Part 1 – Navigation
Endurance athletes will often cite willpower as being equally important to physical fitness when running, swimming, or cycling long distances. I found this concept to be quite true on several occasions during the past few weeks on the TransAm. Both willpower and staying positive will help tremendously when, half way through your 90 mile day, a giant climb materializes in front of your bicycle as your body screams at you to stop pedaling. I have also come to the conclusion that a certain degree of masochism is, if not required, certainly complementary to having a strong mental game. The rush, or bike high, I get at the end of a particularly hard day is reward in itself and what I look forward to as I push myself to the limit.
Surrounding yourself with other positive thinkers also helps. There’s nothing quite like having someone constantly complaining about this ache or that hill to dampen your spirits. Conversely, encouragement makes all the difference when you’re soaking wet in a downpour, your stomach seemingly tying itself in knots of hunger, and the headwind is so strong you have to put your whole weight into each pedal stroke to make progress downhill. All in all, having something to look forward to and staying positive will get you the prize at the end of the day.
I experienced my own personal low while riding from Canon City to Guffey, CO. The same day that I struggled with a complete mechanical failure I also suffered through the most difficult climb of my tour. The climb itself was not steep but it was long – a real grind. For whatever reason, on this particular day, my body refused to cooperate and felt like it was hungover from shotgunning a dozen beers. My legs were screaming with every pedal stroke. My butt cheeks were on fire. Everything hurt and I wondered, after a while, if this is what people feel when they give up. A minute later, a thunderstorm hit and I was pelted with giant drops of freezing rain. Powerful gusts of wind smashed into me from impossible angles – angles wind should never be able to blow from. It was at about this point the peanut butter and nutella sandwiches I had for lunch began expressing their overwhelming desire for a second chewing. I wondered if crying would help as the ditch on the side of the road looked ever more appealing. Yet, despite all this, it never actually dawned on me to stop. I clenched my teeth and focused on convincing myself how good every pedal stroke felt. Emily and Colin had both gapped me a while before – both of them thinking my slow pace was due to intentionally not over-torquing my damaged crank and bottom bracket. Now, as I approached a small turn-off, I almost didn’t notice Emily frantically trying to attract my attention towards the office of an RV park. As I walked into the building, the owner asked me how I was. I replied that I’d been better before promptly passing out on a bench for 30 minutes. Upon coming to, and because I was visibly the weakest link in our group, Emily asked me what I wanted to do. My options ranged from paying $30 for a cabin at the very place we were at to saddling up and riding 20 uphill miles to Guffey, CO. I sat up and declared my intention to push on to Guffey where we arrived some two hours later. By now I felt much better and my awful afternoon turned into one of my greatest personal accomplishments of the trip.
Despite how my body felt on the way up to Guffey, perhaps my greatest feat of sheer stubborn willpower is my refusal to drink beer or any other alcoholic beverages on riding days. I simply feel better if I don’t drink the night before so I choose not to. My beers stat is from rest days or early tour exceptions.
Giving up is easy. Accomplishing something hard, against the odds, is something nobody can ever take away. What personal achievements will you take with you to your grave?