Wednesdays in winter, I go nowhere slow. It’s “hill day” in the spinning class where I go to sweat out the short days with 24 friends. As we turn the red tension knobs on our stationary bikes, I think about the Boston Hills in summer. I’m there in my mind as the studio windows start to fog.
There’s Behm, Burr and Brown – but let’s start with a road at the other end of the alphabet – Zimmerman. If you’re going up it slow enough, you can actually read the historical marker at the foot of the hill that headlines the 1843 typhoid epidemic – traced to a nearby well – that killed 10 of the town’s 43 residents. Back in class, we squeeze filtered water from plastic bottles and take our tension up a turn.
A few pedal strokes farther up the road, a second marker memorializes the murder of John Love, a seaman, by the Thayer brothers, who were hanged for their crime in 1825. I recall reading that, until the January 1991 rally for the Bills after their first Super Bowl, the hanging attracted the largest crowd ever seen in Niagara Square. We take our tension up another turn.
Of course, instead of Zimmerman, you could head out Back Creek and go up Mill Street, maybe the steepest and shortest (but not the hardest and longest) climb in the area. It rises about 500 feet in half a mile, the height of the tallest building in downtown Buffalo. In class, that would be the equivalent of two full turns up.
Or, you could head in the opposite direction and up Boston Cross (not to be confused with its easier-to-climb sister, Boston-Colden). A historical marker there commemorates the birthplace of “Lark” Ellen Beach Yaw, 1868-1947, a world-famous coloratura soprano who is credited with having sung the highest note ever achieved by the human voice. Contrast that with the chorus of low notes that punctuate our efforts indoors. Someone has traced a smiley face on the window – have a nice hill day, grunt, grunt, grunt. I wonder what Lark Ellen would have thought of Lady Gaga, whose music is blasting from the studio sound system.
Colden is home to one of the more daunting climbs south of town, Heath, a hill that’s been the undoing of many a warrior from planet spandex. Unwary riders have been known to have the whoa-Nellie experience of their front wheels lifting clear off the ground. First-timers have been known to express their surprise in intensely colorful language. This isn’t an issue indoors with 40-pound flywheels on our (almost) immovable bikes. And, hey, is that snow I see falling through the negative space of the smiley face? We take it up one full turn.
Which brings us to Liebler, the king of climbs in the Boston Hills. Murders, epidemics, seasonal affective disorder, lawyer advertising, nuclear ambitions, wide right – all are forgiven during this hardest and longest of local ascents. It, too, has a historical marker at the bottom, but it’s quickly forgotten as we adapt to the hill’s 25 percent grade by zigzagging up it like paperboys delivering yesterday’s news. A steep first pitch is succeeded by a crueler and more unusual second, and it’s still a long slog to the top. But ah, the top! And ah, the view!
Whew. We take all the tension off our spinning bikes. Someone has added an exclamation point to the smiley face, making it look like a “10” with a typo. It’s all downhill from here.
But that’s another story.