The Day The Wind Broke My Spirit
I’m writing to you from a motel room in Las Vegas. I’m safe, I’m resting, and I’m horizontal. This afternoon, I’ll begin the final three days of The Wellness Ride. This is it. I can’t see the finish line, but I can hear the crowd surrounding it. Conversations and coordinations about what I’ll eat, who will be there to greet me, and when I will shave my beard. But before the next 72 hours happen, I want to bring you in closer.
The past 9 days have been an exercise in adversity. I’ve had 14 flat tires, 1 chain replacement, 1 rear cassette replacement, 1 rear shifting cable snap, elevation, cold, and empty water bottles. To be fair, these days have also had Rocky Mountain downhills, canyon river rides and views worthy of desktop backgrounds, which, when a day of riding is over contribute to a favorable reflection. A reflection that is so often distracted by the joy of being done for the day that it naively forgets all debts of the day.
The past three days though, have not ended with this balance. Populated with uncontrollable events that have compounded into crippling levels of frustration, my resilience has decreased and I find myself absent. I’ve begun to question my own wellbeing, my motivations and what to do about this wind.
What makes the wind so difficult is it’s invisibility. Unlike a hill, whose top you can see, or a mountain pass that comes dressed with summit signage, wind is not tangible. If it’s strong enough you may see the rear of an 18-wheeler swing in it, a tree dance in it, or it wave through long grass, but for the most part, the only way to know if there is wind, is to feel it.
You feel wind several places. First, in your legs. The burn on the top of your quad, your Vastus Intermedius, when you’re at your max power, teeth clenched, pedaling to stay straight and not blow off the road at a pace 2–3x slower than normal. Then you feel it in your chest. When gusts punch your sternum and pull your shirt back, taking breaths similar to when you break the surface after a free dive. And finally, in your throat. When desert sands dry you out and swallowing becomes painful.
So on Monday when I started the 327-mile leg to Las Vegas, NV from Torrey, UT, I knew there was going to be wind. But this wind, I had not met before. It was a harsh, wide wind. It was stubborn and deliberate. It felt personal. Vindictive even. It stopped me every 5 miles. It moved me across mountain roads. It threw me into sand. It played hide and go seek. It came back for seconds, determined to break me.
But still, I rode directly into it.
I rode from Torrey to Kooshamanesh. From Kooshamanesh to Junction. From Junction To Bear Valley and on to Parowan. I rode from Parowan to Cedar City. From Cedar City to St. George and through to the Las Vegas. I rode through 4 flat tires. I rode over mountain passes and when the woman at the grocery mart in Junction told me I wouldn’t be able to make it through this wind, I did. Momentarily creating the need for me to confront my ego: Was I going to keep riding simply to prove a stranger wrong?
No. This stranger would never know if I made it or not, but I do live with certain convictions. One of which is that a human does not have permission to tell another what they are or are not capable of. So, hearing her opinion as I signed the receipt for my water ignited me.
If not for my ego then why, with this struggle, did I keep going?
A second conviction that I live with is that of integrity. Yes, I could have taken a bus, hitchhiked, or changed my route, but I made the commitment that I was going to ride across the country and ride across the country is exactly what I will do.
This declaration comes with the fine print that, unlike those who sell books claiming similar feats only to let the reader know 80 pages in that they took a bus when it got difficult, every inch of forward progress during this ride will be on a bicycle, powered by my body.
And it’s this conviction that has proven to be dangerous.
It’s driven me to keep riding through thunderstorms, tornado warnings, extreme heat, lack of water, and most recently spirit-crushing winds. Yes, there is a definite glory in being able to type this that I can’t dismiss or attempt to regret, but I am learning now the impact of continuously choosing to ride forward.
Where the adversity of this ride has impacted me the most is in my mind. I find myself less kind, less compassionate, and unable to enjoy this ride. At no point was this ride created to be a test of my toughness or resilience, but I should have prepared better for these moments.
What pains me the most is the amount of disappointment I end each day with. When this ride started at Copper City Espresso in Canton, MA on July 20th, the temperature was 101 degrees with a heat index of 112. And I loved it. Over time my excitement for days wore, but with each off day or night of sleep, I woke with my excitement restored. Not anymore.
Today, after a day of complete rest, the excitement to ride is absent.
What I am aware of in my life is the trend of positioning myself for disappointment. I silently hold friends, family, peers, and strangers to such standards of altruism that when an individual compromises this standard, which I know is not fair, I am let down with so much weight. This ride is no different.
Even with the knowledge that my bike will eventually have an equipment failure, that a driver will run me off the road, or that wind will blow against me all day, I refuse to adjust my expectations and have continued to rise with the belief that the day’s ride will be perfect. The obvious response for me is to do the work and begin adjusting expectations, but that is where I am at conflict.
If we allow past adversities to lower our expectations of the quality of day we deserve to have, is that a form of defeatism?
Have I been defeated if I adjust my expectations to a level where I anticipate a hardship?
These are questions that in time I will have expanded thoughts on, and I recognize that I am writing this from a temporary state of pain, but that’s exactly why I am writing this. To capture the raw moments of this ride, to capture the truth.
In three hours I will start the final leg of this ride, and in three days I will have ridden across the country. No adversity will obstruct me from doing so.
Right now I am damaged, but I have hope that I will heal. I’m confident that the absence of joy, compassion, and kindness are only temporary and I am committed to nourishing this part of myself in the coming weeks.
For now though, I’m comfortable being someone I don’t quite recognize.
Let’s ride. Richie. Human.
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