This is a place to share miscellaneous stories from the bike that don’t merit an entire blog page. The Taiwan story below is perhaps the very best I have ever experienced- the goodness of people no matter where you are in the world.
I’ve been asked many times “Was riding across America the toughest thing you’ve ever done?” Honestly- no, not even close. After finishing, I felt I could have turned around and ridden back across America. I wished that I had the time to do just that!
I believe that the toughest challenges- and sense of accomplishment- are when you reach a point of doubt and question if you can continue. “Why am I doing this?” “Maybe I should stop?”
Overcoming those doubts is a feeling that everyone should experience. Those thoughts never entered my mind riding across America. Just keep pedaling was the mantra.
So what is the toughest thing I’ve ever done? I can’t name one above others, so here are the top few in reverse chronological order. I overcame the doubts each time- so can you!
Total Taiwan Teamwork- see below. The mind was willing to continue, but the body was incapable. It’s as simple as that. It wasn’t mental determination any more. There was no physical way I could continue- which is a rare feeling. For anyone.
Day 3 of 2018 WBR “Insanity to Inspire” ride, reaching Mackinaw City, MI with 20 minutes to spare before my midnight goal. The last 70 miles were pure “gut it out” time. That’s not an unfamiliar feeling- but never for hours on end. I hobbled around my hotel room afterwards, wondering how I could possibly get back on a bike the next morning. When I did, the first several miles made me feel like I was decades older.
RAIN (Ride Across INdiana)- June 2013: 162 miles across the state in 1 day. Going west to east normally provides for a tailwind. Not the year I picked for RAIN. A 6-8mph headwind may not sound bad, but fighting it for hours makes for misery. I found myself mostly alone past the halfway point, unable to hide from the wind. At the final rest stop about 30 miles to go, the doubts crept in. I took a short break, ramped back the effort, and kept pedaling. Those last miles were some of the toughest I have ever ridden. Almost as tough: at 7am the next morning, getting on a plane for 14 hours!
Cleveland Marathon- June 1987. My first and only completed marathon (my 2nd was years later in Memphis- the only time the doubts won). With temperatures in the upper 80s, leg cramps started around mile 16. I alternately stretched, walked, and jogged the last 10 miles, helped to the finish with spectators yelling encouragement all the way. As I crossed the finish line with my family cheering nearby, I was literally in tears- both from the joy of completing a marathon and from the pain. Along with reaching the Atlantic Ocean as I finished riding across America, those 2 moments are the greatest sense of accomplishment I’ve ever felt. Overcoming self-doubt made the marathon truly unique.
NC High School Cross Country Championships- October 1985, McAlpine Greenway, Charlotte, NC. When I think about the pain I felt post-race, this is right among the highest. All of us have thought at times, “I could have gone harder” (or faster). Not this time. I knew that I’d given it everything I had. As we laid in the school van resting after the finish, l remember one of my teammates asking “do you want to come with us to get a drink?” Or maybe it was eat. Over 30 years later, I still remember my answer, verbatim. “No thanks. I’ll just lie here and die.” They all laughed, while I wondered what I had said that was funny. I was serious!
*Honorable mention to Climbing Pikes Peak. While not so physically challenging with less than 20 miles of riding, overcoming winds and my fear of heights absolutely put this into the category of “Been there. Done that. Never again!”
Total Taiwan Teamwork
In September 2018, toward the end of a business trip in Taiwan, I joined several of my American and Taiwanese co-workers on a big group ride to scenic Sun Moon Lake. As we headed back, I was slowing everyone else down, so they reluctantly agreed to split up and went ahead without me. After hours of riding and climbing in the mountains, I developed the worst leg cramps I have ever experienced. Perhaps an hour after I split from the group, I simply could not turn the pedals and sat down, writhing in pain on the side of the road. I limped to a busy street corner, and began looking for a taxi to get back to the hotel- perhaps 10 miles away at this point. Then a lady came over and asked if I was hurt. She ended up staying with me for at least 20 minutes, first trying to flag a taxi down, and then called one that could fit my bike. Next, 2 policemen came by, stretched my legs and waited until the taxi arrived to be sure I was ok. No one spoke much English but knew enough to communicate.
If that’s not enough, an older lady came out of the small shop I was in front of and invited me into her home to rest in a chair! There are just amazing people in Taiwan! I thanked them all as best I could, but what a cool experience that resulted! This is why I never worry about doing long crazy rides. No matter where you are, there are good people everywhere.
Now I just need to work on being more attune to others so I can pay these acts of kindness forward!
Learnings from riding across America
Even though I didn’t visit any new states as I rode across the United States, I learned and saw a lot. Sights and stories are in the blog posts. Here are my top 6 “lessons learned”:
Cycling- and life- philosophies:
- Never give up!
- It doesn’t get harder, you just go slower.
- There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad attire.
- Just keep pedaling!
- There’s no such thing as can’t- only won’t.
- If I can do it: anyone can.
#5 is the most significant, and goes hand in hand with #6. One of my Warmshowers’ hosts- Kenny Smith- related a story to me about a 16 day rafting trip he took with his wife Patsy. Kenny told me,
“you won’t be the same person after this trip”.
I looked at him and didn’t really understand.
Kenny went on.
“You’ll face many different conditions, adversity and fatigue and you’ll get through them all. You will discover that you can overcome anything”.
I thought a lot about Kenny’s comments the rest of the ride. He was absolutely right. I’ve always been a “can do” type person, but the ride took it to an entirely other level. I never feel powerless, and having overcome the challenge of riding across the USA, I know that there is virtually nothing I can’t do. It’s all a decision on whether I want to badly enough. The same goes for you!