On a road bike, suffering takes many forms. There’s the obvious physical anguish that accompanies a climb, but there’s also an emotional and mental taxation that’s associated with cycling in general. Fortunately (yes, I said fortunately), the past month has hit me hard on all of the above. And while I’ve rapidly experienced the destruction of two amazing bikes, rode well outside of my limits, and was left with the clear headspace to confront a personal life that’s gone completely pear-shaped, the ride is still as beautiful as ever. Beyond better judgment, I’m left longing for more.
Living at 7000 feet, I find myself buried in snow half of the year. And given that I don’t ski, I’ve learned to take full advantage of warm weather. This has led to me hitting peak form around July, but it’s also required me to stress my gear in sub-freezing weather all winter. Well, I guess I pulled the rubber band too far, far enough to snap. Basically, that’s what happened to my Orbea Orca Gold at the beginning of the month. I was 15 miles deep into a closed road when I heard the sound of my carbon-affixed cable guide pull and shatter. And with no tension remaining in the rear derailleur, I was left to climb 1200 feet out of there at 53×11. A season of perspective began to take shape.
Fast forward to three weeks later. My ’88 Colnago “backup” bulges and cracks under the pressure of climbing. Devastation sets in, hope is nearly abandoned. However, things are only things, and the three-week span of seven-speed-powered categorized climbs left me with a new perspective that money can’t buy. Pain became a daily riding companion, as my heavy gearing forced me to reconcile our differences. On the worst of days, I was left with a profound respect for the riders of the past, like Maurice Garin, who couldn’t have fathomed today’s range of gears—my life wasn’t so bad. On the best of days, I was left joyous and humbled by the achievement of climbing a Cat 1 at 46×17.
More importantly, though, the required attentiveness of maintaining momentum cleared my mind. I was left open to confront the turmoil of a loved one who’s losing a battle with cancer. I was able to conceptualize my approaching marriage and the next chapter in my life. In other words, the barrage of physical suffering set me free. These moments created a new sense of dedication to my riding. I was seeking new entrances to my pain cave, not for racing, but for experience and the smile that comes with the end of a hard ride. Indeed, I found suffering’s silver lining.
Today, I’m without a bike, but I’ve reacquainted myself with the notion that great things require great work. The best views, the best roads, or the best experiences take a splash of turmoil and dedication to get to their door. And while the road there is often difficult, it’s always worth it.