March 25, 2002
The Taste of Victory
miles to go: 1,809.9

I've been imagining this victory for ten months, and this is the way it has usually played out on the big screen of my imagination: me on my groovy bike, looking strong and fit and pink from the sun, effortlessly breezing to the top of the Moraga Hill with my fist pumping in the air, while birds sing and crowds cheer and CNN photographers jostle for that Pulitzer shot.

Here's how it didn't look: me chugging to the top of the Moraga Hill in the middle of a downpour ... looking more like a shipwreck casualty than a champion cyclist.

But that's the thing about victories. You can't always special-order them: david's wearing SHORTS, forcryingoutloud sometimes you have to take them just the way you get them.

The Moraga Hill has been the bane of my cycling existence for nearly a year now. I cried the first time we rode it, last spring. I'd only been riding for a month, and I was so overwhelmed by the distance and the incline and the pain that I lagged a hundred feet behind David, bawling like a baby the entire time. "I don't ever want to ride that stoopid hill again!" I sobbed afterwards. But of course I didn't really mean it. In fact, the more I thought about it -- the more skill and confidence I acquired as a cyclist -- the more I WANTED to trump that hill.

It became a point of honor after a while.

Every time we've ridden the Moraga to Concord trail since then, I've managed to get another few feet closer to the top of the hill before I've had to get off and push the Schwinn the rest of the way. Once last year I almost made it -- I was within a fingertip's length of the summit, I swear -- but just as we got to the top of the trail, we suddenly had to brake to avoid hitting a little boy on rollerblades. (He was whining to his dad that his underpants were 'giving him a wedgie.' Maybe I should have run over him anyway, just on principle.)

On Saturday morning, though, I was determined that THIS would be the day.

I finally have the right bike, for one thing: a real bicyclist's bicycle. (A bike that weighs twenty pounds LESS than the Schwinn.) I have almost a full year of riding under my belt. My wind is better, I have more stamina, I have more self confidence as a cyclist. The weather reports for Saturday were a little iffy -- the local TV weather puppets were predicting rain and thunderstorms for the Bay Area, for most of the weekend -- but that didn't matter. They could have been predicting hurricanes or snowstorms or free Celine Dion concerts in Moraga Park, and I still would have been right there at the foot of the trail on Saturday morning, raring to go. I wanted to cross the stoopid Moraga Hill off my personal To-Do List, once and for all.

We were exactly a minute and a half into the ride when it started to rain. I'm not talking about a polite, *happy-doodle* smattering of springtime raindrops, either. This was a full-blown, in-your-face, look-out-below DOWNPOUR. It was like somebody had punctured that big black storm cloud hanging overhead, like a pontoon, and dumped four bazillion metric gallons of ice water directly on top of us. We were drenched to the skin in seconds flat.

"I think the rain may have just cancelled our ride," David said matter-of-factly.

But I was having none of it. "Let's at least do the hill," I pleaded. "Then we can double-back and head to the car if it's still raining." I hadn't crawled out of bed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, only to turn back because of a little wet weather. (I'm a SEATTLE GIRL, forcryingoutloud.)  David, looking surprised and pleased, said OK, fine, let's do it. I cranked the new bike into its lowest, most cooperative gear ... shoved my feet into the hated toe clips ... leaned forward into the rain, quietly wishing they made windshield wipers for glasses ... and for the next ten minutes I rode like the devil (or Celine Dion) was on my tail.

And all of a sudden there I was. At the top of The Moraga Hill. Just like that.

Actually, the whole thing was sort of anticlimactic. Once I got to the top, I stood there for a moment and just looked around. Where were the birds? The crowds? The photographers? Where were the Wheaties people with advertising contracts in hand? Instead, it was just David and me standing at the top of the Moraga Hill ... soaked to the bone, goosepimpled and shivering, wiping rain and snot out of our eyes and our mouths and our hair. A nice lady jogger came by at that moment and saw David taking my picture in front of the Moraga Trail sign, and she offered to take one of the two of us together. ("Anyone out here in this weather deserves to have their picture taken," she said. And then she splashed off into the storm to finish her soggy run.)

"Hey," David said simply. "You did it." And he pulled me under a mammoth eucalyptus tree, where we sheltered for the next half an hour, until the worst of the squall blew past and we could continue our ride. He kissed me while we waited: a long, lingering kiss that tasted like eucalyptus, raindrops ... and victory.

OK. Maybe it wasn't my picture on a Wheaties box. But as rewards go, I'd say that this one made all of the pain seem worthwhile.

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