There are moments that matter intrinsically, and there are moments to which we attach the mattering, because it exists and needs to be stuck on a moment so we can get to it.

I was looking back through an old exercise log book this evening and found this, one of those moments that matter intrinsically. It was Feb. 13, 1999:

Tramway loop – 13.1 avs, 2:27:06, 11+ most of hill – died near top – high 160s to 173 on hill

I will never forget that climb. It was a crystalline moment, a moment of compelling physical discomfort, when I lived for the false flat near the top and then ached when the hill kicked up again one final time. Today, we bang up the Tramway hill like it’s nothing, on the way to something steeper. But that one perfect day, Feb. 13, 1999, was a special moment I still can’t quite explain.

Two summers ago, Jaime and I were regularly doing another climb that hurt, up Rio Bravo out of the valley and onto the west mesa. The hill was not so long, with a steep section and then a long gentle finish. Jaime would invariably drop me on the steep section, and it’d be all me and my handlebars and my heart monitor, flirting with the pain threshhold. It hurt, hurt like that first climb up Tramway.

“What is it,” I said, gasping at the top of the hill as we stopped to collect ourselves, “that makes me want to come back and do that, over and over again?”

Today was one of those artificial moments.

Sandia Mountains

By my reckoning, the picture above was taken at the point at which I rode my 4,000th mile of 2003. It was a bit of a cheat. I laid out the ride intentionally, so the milestone would happen at a favorite spot, where the trail sweeps east with a view of mountains in three directions. Click on the picture above and you’ll get a panorama, though the itty-bitty web image does it faint justice.

The real cheat is the fact that there is no way my odometer is precise enough to tell when I rode the 4,000th mile. But it’s such an artificial milestone anyway that this’ll do, and I’ll cheaply use it.

Up to the northeast, I could see the Tramway hill. To the southwest, I could see Rio Bravo stretching up the mesa front. To the east, I could see the break in the mountains where Tijeras Canyon cuts through, another tough, great ride.

I ride a lot with other people. There is Jaime, who is really the only person with whom I can share the great good that can come of the pain of banging up a long steady climb. Sometimes we’ll be riding side by side and he’ll start picking up the pace, and I’ll match him as long as I can, then slip in behind him, which is his cue to go even faster, and I’ll be locked on his back wheel and we’re flying in this mad reckless two-car train. I love those rides.

Lissa is a favorite riding partner too. When I need her to help me sort out something hard, we often save it for the bike, a leisurely trek along the river. I love those rides.

But most, I ride by myself. On the easy rides, I ride to write, working out ideas. On the hard rides – and my favorites are the hard rides – it is the exquisite meditation of kicking the pedals over at 90 rpm, feeling the chatter of the road and the pounding of my heart, the music that is labored breathing. I love those rides.