TCI Friday

I have felt my heart break half way up a gray, dirt, hillside in the freezing rain. I have bonked, the energy leaving my legs/face/soul on sun-baked pavement miles from home. I have tasted the metal tang of blood in my mouth with my lungs heaving on a too-steep stretch of single track. I have been deep and loved/hated it and come back for more.

I like to go hard, for better and for worse.

Here’s a snap from the end of my hardest day on the bike in 2021. I actually felt much worse than I looked.

At Red Kite Prayer we used to say, “To suffer is to learn,” and while I think that’s true, I know now that it doesn’t tell the whole story. Learning is a cerebral affair. It stands to reason that a pair of writers spend too much time thinking about things, over intellectualizing, distilling ideas. What I can tell you is that to suffer is also to feel.

Modern living is rough. It’ll knock the stuffing out of you. Our digital lives provide a veneer of connection, but also afford others the veil of anonymity. Absent the physical cues of face-to-face interaction, tone can be hard to infer. We get careless with each other’s feelings.

For example, when I took over as co-host of The Paceline, a gig I thought I’d only have for a month or so, one of the first comments we received said, in effect, that I had made the show significantly worse. Ouch. In order to move forward as a creative person, that’s the sort of criticism you have to let go. I laughed about it. I still laugh about it. But there’s no denying it hurt a little, and that hurt has to go somewhere.

Sometimes when I do a hard thing, it gives those feelings a place to come out. It gives me a way to express them physically, to burn them off in a constructive way, and when I’m broken down physically I achieve an acceptance of myself and of my life that I might not have sitting in front of this keyboard.

There are a lot of reasons to do hard things. The more I do, the more I find.

This week’s TCI Friday asks, what’s the hardest thing you’ve done on a bike? Is that kind of effort behind you now? Or do you plan bigger and harder things in the future? Why do you push it? What are you looking for, and what have you found?

Join the conversation
  1. southcarolinamtb says

    The hardest thing that I’ve ever done on a bike? Wow, I’ll get this one wrong. I can bring up a few memories, but then I’m reminded that I also did this, and that. I was strong enough for this. I was stupid enough for that…
    Doing all three iterations of the Snake Creek Gap TT (off road point to point race) in one winter on my rigid SS was super tough. Doing the Croatan Buck Fifty on a SSCX with a gear that was a bit to spinny was really hard. About 85 miles in, I was dealing with some hip pain, no doubt encouraged from spinning ~120rpm for so long. I was too cheap to buy yet another gear for just one race. Still made the podium, but that was hard. Bikepacking across Germany in the late 80’s on my mountain bike that I had set up for Grundig WC events was just stooopid. But ohhh so fun. Still remember washing my clothes in a stream and letting them air dry. But hey, I can reflect on recent rides and think of just how challenging they were and how I had to push myself. My recent climb up to some secret backwoods petroglyph site is a great example. That was incredibly hard, even with the generous gearing on my gravel bike. Phew! I think if you have it in you, it never fails to occasionally emerge. ’til the next one, then! 😉 How about the Rough Riders 200 in NM? That’s a great place to find a hard day.

  2. Jeff vdD says

    Minute for minute, it has to be climbing Mt. Evans in CO (2008).

    Other candidates include the 200 on 100 (double century down the length of VT) and the the Leadville Trail 100 (2015), but what they offer in duration, they lack in relative intensity.

    Plus, for Mt. Evans, I was barely a year into serious cycling. I drove out from sea level in MA, never really acclimated over the course of 4 days, then started from Idaho Springs at about 7,500′ on the way toward 14,200′.

    If there was a saving grace, it was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. My only north star was persistence–I’m not the type of person to quit ordeals like that. I stubborned my way to the summit, caught my breath (okay not really), then undertook the scariest part of the event–the ride down. (I’m a decent-but-not-great descender now, I was a horrible one then.)

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