Bicycling the Hillside

Don Ness Saturday EssayThe climb feels endless. Tattered concrete fills my field of vision — taunting and mocking my painfully slow bike ride up the hill. My legs ache and are starting to shake. My lungs burn and seem to collapse a bit more every time I turn the pedals over and try to suck in a great, heaving gulp of oxygen.

The front wheel wobbles for lack of momentum, forcing me to cross back. Now I’m shamefully zig-zagging across the steep avenue, which both relieves the burdensome pitch, but quadruples the length of the climb. There is a deep desire in me, immutable by logic or maturity, to ride the whole way, steep inclines notwithstanding.

Then the moment of kinetic equilibrium arrives in which the depleted energy of my legs can no longer overcome gravity’s backward force and for the briefest moment my bike and I are stuck in suspended animation. I dismount at the very moment gravity begins to prevail. With humility washing over me, bike and I switch roles as I become the vehicle delivering the two of us up the hillside.

Pushing. More pushing. Still pushing. Finally I’m up the hill. Exhausted. Discouraged. Angry at whoever thought it would be cool to build a city like this. Life would be so much easier in a city built on a former cornfield. Then I turn around — it’s really just a slight torso twist; a foot shuffle; a slow, exhausted, subtle pivot — and my perspective changes dramatically.

After forty years of hillside living, it is no less spectacular. Duluth stretches around the expansive hillside, nestled into dense forest and parks, overlooking the world’s greatest lake. No matter what my heart is doing before I turn to look, it swells with pride when I scan the horizon.

It’s not just Duluth’s hills that demand effort. The whole city challenges us to expend energy and develop endurance. We earn our loyalty to Duluth, and the effort creates an affection that folks who haven’t lived here might not understand. The struggle of living on this hill shows us significance in everyday vistas.

Hillsider-CoverThis essay is from the book Hillsider: Snapshots of a Curious Political Journey, published in 2015 by Hillside Publishing.

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