“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” - Albert Einstein
Sunday, June 21, 2009
The Question sometimes comes as a statement that you're crazy. Sometimes it's just a subtle shake of the head in conversation. Sometimes it's just the tone of voice. But The Question is there and it lies beneath the other polite questions people ask about my trip. The Question: Why would you get on a bicycle and ride across the state of Kansas? Why face the heat, cold, rain, and wind and then end the day with a cold shower and a night of sleeping in tents or a gym floor? Even Brenda shakes her head in wonder that so many of us take on this quest every year.
I asked myself The Question on Day 4 when we had 75 miles of riding into a strong headwind. On most days we are able to coast down hills and get a break from pedaling. On this day, we pedaled almost every mile. We all looked shell-shocked as we slowly walked around Halstead. That night, as I updated my Facebook, I noticed a post from my friend, Dale: "I'm sitting on my boat watching my wife take a nap in the sun." I asked myself, "So why am I sitting on a bicycle struggling to pedal into the wind instead of being on a boat or a beach somewhere and sipping a cold beverage?" One advantage of traveling at 13.4 m.p.h. is that you have time to ponder such questions. By the end of the following day I had my answer.
The classic answer mountain climbers give is that they climb the mountain because it's there. I think there is a need inside all of us to overcome a challenge. Most of the time we do this vicariously through following the adventures of others or rooting for a sports player or team. But some of us are not content to sit on the sidelines. We need a real challenge to find out if we've got the stuff inside us to survive the difficulties and the danger. Most of us don't take on extreme challenges such as mountain climbing or trekking across Africa. But danger and difficulty are the essence of what we crave.
I spoke with a friend along the way and he pointed out that we always love the days of riding in mild, sunny weather and tailwinds. But we remember and talk about the days we struggled: running out of water, flat tires, killer hills and headwinds, and semi trucks that miss us by inches. Even though BAK has great support for us, we still have to pedal the miles. And the danger along the road is real. Riding along the white line at the side of the highway is a place where a half-second of inattention can lead to being crushed by a car on your left or dropping a wheel off of the pavement on your right. Either one can lead to a painful and quick end to the day's ride.
I came back from my week tired in body but refreshed in my soul. Could I have been a refreshed by a week on the beach? Perhaps, but I think not. Challenging myself and overcoming the difficulties of the week reaches deeper inside of me that just relaxing. And the challenges are new and different each year. The 75 miles of wind took more out of me than I realized. The following day my legs felt like wood. I wasn't alone. A lot of us struggled that day. I saw lots of bikes on the back of the SAG wagons--people who had to drop out. This year I challenged myself to ride a century--100 miles in a day. I'd attempted a century and failed last August.
I don't foresee mountain climbing in my future. But I'm going to keep looking for ways to challenge myself. Succeed or fail, I need ways to find out what I'm made of. It keeps my soul whole.