A week ago I put myself in a race.
I wanted to arrive in Minneapolis in time for a friend’s birthday party. To me, that meant arriving the evening before. I could shower, rest and be ready when the party started.
To do this, I had to bike about 165 miles in two days. 80+ per diem. My previous best was 65 miles in a day and that almost broke me. But I also knew my body was continuously remodeling itself, and after days of rest would be ready for a new record.
The first day went easy enough. A lot of it was on a bike trail. Shade, wind shelter and an absence of traffic. I had a hot meal in Hinckley, MN (an unfriendly place). I stopped earlier than planned because of approaching T-storms. I made my nest in the trees. The storms cradled me.
This left me with about 90 miles to go.
The morning dawned clear of storms but now a swift south wind had sprung up. Every quarter-mile became a championship fight. It was hilly country highways. The next segment of bike trail was a distant promise.
I had it firmly, solidly in my mind that I would complete the 90 miles today. I would reach my destination, the farm of friends Urban (“Travel is in my blood, so is the water”) and Saumya (“a Hindu lady, deadly and adorned”). I would reach it at all costs.
My jaw became more clenched. My posture, more hunched over my handlebars. I no longer enjoyed my ride. I just knew what I had to do.
I saw something in my mirror (the Giant has a rear-view) that I hadn’t seen before. Another bike! Coming up behind me.
Here is this older guy, 50s maybe, with bright eyes and a beard that’s more sexy than given-up. (Guys, your beards say more about your emotions than you know.) He’s faster than I am. I move out to to one side to let him pass. He pulls up alongside me.
Older Gent is returning from a trip up to Duluth. Sounds like he took several days to go up there and plans at least two to go back. He expects to stop for the night at Forest Lake, MN. That’s a suburb of the Cities and when I reach it I will have at least 20, maybe 25 more miles to go.
He likes my plan to go to Brazil. He doesn’t know about the Prairie Sunrise, a bike trail that goes toward Forest Lake, so I explain where he can get onto it. He says he doesn’t mind the highways though. The traffic is pretty light today.
We run out of pleasantries and he pumps his legs. Away he goes outpacing me. I admire many things about him, but from here, it’s his gear: the bike is insanely expensive, lighter than mine, faster, with real panniers—not home-rigged. I have no envy (I discover this with some surprise), only an appreciation of quality kit.
I struggle on.
My encounter with Older Gent makes me think. He’s in no hurry. He’ll stop where he likes. I suspect that this, more than his light frame, is why he looked so happy pedaling against the wind. For him a hill is scenery. For me it’s a setback in a costly plan.
I decide: I’ll stop when I feel like it.
There is no true cost to spending another night on the road. I can camp again in the rain. I can take my time and enjoy it. Why keep going if it’s anything less than joy?
With this reduced determination, I end up completing all 90 miles. I arrive an hour after sunset, waving a flashlight in one hand because I’m too lazy to stop and install my real lights. I arrive smiling and singing, soaking from two thunderstorms, and completely spent in every regard—except that somehow, I could keep going.
I did 90 miles that day and I could’ve done 25 more.
Don’t make your dreams into a chore. Never make that awful mistake. You can be your own tyrant, but it costs, but it costs, but it costs.