September 16, 2012
As there are no significant mountains worthy of the term in the Midwest, I have often wondered while riding along on my bike just what is the difference between a hill and a “Big Hill”? From the car they almost all seem to be not terribly significant, but when you get on a bicycle, even a little rise in the road takes on somewhat more monumental status.
As I rode east from Nipigon, Ontario this morning, there rose before me what I thought to be a pretty good-sized hill. The road climbed straight up the hillside, with maybe 350 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile. From a distance I could see both the base and the summit of the climb in one glance. “The first of the notorious Big Hills of Canada,” I thought as I dropped into a lower gear and set to work up the hill. Only later, several miles down the road would I discover what the truly “Big Hills of Canada” were and how to assess them for “bigness.”
Somewhere just west of Pays Plat, Ontario, lies a little rise in the road called “Caver’s Hill.” Now, one should be wary of concluding that any such nondescript geographical feature should be easily overlooked. Rising at a 7% grade, the hill quickly gets your attention for being a steep little bugger, if nothing else. The road before me rose and disappeared around a bend. Riding up to and around the bend I saw that the road continued to climb steeply and disappear around another bend. Being committed to climbing this hill, at this point all I could say was, “Up she goes.” Ah! Here is the essential quality of a big hill – you don’t know you’re even on a big hill until it begins to reveal itself to you, turn by turn, seemingly endlessly rising before you. And, with these three simple but suitably ceremonious words, we have conferred “Big Hill” status. A Big Hill may elicit one or multiple “up she goes” depending on its size, grade, and twistiness of road, but they are all “Big Hills.” With about 750 feet of elevation gain, the twists and turns of Caver’s Hill brought forth three “Up she goes” from me. There were ten big hills in the 107 miles between Nipigon and Neys today…