The alarm went off at 4:30 but I was already awake, working on my second cup of coffee. My gear was laid out, ready to go. Pump, shoes, bike, energy bars, Roctane gels, Hammer H2O additive, and my cycling clothes and jacket. I sat alone in the dark eating my bowl of cereal contemplating the day ahead. A shave and a shower, I dressed and was ready to go. I packed my bike, pump, helmet and shoes into my car, kissed my sleeping wife on the forehead, and out the door I went.
70 miles later I arrived at the Tridge (triple bridge in Midland, MI) the sun was just starting to come up. It was chilly – well, technically I’d call it cold – especially for September, but I was pretty ready for it. The park, while normally quite busy at this time of day, was still and quiet. I prepped my bike, donned my jacket, filled my pocket with Energy Beans, Energy Bars and Gu’s.
This was my second annual solo trip to the Pere-Marquette Rail Trail. Within two miles I was alone. Just me and my bike and the will to ride.
I reached the town of Clare at mile 30 and had planned on another ten miles after picking up the trail again on the other side of town but I got discombooberated – lost. As I cruised around town looking for a landmark I began to get cold. Not a little uncomfortable “chilly”, we’re talking “Uh-oh, I’m 30 miles from my car, 110 miles from home, it’s just above freezing, I’m on a bicycle, I’m lost and I’m alone” cold (I did have my cell phone ICOE).
This is what I showed up for.
I never really knew what I was made of until I started cycling. Running was a good start, but solo cycling trips – they test the capacity of one’s balls. When you’re that far out, your ability is all you’ve got. The ability to fix your transportation, the ability to keep going, to stay motivated… The ability to fight a nagging fear of the reality that two flat tires and you’re in deep shit. This is no place for a nervous person, or maybe it is.
Eventually I got my bearings and began my journey back to the truck, a wry smile stretched across my face: “I’m kicking your ass again, you wuss”, I thought.
This confidence did not come easy. It’s taken a lot of victories to be able to keep the panic buried and to keep pushing forward when I’m out in the middle of nowhere and I’ve got nobody to call up to bail me out – and things aren’t going as planned. In the end, when the worry and self-doubt creep in, there’s only one question to answer: What are you going to do, curl up into a fetal ball on the ground and suck your thumb or are you going to roll out? This is the question that brings the smile to my face.
The cool thing about winning these little battles is that I slowly grow the attitude that I can win, that I can do more than my sometimes feeble mind thinks I can. In fact, over time this has become the pervasive way that I think. When I’m between a rock and a hard place in life, rather than throw in the towel or look for the easier, softer way out, I knuckle down and work through my problems. As in cycling, I know instinctively that the problem is in my head and that it can be thwarted or made to get in line.
Cycling helped me to realize that I was once a slave to my mind – it broke the chains and gave me a whole new way to view the world.
So, if you see me on the road with that little smile stretched across my face and you’re curious why, it’ll be, more than likely, because I’m struggling – and winning again.
Cycling: It’s no hill for a mountain climber.