Thursday, May 19, 2011
Is it ever right to quit?
In the summer of 2004, I decided I was going to do something I had always wanted to do – and that was biking. I had reached an age when it was time either to put up or shut up – if I didn’t do it now, I thought, I’ll never do it.
So I went to the local bike shop and told the young salesman what I was looking for – a basic bike. I wasn’t interested in racing or mountain biking, but more biking around suburban St. Louis and some of the converted trails-from-railroad-beds that proliferate around the region. He put me through the paces, asking a bunch of questions, measuring my height and leg length, and talking about some of the areas that he knew were good for beginning bikers. He ended up selling me what was then called a hybrid and now is called a leisure bike (I like “hybrid” better), and had me test it out in front of the shop to make sure it was a good fit. It was.
I got my new bike home, got my helmet on, and took off for my first official ride on my new bike.
I made it four blocks. I got off the bike and laid down in someone’s yard. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t know my neighborhood was constructed on mountains. It was hard – and my leg muscles were simply not prepared for even that short ride. I got back on the bike and coasted (downhill) home. I almost gave it up right there.
But I kept at it. Four blocks became a mile, one mile became three, three became five. I rode all over the suburban streets in our community, then branched out into neighboring communities. I found that I could ride to an official trail, Grant’s Trail, without too much trouble – it started four miles from my house and ran for an additional eight miles. One Saturday I rode it four times, and rode enough around the parking lot at one end to reach a 50-miles total. A half-century, I thought. Then I rode to the Arch from my house, and then one Saturday rode part the Arch up the Mississippi River to the Chain of Rocks Bridge.
That was a 57-mile roundtrip over varied roads and trails. I knew I was ready for my first century – the 100-mile Flat-As-A-Pancake Ride in southern Illinois. Except it should have been called almost-but-not exactly-Flat-As-A-Pancake.
These century rides go on regardless of the weather. This particular ride started in a cold, light rain, the aftermath of a thunderstorm. I was thankful for the rain-repellant bike jacket I had brought along, although it didn’t do much for my helmet or my biking shoes. About 15 miles into the ride, the sun emerged and the day turned sunny, but stayed cool – almost perfect biking weather.
A good portion of the ride went in an easterly direction – and I was surprised to find that the wind could blow from the east. As the miles piled on, I noticed even more experienced riders struggling with the wind, which I found encouraging.
There were rest stops set up every 25 miles. At the second one, we were warned about water in the road some two miles ahead. As I reached the area with the reported water, I saw that if there had been water it was now all gone. Two miles later, I discovered that the water report should have been “four miles ahead.”
The water on the road was six inches deep – at the highest point, which was the yellow-line median. It was deeper on the sides. A few of us riding together stopped to scout the situation. We could see some bikers plowing through the water ahead of us. But we couldn’t see where the water might end.
Do you know what happens when a group of guys looks at something like this? Does reason prevail? Or do they see this as a challenge, a test, something you’ve got to get through?
The deep water on the road lasted for more than half a mile.
Once out of the water, the road became a series of sharp little curvy descents and sharp little curvy ascents. I’d been riding for about five hours, some 60 miles into the ride. I knew lunch was only 10 miles ahead.
By the time I reached the Lions Club where the lunch (as much pasta and other carbs as you wanted to eat) was served, I was tired, sweaty, chilled, my shoes and sock still drenched from the water. The wind had continued as well. I had ridden just over 70 miles, and there would be 30 head of me.
I was exhausted. I ate my lunch with the other bikers. There was little talking at the tables. We were all exhausted. I had to make a choice: continue on for another couple of hours to finish the century, or pay heed to what my body was telling me and quit.
I decided to listen to my body. I rode another two miles to my car, and went home.
Looking back, I made the right choice. I had ridden a total of 72 miles, the longest I had ever ridden at one time. And that was enough for a then 54-year-old amateur cyclist who had been biking for 18 months.
To see more posts about “quitting,” please visit Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista.