Sunday, April 27, 2014

150 Miles of Solitude

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
-Max Ehrman

I've spoken before about how I get silly ideas, and then can't let them drop until I see them through.  This past week, I had two of them.  First, realizing I haven't ridden nearly enough to complete Almanzo without causing serious pain, I chose to ride down to the Illinois border, and a bit into Illinois on the Badger State trail and the Jane Adams trail.  For me, getting almost seven hours of saddle time was what I needed to feel "somewhat" ready.  No, there weren't the ever constant farm rollers that Almanzo has, but I find riding flats for a long amount of time, especially into a headwind, to be oftentimes harder.  I felt I had to pay my dues.  Second, because I had to cancel a group ride on Sunday due to rain, I chose to follow the 100 miles with 40 miles of hills and 10 miles of urban riding--all with 15-25mph winds.  I won't lie, coming home into the headwind I questioned if I'd make it.  But because I was riding alone, I had no one to bitch to and I just had to keep turning one foot over the other.

Usually, when I plan these longer rides, I choose to do them with friends.  Conversation makes the miles tick by, and I find some comfort knowing someone else is sharing both my joy and misery.  Doing 100 miles solo tends to mess with me a bit.  It tests my mental strength far more than my physical strength and I tend to pass the time questioning my place in life, singing songs to myself, and trying to guess birds songs.  It is the "questioning my place in life" stuff which sends me on the roller coaster ride--hills or no hills.  

The question I constantly ask myself on these rides is "What makes me happy and what do I really need?"  Usually, it comes down to me wanting to sell most of my possessions--except my bikes, cast iron pan and chef's knife--get down to a couple backpacks, and travel the world.  This isn't a new phenomenon.  Thoughts like this crossed my mind frequently on Outward Bound trips when I was in high school as well.  In fact, I think the only other thing I thought about on those trips was all the yummy food I'd eat when I got off trail.

It is in these hours of silence, with a repetitive forward motion, that I get an awful lot of mental work done.  When I'm out in the middle of nowhere--be it farmland or wilderness--I can't hide from my thoughts.  I must embrace them or turn them into skeletons, only to haunt me at a later time.  I kind of compare it to sweating.  The beginning stage is never comfortable, but once I relax and go with it, a deep cleansing occurs.

I'm guessing I'll have plenty of time to revisit these thoughts on Almanzo in a couple weeks.  Sure I'll be riding with at least 1,600 other people, but if it's anything like last year, there will be hours of welcomed silence as well.