So I was going to a client's party this Sunday in Orinda (a city east of Berkeley for people who strike it rich, have kids, and want to get away from the rest of us). Not having a car, I looked up the new Google mapping service for bicycle routes. From the map, it looked as if I could reach my destination in less than two miles from the Orinda BART station. Orinda has hills, so I took my Serotta -- a hybrid bicycle made of titanium and carbon fiber which weighs 17 pounds. Walking up and down the BART steps with this bicycle is much less work than carrying a portable computer on one's back (or an infant plus stroller, which I've seen some struggling moms do).
All was well until I reached the turnoff for the client's road. Google bicycle maps does not give elevations. The road started at an easy grade -- maybe 12 percent (remember, my bicycle is light and I ride the Berkeley hills several times a week) -- but then things became horrific, as in a Sisyphysian nightmare. The grade went up to at least 17 percent, which is something I do once a week on my regular rides, but only for 100 yards or so. So I plugged into my lowest gear (I have a compact, not a triple, which i find degrading because I used to race and still have the mindset of a racer sans the body) and stood up.
After a while, I saw the hill was going to keep rising at this grade, so I did something more degrading than using a granny gear. I stopped and got off the bicycle and started walking. Slowly. A fit woman walker passed me and my bicycle. When the grade finally relented a little, I got back on the bicycle and spun in my lowest gear. But then the hill did another Everest, so I got off, stripped off my jacket, and started walking again all the while cursing the idiots who built this road.
I managed to get back on near the top of the hill, which is where the house was located, and ride into the courtyard in style. The house was about 800 feet up, and less than a mile from the main road. If Google bicycle maps had told me the truth, I think I would have missed the party or found a ride with friends. Indeed, I bummed a ride home with a guy who had a big truck.
Good thing Google doesn't do hiking routes...yet.