What are we chasing – those of us who spend several hours a week viewing the world from a bicycle? We ride for lots of reasons. What I’ve noticed is that our experiences take us through a number of common – if not predictable – stages.
Oh, the Glorious Ride.
Planning, savoring, anticipating. All of my best memories gather together: fragments of successes, hard efforts and the joy of being stretched out over my bike. My thoughts drift over thousands of miles of solitude rolling through forests and over hills. Map My Ride sessions drag on for two hours. Pre-ride is a short-lived season of unquenchable optimism. It is the idealism of pure romance…never mind what’s to come.
What Did I Get Myself Into?
As in any romance, there comes a time where practical matters intrude. It slowly dawns on us that there’s a lot of work ahead, and that it’s not going to be sunny, and 70 degrees with a tailwind. This is the first dose of a cold, unyielding substance called reality. Did I sign up for this ride out of my own free will? [I’m already tired and it’s only mile 29] Worse yet, there was no sign-up: there will be no t-shirt and no food stops at miles 23, 45, 67 and 82. You’re on your own, Lance.
Can I Go Home Now?
The motivation is exceeded by the effort…or so it seems. Torrential rain and the grit accumulating in the bike shorts? Nether regions numb? Why does it feel like my tires are coated with sticky goo? This is the stage when we own the fact that there is pain and suffering in the world – but not just for other people. It’s happening to us.
I tell myself that I’ll probably quit after a few more miles. Then after a few miles have passed, I tell myself the same thing all over again. Reminds me of a bit of dialog from The Princess Bride:
[Dread Pirate Roberts] Good night, Wesley – most likely I’ll kill you in the morning. Except he never does, and Wesley becomes the next Dread Pirate Roberts.
In endurance cycling we become the understudy of a bushwacking pirate called pain. MOST LIKELY I’LL KILL YOU BY MORNING. Pain doesn’t kill us: we are born-again stronger. I’ve been known to yell at the top of my voice on a few occasions – expressing my disagreement with the Dread Pirate. On one occasion I startled a really fat Lab who gave chase for about 50 feet, and then gave up on me. Considering my pathetic rate of speed, I was surprised he didn’t catch me.
I Might Actually Finish.
Through the cloud of sur-reality [is that a word?] that sets in on or about mile 85 comes a ray of hope. Countless snot-rockets have left tell-tale tracks on jersey and shorts. Handlebar tape is sticky with energy gel. After coming this far, the probability of failure is low.We cross this line and the world looks different. It’s not unlike the ending of an apocalyptic movie once the dragons are slain, and a handful of survivors emerge into the light to repopulate the world. In our case, the dragons are named Doubt and Pain. The clouds part and the angels sing.
That Wasn’t So Bad!
[Let’s do it again] After a big day of hills on the north shore of Lake Superior I came back 40 miles into a headwind blowing off of the lake that made me question the existence of goodness in the world. My body was emptied of calories, and most of my will to live. [I know it sounds a little dramatic…it still stands as the worst 85 miles I’ve ever ridden] I nearly cracked as I clawed my way back into Grand Marais. Back at the hotel, I sat with my head in my hands blubbering and moaning at my wife, and then threw myself onto the bed still dressed in full kit and shoes.
I felt great.