A few years ago, on a visit home in April, I decided to give the climb a try. At the time, I was living in Colorado, and I wanted to test my elevation-acclimated lungs and legs on the winding stretch of pavement that had so intimidated me.
I set out from home early that Sunday morning on my sister’s road bike. Familiar landmarks and the smell of wet, mossy dirt and eucalyptus trees jogged memories from my youth. Pedaling softly up the first mellow section of the climb, I thought about how I’d never been able to drive up this road without remembering what happened to me here a long time ago.
I was an early bloomer, and by age 14 already had B cups. For a young girl who had never been very sure of herself, my soft, newly curving body spelled trouble. The fall of my freshman year of high school, my friend Diana’s older brother introduced me to a guy named Jake, who went to the local community college. He was good-looking, with tanned features and a tattoo of a dragon on his lean, well-defined right bicep. He was also 19 years old.
Jake made it clear immediately that he was interested in me, and that he thought I was sexy, which blew my adolescent mind. I had a frizzy perm and still wore braces, but an older boy with a car liked me! And he wanted me to be his girlfriend!
One afternoon, I told my parents I was studying late at the library, and Jake picked me up from school in his white Toyota pick-up, with its flaking paint and cracked leather seats. We drove past my house, all the way up Highway 9 to Skyline Road at the top. He pulled over in a secluded spot and we lay down in the bed of the truck. I remember how bright it was, a typical sunny, Bay Area afternoon.
It was the same California sunshine that now warmed my back as I started to grind up the steeper part of the climb. I shifted into a lower gear, watching the muscles on top of my thighs bulge under my shorts. My legs started to burn, but I…