one pedal at a time

At least once a year, I reach a point of wanting to do something I don’t think I can. During the pandemic, it was 15 pull-ups in a row. At other points, it’s been long hikes or repeating college rugby fitness tests. It comes from both the urge for my insides to match my outsides (I’m working through something emotionally and symbolically working through something very hard physically helps me do that) and as a ritual of mental fortitude. It is ultimately so mental. At some point this week, I decided I was going to bike 50 miles. I’d only ever gone 45 miles and that round 5-0 beckoned me, despite just coming off of a cold recently that wiped me out for 3 weeks.

I brought a big bag of chips as my sustenance throughout. It wasn’t wise nor enough but it did the trick. I could grab a handful on my breaks every 7-10 miles or so and quickly keep moving. I didn’t stop for more than a few minutes at a time, except when I came across a rogue border collie, pictured below. One of my close friends has the same kind of dog and I just couldn’t keep biking when I realized no human accompanied her. As I circled back to snag her, I made peace with realizing my 50 mile pain ritual might not happen today. Long story short, I got the owner’s number from the animal hospital and, when I couldn’t get in touch, eventually let her roam after some encouragement from strangers that it was likely a local dog. The owner later confirmed it when she texted me back.

The first 10 or so miles were the hardest. I kept thinking about all of the rest I had to do, before I settled into taking things one pedal at a time. It was a powerful lesson in how you don’t really know what will unfold or whether you’ll have the strength for it. You can only find out and listen along the way. I broke the ride into 10 mile chunks mentally and emotionally. Each 10 miles had a theme and a set of questions to ground me, with the final 10 being the toughest across both physical and emotional fronts. At each stop, I took notes of what swirled in my brain before quickly continuing on.

I’m not an endurance person. The pacing is foreign to me and that was part of the reason I chose this challenge of sorts. At some points, I resisted little sprints up the tiny inclines. At other times, I thought of my future self and lowered my gears. I left some photos at an art exchange that I love and took a piece of art in return. I marveled and slightly panicked as I biked around three horses. I turned back over and over to marvel at the mountains in the distance. At the end, I felt entirely emptied out and a quiet smile across my face. I could feel the texture of my mental strength once more (it felt so close) after this absolutely unnecessary physical challenge pushed me to dig it back up.

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