I’m a cyclist. I’m mostly a road cyclist, but have also been trying to add more mountain biking to my life. These sports are very different and present uniquely rewarding challenges and obstacles to overcome.
I had a road ride yesterday that inspired me to write words about it because it was one of the most difficult rides that I’ve had in a really, really long time. I went to the gym the night before and had a brutal workout, but it wasn’t the type of thing that I thought would be a ride killer the next day. I was so wrong. Things felt good for the first 18 miles of the 58 mile route, but then it happened…I popped. The group sailed away from me and I was on my own in the middle of nowhere, and depleted with 40 miles to go.
There are regrouping points throughout the ride, but when you’re that dead, you have to fight to go fast enough to not miss the opportunity to regroup. Your ride buddies might not still be there if you take too long. Rejoining everyone is bitter sweet because you’re on fumes. You enjoy some company and shelter of drafting for a while, but it’s inevitable that you shall be dropped again. You’re in no man’s land and there is nothing to save you but pedal, pedal, pedal.
You want to go slow because everything hurts, but slow just means you suffer longer. So, you have to dig deep into the bowels of your strength and depleted, shredded muscles to muster up a decent tempo. You don’t want to pedal anymore. What you really want to do is get off the bike and throw it and figure out if an Uber will come rescue you out here. It’s desolate, silent and lonely where you are. Your chain needs some lube, and now that you’re out here hurting alone, it sounds so very gritty and crunchy and that is making turning the pedals hurt even more. This goes on for an eternity. Every pedal stroke is disgusting. Somewhere around the last part of the ride, a wonderful and generous soul from the group has dropped back so you don’t have to suffer alone. This is a blessing and a curse. It’s amazing to have the moral support, but sometimes when things are that hideous it feels better to have no witnesses.
Throughout the suffering, I found myself having moments of embracing and strangely enjoying this atrocious struggle. I started to think about how character building it is. Being able to summon strength when you feel you have nothing left and everything including your hair hurts takes iron clad will and inner strength. I also thought about how this was just a rough day and that pushing through those 40 grizzly miles would make me stronger and faster on another day. I had moments when all I could do was literally giggle out loud at how miserable it felt. I had a lot of thoughts about how grateful I am to be able to challenge myself in these ways, since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2020. How blessed am I that I’m strong, healthy and capable of stuff like this. It’s amazing. Also, stresses or worries that you thought were important before a ride like this either vaporize or look very different when you’ve pushed through it. I embraced the suck and it felt beyond rewarding to finish that damn ride.
The group graciously waited until I finished to order coffee. They all had a hug or a fist bump for me because every single one of them has had a day like that. It was more than tough, but those types of days are a gift. They’re a brutal reminder of what we’re made of, what we’re blessed with and they build on those things to make us stronger. I went to dinner with friends later and the giant slab of prime rib and mashed potatoes that I savagely devoured could not have tasted better.