“Bite off more than you can chew, then chew it.” – Ella Williams
For a guy my size and age I am a good road cyclist. Over the course of the last ten years or so I have probably ridden 60,000 miles. As a comparison, it is 2,800 miles from New York City to San Diego, CA if you were to drive. I have been challenged by miles, hills, weather, cars, trucks, dogs, squirrels, my will and my legs. I can think of many rides where I wanted to get off my bicycle, lay in a ditch and wait for the buzzards to come pick my bones clean. But other than wrecks or a mechanical issue that I couldn’t fix on the road, I have never gotten off the bike, given-up, or quit.
What I learned many years ago about cycling is you get stronger by doing those rides that damn near kill you. If thirty miles is your sweet spot, do forty. If a long climb with a 5% grade doesn’t make your heart flutter, find a hill with a 10% grade to climb. If your average speed on your regular route is 15 mph, bump it up to 16 or 17 mph. Getting better is about stressing your heart, legs and mind and living to tell about it. As Nietzsche said “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
On Saturday my wife and I climbed a mountain on our road bikes as part of our 50 mile ride. Six miles of steady climbing with 6-12% grades. I am a big guy, over six feet tall and 240 pounds. I am not built for climbing, my genetics is all about going downhill or mashing the pedals on the flats. My wife is just the opposite, tall, skinny and leaves me in the dust on steep climbs. All in all, it was a hard, very windy but beautiful day to be pedaling a bicycle in the mountains.
As with most rides like this it is the last five miles that are the toughest. You are pedaling on fumes, your legs hurt, your butt hurts, and your mind begins to wander. You are ready to be done. Get out of your sweat drenched kit and eat lunch or drink a beer. Every part of your body is asking the same question “Why are you doing this to yourself?” After ten years, I still don’t have an answer to that question.
Sunday we went mountain biking. Now on a scale of 1 to 10 I am probably a 6 on a road bike but mountain biking is a new hobby and I am probably a 3 and my wife is a 2. There is a difference between the two, different skills, different muscles, different terrain and a different attitude.
To date most of our mountain bike rides have been about five miles long on logging roads or double track trails. Sunday I decided to jump outside of our comfort zone for a 10 mile ride with 50% of it on a rough and hilly single track. In a phrase “biting off more than we can chew”.
Five miles in and we hadn’t even done the “hard” part yet, the part that would take us back to the comfort of our car and on to lunch. I realized quickly that I had made a mistake trying to do something we weren’t ready for and if I hadn’t realized it my wife was going to make damn sure that I knew.
For an hour we pedaled over rocks, roots, up hills and down. We rode through streams, and when it got too steep to pedal we pushed. Five miles that seemed like a hundred. Just when I thought we were close, another hill, more mud to slog through, or another creek to cross. And then suddenly, we were out of the woods, the gravel road that would led us back to our car and my wife to the porta potty shining like a beacon in the dark.
My wife and I survived. It took her a little longer than I thought it should to be happy with me again but eventually she did acknowledge my existence after I bought her lunch and a sweet tea. What I realized immediately, and she realized much later, is that what was thrown in front of us was hard but not insurmountable. You take it in bites, and chew, another bite, and chew. It’s what we do everyday in living. We will have other hard roads in front of us, roots and rocks may be replaced with sickness and death but they are well-worn paths. Paths that have been traveled by millions before us and will be traveled by millions after. And with every scar, and every pain there is strength, strength we can carry with us in our journey of living.
“The older you get the stronger the wind gets – and it’s always in your face.”- Pablo Picasso