Failure Is An Option

Sometimes in matters of physical challenges you hit the wall. Sometimes the wall hits you. The latter was such the case this morning when I arrived for the annual Fargo Street Hill Climb. After signing up, I ended up standing around for more than an hour watching far better conditioned and determined cyclists tackle the challenge of scaling a 33% grade while I attempted to somehow manuever my mind around the aboslute psych-out with which I’d infected it. I can try to couch my delaying game in some sort of garbage about honing my strategy and increasing my resolve, but the fact is I’d failed before I’d even given myself a chance to succeed. I’d quit before I even got started. I stood wide eyed and gape-mouthed at the unconquerable hell that is the 2100 block of Fargo Street in Echo Park, and the sissyboy in me wanted to fling my bike to the pavement and run crying all the way home.

I can’t do much justice to the impression Fargo gives from its bottom at Allesandro other than to ask you to picture yourself in a trough at the base of a frozen 600-foot-long face of a 150-foot-tall rogue wave. To most it is simply the steepest street in all of Los Angeles. To me it as an asphalt tsunami, and I was poorly equipped mentally, physically and mechanically to rise to its crest.

I can’t overstate it: I was monumentally intimidated by the task. My eyes crawled slowly up the ridiculous incline and it became an internal battle of will just to get me to make that first attempt — and it was a half-hearted one, at best. I set off hoping I’d find the power to barrel straight up the thing, but just past midway — when the street has the audacity to actually get steeper! — I was forced to adopt the curb-to-curb tacking method, And with my handling skills on a bike I haven’t rode in almost a year are suspect at best, my forward progress ended with me slipping out of my right pedal clip about three-quarters of the way up at 2130 Fargo. Unable to lock back in I valiantly strove to surmount such a distraction, but on the next turn I angled it too sharp and my foot slipped to the pavement.

On the videotape from the handlebar-mounted DV cam you can clearly here me yell “Shit!” immediately thereafter. Then after a bief respite where I caught my breath and urged on a dude with amazing balance riding solo on a tamdem…


…I hoofed it up to the top. I suppose I could have remounted from where I’d dabbed and proceeded the rest of the way up on the bike, but something inside me wants to summit Fargo on two wheels only when I’ve pedaled up it the entire way without fail. So I arrived at the finish line to no acclaim from the people stationed at the top and headed down Fargo’s short back side to Alvarado then back down to Allesandro via the almost equally steep Baxter one street over.

When I arrived at the foot of Fargo I’d been expecting that my with first attempt under my belt the semi-paralyzing nerves would be gone. But no. I stared up the roadway with the same level intimidation as before, only this time it was augmented with the stark reality that it’s even tougher to ride than to look at. So I tightened the clips of my pedals and I readjusted the straps of my helmet and generally pussyfooted around trying to build up the will to do it again. In the meantime the legendary Dave Wyman had completed his 34th trip to the top and was on the verge of setting a new record with his next ride.

Wanting to be at the top when Wyman got there, I hit the record button on the camera and got going. Once again, I proceeded in a straight line. Once again at about the halfway mark I had to commence cutting back and forth, and once again about three-quarters of the way up I lost my balance on a cutback to my right and came to a stop. If there’s any consolation it’s that at least on the second time I made it further — however slightly — than my first.

Hey, progress is progress. And maybe the third time would be the charm. At the bottom I cheered Wyman on as he finished his outrageous 35th trip. Then I marveled as some hipster on a tall bike muscled and finessed his way to the top. And my third attempt? Never happened. But I didn’t fling my bike to the curb and run home like a pansy. Instead I just shook my head and recognized the reality of the situation: I was just not at all geared to do this thing. But as I locked the bike up in the back of the truck and came home, I also vowed to be back next year when I’ll be another 30 pounds lighter and infinitely better prepared mentally and physically. Fargo definitely won this fight, but I’ll be itching for a rematch. I’m even considering building a project whose sole purpose will be to climb that monster: small frame; big sprocket on the back wheel geared to a little chain ring, high seat, low handlebars and a small front tire. And you know I’ll name it “The Fargo Freak.”

Small Flickr photoset of DV stills here / Quicktime videoclip of my second attempt here.