We’re taking a holiday break to reflect on all of the parts we should’ve bought ourselves instead of buying gifts for others. This is a short essay we were inspired to write a few years ago when we visited the Giant’s Despair Hill Climb site in Wilkes-Barre, PA while on a job. Enjoy this essay, and enjoy the war on Christmas, no matter what side you’re on.
The height of the climb is a ghost of the yearly event. Just outside of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, mud and cleared trees on the north edge of the road, where timing officials and spectators have matted the terrain, are adjacent to the permanent finish line spanning the breadth of the two-lane road. Just beyond its peak, a shining building I only caught a glimpse of in passing. A fortune-telling of the dynamics I would experiences as I made the journey down the road and through the town at the bottom of it.
Doing my best not to turn my rental Mazda 6 rotors into french fries, I cruised down the steep decline, taking in the view of the valley as my sinuses rapidly compressed. The first major turn came with plenty of warning that I simply had not headed. A sharp, banked right-hander made me do my best Cousin Eddie ‘woo!’ impression to the audience of empty seats in my sedan.
I won’t bore you with the details of the remaining ride because the obvious gem is the uphill. Tumbling out of the straightaway at the bottom, an officially named “Giant’s Despair” park simultaneously greets you and waves ‘goodbye’ with its brevity. Down through what feels like a landlocked seaside town, you wouldn’t be surprised to see someone taking a wicked pissa outside one of the countless (and windowless) bars. And almost as if the same poet that named the Giant’s Despair had been the city planner, the scenery changes drastically as you pass over onto the other side of the tracks. Porches and abandoned cars in driveways turn to projects and abandoned cars in parking lots. A pair of police cars turn off their emergency lights and disband as I pass through the first major intersection. I imagine the demarcating tracks separate color more than they do class. An unfortunate juxtaposition to the thrill of the nearby hill.
I turned around in the lot of the B’nai B’rith Senior Apartments and dodged potholes that would make a Chicagoan proud, as I made my way back to the starting line. By the time I arrived, it was just after dusk. Into manual mode I went, and up the hill and away from the despair I’d climb. The ascent was fantastic. Quick dips that turned into almost-hairpins and frequent undulations through the straighter portions of the steep grade made me feel like I was escaping feds in a cigar boat.
I reached the top and and book-ended my trip with the shining building; a building I’d come to realize was an adult addiction rehabilitation clinic. I felt the road was not the despairing one, but the region itself. Perhaps in naming it, they’d meant to embrace their trials as a method of coping. If you asked me where to start and end the course, I’d tell you to start at the bottom and work your way to the top as best you can like the rest of us. The finish line is up there somewhere and I hope we both make it.