How flat is flat?

Last year, I rode in a two-day, 192-mile bike trek across Massachusetts to raise money for cancer research. I learned of the event from a friend I met on a bike trip in Italy. I became intrigued with her stories and asked a lot of questions, thinking I just might be able to conjure up the physical stamina needed to do it myself.

As a runner, I knew I had the legs to ride, as long as the route was reasonably flat. So as you might expect, I asked my friend a lot of questions about the terrain. How bad were the hills? How long did they last? Did she think I could do it? According to her, the first 60 miles or so were fairly hilly, but excluding one particularly steep hill, it really shouldn’t be a problem. After the first 60, she told me, the route flattens out and it’s smooth sailing.

Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t find the big hill she mentioned, not because it was so easy, but because they ALL were so challenging! Add to that the fact that I couldn’t find a flat spot on the entire 192-mile route, save for a few miles of tow path along a river on the Cape. What?!

I didn’t really understand the disconnect until I was back home and driving to work one morning. As far as I could see there were cornfields. They didn’t stop until they faded into the horizon. Now that’s flat. My friend, however, lives among rolling hills that are beautiful but never stop. Flat to her just means smaller hills.

This is a classic case of context confusion. I put what she told me into the familiarity of my own world, and neither of us considered that we might be looking at things differently. It was a terrific reminder to me that even with the people I know best, I can’t take communication for granted.

In this case, it wasn’t a big deal and I found it exhilarating to rise to the challenge of the hills. I’m even going to do the ride again this year, but now I know what to expect.

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One thought on “How flat is flat?

  1. Your definition of a hill is someone else’s definition of a mountain is someone else’s definition of a challenge…so to speak. And you’re speaking of actual topographic conditions. Love the cornfields.

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