Words & Images: Tom Owen
It’s no fun being the slowest on the trip. You feel guilty that, as you crest whichever foreign bastard of a climb you’ve just spent two hours wheezing up, your mates are all there staring expectantly, shivering a bit as their hearts and lungs slow down.
“Nah mate, it’s fine, honestly. No, we’ve only been here, what? Five minutes?”
This is a lie. A lie you’ve told before yourself. It has been at least 20 minutes, but the form must be observed. They know you know it’s a lie.
They give it a beat, just to let the roaring in your ears die away a fraction.
“You ready to crack on now, mate? We’re quite cold.”
That’s why it’s good to ride up big climbs in pairs. Keeping a group of varying fitness levels together is an impossibility on something so monstrous as the Galibier or Angliru but riding in twos is good for the soul. Plus you have more bargaining power once you do hit the peak – two can insist more strongly than one on having a bit of a breather.
My last mountain trip was to the Dolomites, those fearsome limestone crags, somehow more mountainy than other mountains. I went this time with a new philosophy: stop trying to be the fastest.
And it worked, I believe. In so far as I enjoyed my holiday a lot more than past iterations. Going up the Mortirolo slower than the fastest you can go is still hard. It’s just not horrible.
A solo ride uphill really lets your mind grind through the gears, but with a partner those odd, unbidden ruminations are given voice.
On the way up the Passo Giau I tell my climbpanion, Jasper.
“I’m not really religious. I’d say I’m agnostic. But this,” I try to do an expansive gesture that envelops all the natural majesty around us, but with both hands gripping the bars like grim death I have only the limited movement in my neck muscles to convey my meaning. “Doing stuff like this is the closest I come to believing in a creator.”
Jasper doesn’t say anything for a moment, plumbing the profundity of my meaningful words, no doubt.
“Which one is agnostic again?”
This postcard first appeared in Conquista 20.