myself wearing down on a climb.

    – Zeke

  2. velohobo
    July 28, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    That is sound advice. I get in the mindset “okay, I’m going to be here awhile, make the best of it.” I find it very meditative. I find a comfortable cadence, focus on my breathing and let my mind wander. We are very fortunate to live in an area with such beautiful mountain roads. We biked across North Carolina a couple of years ago, and I much prefer the mountains to the rollers in the Piedmont area. Rollers drain me. Give me a steady half-day climb up a mountain and I’m happy.


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