As many of you know, I am a weekend cyclists. I purchased my first road bike 9 years ago after I signed up to ride in the PMC when one of my customers was fighting cancer. At that time, I had little expectations that cycling would become something I loved to do. Instead, that first year of training consisted of getting used to everything involved with riding: clipping into pedals and remembering to clip out when I was coming to a stop; trying to figure out how to start and stop my bike computer; trying not to look in the mirror at the horrendous silhouette of me sporting bike shorts; trying to look cool while walking in bike shoes; learning how to play nice on the roads with cars and drivers who hate bikers; understanding the cycling community and the slow realization that cyclists are not necessarily the friendliest, most welcoming group of people. I spent that first spring and summer training with Eddie, unsure about the sport. By the end of my first PMC, I knew I loved riding, because I wanted to do it all over again.
This past weekend, I signed up to do a century – a 100 mile ride. I was hoping to do it with friends, and for whatever reasons, it ended up not working out that way. I showed up on Sunday morning at the start of the ride, solo, cold and a bit anxious. I rode with my PMC team the day before and even though my legs felt fine, there was a small voice in the back of my head looking for a way out of the day ahead of me. ‘You won’t make it.’ ‘Your legs aren’t fresh.’ ‘You’re going to get lost.’ There was no one to ask what they were going to opt to wear…arm warmers or no arm warmers. Long pants or shorts. No one was there to show me where to go or to talk to during the ride. With no reasonable excuses available, I finally decided what to wear, pumped up my tires, and headed out on the road.
It took me seven hours to complete the ride. Seven hours of constant wind, cold, some rain, and eventually, life-altering sunshine. Seven hours is a long time to spend with anyone, especially when it’s your own brain. Looking back now, I have to laugh at the conversations and thoughts I had during those seven hours.
The first stretch of the ride I felt like I dominated the roads. I passed strong men with quads bigger than tree trunks. I passed women decked out for a winter ride. I passed a lot of old-timers, cheerfully yakking with their riding partners. I felt determined, powerful and fast, and even considered looking into bike racing when I got back home. I stopped briefly at the waterstop at mile 25, and hopped back onto the bike, ready to keep tackling the miles.
This is when things went south. It started blowing harder, it started sprinkling rain, and my thoughts were less triumphant and more focused on who would love me enough to come pick me up wherever I was in New Hampshire and then drive me to my car in Wakefield so I could go home. Mile after mile, I went through everyone I knew. The more I rode, the further away from my car I became, and the problem of who I could call kept changing in my head.
By the time I reached the next rest stop at mile 50, I felt wasted. I plopped on the gravel and contemplated my options. To quit or to keep going. Was I going to be a quitter? The circles of thoughts overwhelmed me. No one was there to tell me to get up and get back on my bike. I sat there for a long time, getting more cold and wet as the minutes passed. Finally, something deep inside told me to get up and get back on the bike, because I had no other viable option.
And, that’s what I did. I got back on the bike and I started riding again. I started playing tricks with myself, making rules that I couldn’t look to see how many miles I’ve gone until the clock said it was 12:30. The next time I let myself look was 1pm. Before I knew it, I hit the third and final rest stop at mile 75, and was overcome with a sense of growing excitement. I was actually, maybe, going to finish this. I got back on my bike and was blessed with the dark gray skies clearing up a bit to allow the sun to shine through.
I rolled in to the finish with zero fanfare at 2:30, seven hours after I started. No one to high five, no one to congratulate, no one to share the relief of finally being finished. It was ok, though, because I knew what I had just done, and I realized I didn’t need anyone there at the beginning, middle or end of the ride. It’s icing on the cake to have your friends and family there for you during tough times, but life doesn’t always offer you icing or even cake, and it’s good to know that you can make it through all on your own.
I’ve decided the bike racing scene is most likely not in my future, and I think I’m ok with that. I’m going to keep being a weekend warrior and will pursue things that interest and challenge me. It’s been a good experience for me…humbling, yes, but also exciting and motivating. I think each of needs to push ourselves every now and then to do something outside our comfort zone. The rewards can really be so unexpected and yet can have such a remarkable impact on how you approach other things in life. I don’t need to win a race to feel like a winner. I just need to make it through seven hours in my own head.