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 the country. 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 almost every time- so can you!
Total Taiwan Teamwork. 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”. That’s not an unfamiliar feeling- but never before 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. My first truly long ride (more than 10 hours). The wind normally blows out of the west in Indiana- but not the year I picked for RAIN. A 6-8mph headwind may not sound bad, but fighting it for hours makes for misery. I’m not alone as a cyclist in feeling downright mad at the wind! I was riding 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!
*Honorable mentions to Climbing Pikes Peak and 28 Hours on a stationary bike. While not so physically challenging with less than 20 miles of riding, overcoming winds and my fear of heights absolutely puts Pikes Peak into the category of “Been there. Done that. Never again!” The 28 hour Guinness World Record ride was brutal- and different than any other ride- but made easier with the incredible camaraderie of 24 others riding alongside, going through the exact same emotions and suffering.