Friends and co-workers, who know I ride a bike more than 100+ miles a week ask me regularly, “how can you ride that far, for so many hours on end and why do you ride up those ridiculously steep mountains when you can just drive?” My reply varies, but most of the time I tell them simply, “you won’t understand until you try it”. A more personal response would sound like, “because it makes me feel like I’m flying and I feel like I’m 7 years old screaming down my grandmother’s driveway like Evil Knievel” (google it young’uns).
I had a conversation long ago with a co-worker, let’s call her Linda. It’s not uncommon for me to have many visitors to my office throughout the day. As the local IT contact, I get numerous visits as you can imagine. Most visits are complaints, about how this or that is broken with a PC or network issue or something just isn’t right and needs to be faster, faster, faster. On this particular day, Linda saw my race bike in my office. The weather was a bit overcast and the threat of rain was high. I decided to roll my bike indoors and not leave it strapped to the roof of my car for fear of it getting soaked prior to Tuesday night worlds. This wasn’t the first time I’ve brought my beautiful carbon fiber race bike into the office and it wasn’t the first time someone asked to pick it up, amazed at how light it was or gawked at it but on this day Linda stopped in just to ask me about why I ride a bike. She didn’t complain about any IT issue, she didn’t want to pick up my bike she only wanted to know why I rode a bike.
I took a brief moment to think and my response came to me quickly. I told Linda something that went like this, “One day my body won’t allow me to experience the thrill of being outside and riding my bike or that feeling of accomplishment when I complete an epically long ride or compete in a race. So, while I have the physical ability to do it I’m going to do it.” I proceeded to tell her how I had discovered a new appreciation for being outside again, that same appreciation and freedom I had forgotten as a kid. I’ve met a wonderful new set of friends because of the bike and found it to be very social. I could completely disconnect from the entire world and collect my thoughts. By simply riding a bike, I could somehow slow down time and it was great exercise. I told Linda, “try it”.
The response I gave Linda that day I know I’ve repeated in similar chats over the years. When I tell people this, they look perplexed and the follow-up comment is almost always the same. “I haven’t ridden a bike in years and I think it might be too hard for me”. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that (I’d have about $50). Of course, it might be hard a first. Everything is difficult if you’ve not practiced, participated or do it often. If you’re an athlete, doctor, nurse, electrician, mechanic, school teacher or whatever I’m sure starting out was hard for you too. Riding a bike again was hard for me and not a pretty story truth be told.
My first real “ride” was up against Paris Mountain in Greenville, SC with my buddy Robert Mazzoli and it was HARD! Picture this, I showed up at Carolina Triathlon’s Saturday group ride wearing a t-shirt, cargo shorts, toe clips on a hybrid bike, yeah I was clearly “the new guy” with a 20oz Gatorade in my bottle cage that I had just picked up from the convience store about 10 minutes prior to rolling out. For the uninitiated, Paris Mountain (click for VeloViewer Profile) is not a grab your bike and just ride it type of route. This is a serious route and ridiculous climb for a first timer, so serious in fact that it was featured in the US Pro Cycling Championships when it was hosted in Greenville, SC for a few years. I had to get off the bike twice and wasn’t having a good day at all. I was asking myself, “THIS IS WHAT YOU CRAZIES CALL FUN?!?!?”…that was before the DESCENT! I was smiling from ear to ear while descending. It didn’t matter that I was the very last person to roll back into the bike shop. I was hooked!
Prior to this first ride, I hadn’t ridden a bicycle more than 1 mile in 15+ years. That day I rode 25 miles and thought I was going to die at times. Every muscle in my body was hurting. My lungs were sucking in so much oxygen that I could see the trees starting to tear up and birds falling from the sky from oxygen deprivation. I could barely breath climbing up that 2.2-mile beast of a road on Paris Mountain. All this sounds terrible but I couldn’t have felt more alive. I had forgotten what a thrill it was to simply ride a bicycle. I ended up finishing the day exhausted and I passed out for 2+ hour nap. The feeling of accomplishment was equally as exciting as the ride itself.
I learned a valuable lesson on that 1 ride, that 1 day up Paris Mountain. A lesson that I already knew but had forgotten. The lesson I was reintroduced to was, it’s tough going uphill but when you reach the top the downhill is the reward. When you fight, scratch and claw your way to the top, the reward is always worth it. A good metaphor for life I’d say.
Circling back to comments made to me about cycling being “too hard” and now knowing my own struggle with my Paris Mountain ride, when was the last time you pushed yourself to the limit where you thought you could do no more, but then dug deeper and finished a super challenging physical task? I bet many people would say “I can’t remember”.
I push myself all the time now and you will eventually too. I have what I call my “Internal War” and I love it when it’s time for a death match, hear me out. I like to sometimes pit my brain against my body to see which one gives in first. It’s really a David vs. Goliath matchup. My brain and my body typically have major disagreements when riding hard and racing. Usually, my brain wins the majority of these battles while my 46-year-old body pays the tab. When I first started riding my bike, even when I was crazy slow, my brain would win 100% of the time. It wasn’t even a fair fight! I’d be asking myself, “god, this is so hard, why am I out here and gasping for breath?” We’ve all been there. THEN, one day my body won. I pushed it so hard that my body ignored my brains signals to get off the bike, rest, walk, quit. My body refused to stop and it had won. I can’t tell you specifically when / where it happened but believe me, my body won a battle with my brain. It’s in that moment I knew, I’m a cyclist and this is MY SPORT. I now had this ability and confidence to live in this “hurt locker” and still enjoy the ride that I didn’t have before. You too will get to this point and when you do, you’ll have the same “angelic sounding” moment that I did. It will come and it will definitely be earned. I’m not a golfer but I have swung a club a few times to hit that magical perfect shot. I would guess it’s like golf, you swing 1000x times for that feeling of that 1 perfect swing that Tiger Woods and the Golf Channel would envy. Except in cycling, that feeling happens much more than 1000 to 1 for me today. Get on the bike, keep riding, keep pedaling, just keep well….swinging.
I think people would be happier if they could figure out what their “bicycle” is in life and push themselves. They would be amazed at what they’re capable of.
The thing is, and this is going to sound corny, your body and your mind are capable of incredible things. Your body and your mind can be “trained” to do a number of things no matter the age. You can work out and transform the visible shape of your body with enough dedication. You can learn a new language or learn a new skill. All it takes is time and the desire to do so. It’s never too late, you just have to get in this mindset and tell yourself, “this might be hard, this is going to be hard” and when you’re being challenged and looking to quit you tell yourself, “yep, this is harder than I thought it would be but it does get easier in time and I knew that going in”. The downhill is within reach and it is the reward.
It’s a natural fact of life, at some point in your life your mind and body won’t allow you to do these physical things. While your mind and body ARE ABLE to do these things why not do something HARD? Why not do something CHALLENGING? Why not do something that SCARES YOU and is UNKNOWN to you? Be the example, set the example. You don’t have to be cocky, you don’t have to be the best, you don’t even need to be fast but you can be a good example by first challenging yourself and then sharing what you’ve learned with others that you see doing the same.
10 years ago, I didn’t know anything about what it took to ride a bicycle like I do today. It was crazy hard in the beginning and it is still hard today if I want it to be. I now lead rides, I am a CAT4 road racer. I’m a 2018 Hincapie Sportswear Brand Ambassador and I even help organize an annual event where we climb that nasty, hard Paris Mountain route 10 times consecutively called PARISMOUNTAINX. I am a very visible person within my local Greenville Spinners cycling community. I volunteer my time supporting various charity rides and growing the sport locally. I manage this cycling blog called BunchSprint. I’d like to think that I’m a well-respected and trusted rider and set a good example for others taking up the sport. I continue to listen to other riders both experienced and new. You have to be humble, it’s good to take advice from others while also giving it when asked. Cycling is a great sport, I wish I had gotten into it sooner than age 35 but I’m here now and I’m never leaving it.
Without dragging this story on let me just say, find out what your “bicycling” is in life is. Know that the uphill grind is worth the effort. We all have the proverbial “uphill” challenge in life. Many of the challenges aren’t created by our own choices but are pushed on us by others or indirect circumstances. The downhill IS the reward, you simply have to go uphill first to get to where you’re going.
So tell me, WHY DO YOU RIDE? I honestly want to hear from you. Share this story and post why you ride with others.