Last winter I signed up for a 3 day bike ride through the Rocky Mountains with Velo View Bike Tours. I thought that having 9 months to train for the ride would be the inspiration I needed to become a cyclist.
I even proclaimed that I was becoming a cyclist in a blog post about making the switch from running to cycling. I made a similar mistake years ago when I signed up for a half marathon thinking that would turn me into a long distance runner.
Turns out, I'm a bit of a procrastinator! I also kind of like the thrill of a challenge. So, there was very little training involved, and it showed on the first hill of our high altitude journey.
Even though it was tough, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed. Happy to be in the mountains with great friends, nice weather, beautiful scenery, and on vacation. Yay!!
I made it the first day with the help of some energy bars, chocolate chips cookies, a few shots of espresso, and lots of encouragement. Even with my caffeine and sugar high, the steep climb and lack of oxygen took it's toll. Following the ride I couldn't even pretend that I hadn't gotten my butt kicked.
After a nice dinner and plenty of rest we were back at it the next day. This time I took my friends' advice and used chamois butt'r :).
We were a few thousand feet higher, and the first 25 miles were straight UP the mountain!!!! Seriously. WTH was I thinking signing up for this damn ride? I could be at a spa somewhere.
But, I finished the 50 miles that day with a bit of whining, some cursing, lots of drafting, and banana bread that I snagged from the continental breakfast that morning (carbs and sugar were my friend that day).
By the third ride, I couldn't pretend to be excited about getting my sore butt and legs back on the bike. As we loaded up the van and drove to our starting point I was thinking about how much I was ready to be done. I thought about staying behind and had to give myself a serious pep talk.
Even though many of my friends were experienced cyclists, I was the only personal trainer in the group. It's my job to motivate people and teach them how to be fit. There is no way that I wasn't going to finish. I convinced myself that I needed to set a good example, and that was the inspiration I needed to get going.
As we began the winding climb up the highest road in America my legs felt like lead. I clung to my friend's tire focusing on her wheel and pedaling one foot in front of the other. My knee was killing me, my hips hurt, my attitude was taking a turn for the worse. This was not looking good!
Around one of the turns I saw the Velo View van. Thank goodness! I stopped for a break, water, ibuprofen, and some tylenol cream (amazing stuff!). Everyone else had already gotten back on their bikes and I was having a hard time motivating myself to do the same.
As I was about to get going I looked in my bag to see if I had my iphone and headphones. I did! But, unfortunately there isn't an internet signal at the top of the world so I couldn't use the music apps. I opened iTunes on the off chance I had something to listen to.
Yes! The "recently purchased" folder had the Court Yard Hounds cd I downloaded before my trip. I pressed "play" and started back up the mountain.
I could make it those next 10 feet, so that's what I looked at. Before I knew it I had passed up the van a couple more times without needing to stop, and now there were only a few other cyclists in front of me.
The album I was listening to already finished and started over. I had gotten so lost in the songs that 45 minutes and several miles passed without me noticing it. I was feeling good and told myself that the faster I rode the faster it would be done. I surged forward knowing that I had less than 10 miles to the finish line!
Not long after, clouds rolled in and the wind picked up. It started to sprinkle and thunder. The temperature dropped drastically. I went deeper into the harmonies, layers of instruments and followed the stories in their lyrics. My body was numb. I grabbed onto words like, "I can journey on. I won't leave it all to fate. It's a choice you make. It's the road you take." And, "I look up and I smile at the clouds. I make a kiss and I throw a wish out."
The cd ends again, just a few miles from the top. The rain has turned to sleet. My hands and feet are painfully frozen.
I watch the road and pedal one foot in front of the other. Thinking maybe if I speed up I'll get warmer. The album plays for a 3rd time. Upbeat songs like Phoebe, Rock all night, and Watch your step give me a little extra much needed adrenaline.
Right about when I'm thinking it may be time to throw in the towel I pass a guy on a stand up elliptical bike. WHAT?! How in the world?! Ok, I'll be damned if I'm going to get beat by an elliptical biker.
"My eyes are wide. Aimless upward I will rise." I turn up the volume.
I stand up on the pedals and dig deep for one last push to the top. Switchback after switchback the allusive peak seems just out of reach, and the sleet has now turned into a snow storm. I make a final turn and see the Velo View van. Hallelujah!!
Shivering and numb it's all I can do to hand my bike to our tour guide and throw myself into the warm van where two other friends were already there and greeted me with open arms.
I did it.
In the weeks following my life feels different. I have a confidence in my ability that was missing before. It occurred to me that the last ride was not a physical accomplishment at all, but a mental one. When I reached my limit physically I dug deep and found strength much stronger than I'd ever find at the gym.
I have a whole new love and appreciation for the power of music. It transported me off my bike and into the songs. I don't think I would've made it to the peak that day without a comforting place to escape.
Reaching my limits and continuing anyway by looking only at the next step and shutting off the negative voices is a lesson I'll carry with me. I am so grateful for the reminder of how much can be accomplished when I put on good tunes and keep moving forward.