Appreciating the Hills: My First Ride on the Fenelon Elevator
"How are you liking Dubuque so far?"
"Save for the hills, it's great!"
I've had this exchange with countless people since I moved here in February.
I grew up in Illinois, which is flatter than a year-old bottle of pop. I never grew accustomed to navigating steep hills, cliffs, and inclines that sneak up on you with little warning. When I called my father — who was more familiar with Dubuque than myself at the time — and told him I got this job, I swear before he said "congratulations," he said, "good luck on those damn hills, kid."
Living in the Tri-States requires you not merely to get used to the literal peaks and valleys, but to embrace them. Despite my trepidations with steep roadways, I knew before I even moved into my new place there was a spot I wanted to check out: the famous Fenelon Place Elevator.
The narrow, funicular railway is located at 512 Fenelon Plaza in Dubuque. It's billed as "the world's shortest and steepest railroad in the world." Boasting a vertical elevation of 189 feet at a 41-degree angle, the elevator has two cars at opposite ends of the slope. The cars pass one another at the midpoint of the elevator.
My friends and I boarded the car at the bottom and rode up. I remembered about a fourth of the way up the elevator that I have a serious fear of heights. George Carlin once said that it's not necessarily the fear of heights most people harbor; it's the fear of plunging to your death. I tried to keep that in mind. I also tried not to look behind me and instead look towards the top.
The length of the railway is 296 feet. I'd wager nearly every soul in Dubuque knows how gorgeous the view is atop that peak. Even on an otherwise dreary, overcast evening, the view of Dubuque, the Mississippi River, and the Julien Dubuque bridge is liable to stop you in your tracks.
At the top of the hill is where it finally dawned on me just how scenic my new home is. Towering over Dubuque's many bluffs, seeing a city that's equal parts historic and revitalized, all while the lights of businesses begun to illuminate with the encroaching darkness was nothing short of beautiful.
My friends and I took in the view and made casual conversation amongst ourselves, and with the attendant, before heading back down. The ride down, I will say, was less nerve-wracking than the ride up. Mainly because I knew that somewhat flatter elevation was near.
I'll have to tough out a winter in Dubuque — or have the inclement weather inadvertently dictate my ride to work — before I can truly gripe about the hilliness of this area. That said, just like it's good to stop and smell the roses from time to time, it's good to stop and appreciate the hills, I suppose.
Who knows? Whenever I head back home, maybe I'll be like most others who live outside the Midwest and remark about the lack of elevation.
That's a strong maybe, FYI.