Lessons from the Bike

Mountain biker in NorwayPutting in the miles in preparation for Tour de Whatcom…

I rather spontaneously decided to sign up for the Tour de Whatcom Century Ride on July 23, 2016. A friend and I did the 62-mile distance two years ago. It was a great day and a beautiful ride that wound around the south end of Whatcom County. Memories of the ride stuck with me such that I decided to go for the full 100 this year. The Century Ride goes north from Bellingham to Ferndale, Blaine, Lynden, and Everson, then heads south to Alger before returning to Bellingham. Talk about a county bike tour! I have ridden most if not all of these roads and it’s exciting to anticipate putting them all together into one long ride.

That being said, 65 miles is the most I have previously ridden in a day and I am a bit nervous about committing to 100. I had opportunity these last two days to get in 100 miles…not each day, but in total over two days. It may be the best I can do before the event and I figured I should seize the opportunity. Each day I rode to and from work, plus between clients when I could. During those many hours on the bike, I pondered what I have learned and continue to learn when I am out riding. Here is a sampling of thoughts and “lessons,” realized on the bike and put into the bigger picture of my life.

Lessons from the bike

Familiarity leads to increased ease.

When I first moved to Sudden Valley, all the riding was new and challenging. There is simply no easy way to get to and from where I live,  in terms of road quality, high speed traffic, lack of a shoulder, and a plethora of hills. In the first weeks of riding, I felt frustrated and discouraged. The routes I took were unfamiliar and unpredictable and I feared I might give up, both because of the challenge and because it wasn’t that much fun.  But I persisted, telling myself that the riding would probably get easier once I knew the location of the hills, where the roads are especially dicey, and when I needed to be most diligent and careful. I kept at it and now, three months in, my anxiety and discomfort about the rides to and from Sudden Valley have eased considerably. The only thing that has changed from those first weeks is that now I fully know what to expect. I anticipate everything about the ride…the challenges as well as the beauty of my surroundings. I can only attribute this increased ease to the repetition of doing. This lesson is one I learn over and over and the truth of it surprises me each time.  Every endeavor that is difficult at the outset (and what new endeavor isn’t??), DOES get easier with repetition. It’s as simple as that!

Sometimes “feeling it” is more effective than “seeing it.”

Me...A couple of months back, I had some work done on my bike. The technician worked until closing and I left with my bike before he had a chance to “road test” it. I immediately noticed that the gears were slipping, a very frustrating event on hilly rides. I returned to the shop several times with my bike, complaining of gear slippage.  During that time, I become obsessed with watching my gears change, to see if they would hold or not. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t and often the chain would overshoot, causing it to derail. I continued to go back for adjustment. After the third visit, the technician assured me that, as far as he could tell, the shifting was right on. I resumed my watching while I shifted and found that the I was still having trouble. Then on one ride, I decided to try to feel the shift, not watch it. I found I was able to discern when the gear had grabbed, not question that and just go with it. Like magic, I stopped overshooting and slipping… just like that! I tested this theory over and over…and each time it worked, it made me smile. I have always been a very visual person, and rely on my eyes perhaps more than I “should.”  I realized in these moments on the bike that sometimes you need to trust the feeling of something, even if you can’t see it. 

Be content where you are.

One of my most common rides to and from work goes through Alger and Lake Samish. The roads leading to and from both are challenging and often “chip sealed.” Chip seal is a layer of “fine aggregate” applied over asphalt, found often on rural county roads. Sometimes the aggregate is not so fine, and the surface can be rough and jarring. I don’t like chip seal, and will avoid it if at all possible. But alas, that route to and from Sudden Valley has it all…beauty, serenity, and chip seal!  When I was first riding these roads, I found myself dreading the parts of the 22.5 mile route that were chip sealed, such that I didn’t fully enjoy the parts of the road that were smooth. I finally realized that, by focusing on the dread of what was to come, I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy the road when it was good. It took a conscious readjustment in focus to be content in the now. Now, I continually remind myself to enjoy the smooth road when I have it and remember that the rough patches pass more quickly if I don’t dwell on or worry about them. 

Use all tools available to combat “hill dread.”

...and my bike out for a ride“Hill dread” is a concept I have been aware of and dealing with for a very long time. Similar to the worry about upcoming chip seal, I also tend to worry about upcoming hills. Almost all rides in and around Bellingham are hilly, it’s the nature of the beast! To dwell on upcoming hills takes me out of the moment and it’s something I continually work to dispel. I have come up with a couple of phrases which I repeat to myself that really help with this. The first is a “loving kindness phrase,” created out of a loving kindness meditation learned in my mindfulness classes…”May I willingly encounter all apparent obstacles.” I consciously replace hill dread with this thought. Recently, I have also turned this phrase into an affirmation…”I willingly encounter all apparent obstacles and challenges on my path to success.” It sounds silly, but saying these phrases, sometimes aloud, when I am anticipating a challenge, helps to put it into a place that is workable and realistic. ALL endeavors, in life and on the bike, have hills and obstacles to overcome. When I willingly approach obstacles as simply a part of life, their power to affect my enjoyment of life is greatly diminished.

A final note on “hill dread” — This concept gets me on the trails too. I wrote about that in a previous post,  Lessons from the John Muir Trail, based on last year’s JMT trip. I know with certainty that on bike or on foot, I will continue to have to work to overcome hill dread. Like any other challenge, it doesn’t just go away simply with awareness. But with continued focus and practice, I know I will be better prepared to encounter all obstacles…even the eleven mountain passes this year on the JMT!

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