Last Friday, I was sitting at my desk obsessing about the weather and the weekend. I had a 2.5 hour ride scheduled for Saturday, but the forecast called for cold rain the entire day, starting early in the morning. Riding in the rain is the absolute worst, and I wanted to avoid it if possible. However, my Sunday had some non-negotiable plans in the early evening, and I didn’t want to risk not having time for my ride and adequate recovery (i.e. several episodes of television) between church and said plans.
I knew what my best option was, but I’m not sure an impromptu 2.5 hour bike ride on a hot evening after a long day of swimming and working is on many people’s list of favorite things. But after a couple of hours of superficially weighing my options, I accepted my fate. I knew it would be a long day. I had gotten up at 5:00am to swim and knew a long ride after work meant I wouldn’t be finished with the day until after 7:30pm. But pretty much anything is better than riding in the rain. Get out and get it done was the name of the game.
So after work, I shoved some food down my throat and shoved a couple of waffles into my jersey pockets and headed out. I knew I was in for a warm and windy ride. It was almost 80°, and the storm was blowing in from the south, meaning the wind would be blowing opposite the direction it normally did. This meant I had a tough headwind as I rode out south to the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. About an hour into this ride, there is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad hill. It’s not terribly long, but it’s steep. And with my legs more fatigued than usual and with a headwind, it’s even worse than usual. I crawled up this hill, my legs burning with every pedal stroke and my speed dipping below 7mph. After the hill, it’s another half mile or so until the point where I turn around. And every time I’ve ridden the route this year, this has been the most discouraging part. I expect the hill to hurt. But I expect to be feeling recovered from the hill after a nice little stoplight break. I never am, and I always struggle up to the road where I finally turn around.
Once I turned around, though, my attitude changed immediately. This particular stretch of road is fast anyway, and with a strong tailwind I was flying. I glanced down at my Garmin and saw I was holding 30mph easily. As I often do when I can go fast without much effort, I started singing loudly (and badly) on the bike. Since the wind is loud enough that I can’t hear myself, that means other people can’t hear me either, right? I continued to hold 25-30mph for most of that stretch of road. My average speed spiked, and I made up most of the time I lost with the headwind on the way out.
Then I hit Emigration Canyon. I still needed some time, so I started up, fully intending to turn back around before reaching the top. My pace slowed to a steady and pleasant 12-14 mph, briefly punctuated by faster moments when the grade lessened. It was relatively late in the evening, so the usually crowded canyon was empty. I saw a few cyclists descending, but I was climbing alone. I hit the point where I felt that the ride home would fill up the rest of my ride. Like the last time I climbed the canyon, I was right at the bottom of the last climb, where the grade jumps a bit and things get a little more difficult. I decided I wanted to make it to the top. I was simply too close to turn around. The light was fading, however. Because it was overcast, I couldn’t tell when the sun would set, and I didn’t want to be out on the roads after dusk without a light. So I stopped to use my weather app to see when sunset was.
When I stopped, I was greeted with absolute silence. The wind had died down by this point, and the air around me was perfectly still. There were no motorists or other cyclists in sight. It was just me, the canyon, and silence. Perfect peace. It was a moment that a transcendentalist would have written about. Recalling it afterwards, I thought of Emerson and Whitman and their beliefs on nature and the divine. Usually, I’m not a huge fan of the transcendentalists. They’re know-it-alls, and they are just a bit too self-righteous for my taste. Think everything Portlandia pokes fun at, but in the 19th century. However, while reflecting on this moment of serenity afterwards, I thought of a poem by Walt Whitman:
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
And for a moment, I remembered the real reason I do all this dumb Ironman stuff—the most important reason. I love obsessing over a training plan. I love tracking my workouts. I love having a goal. But if I didn’t love the training, it wouldn’t be worth it. In the rush to fit workouts in and gain the endurance I need, sometimes I forget to drink in the scenery of my rides or the sound of my feet hitting the pavement as I run or to the feeling of my hand as it cuts through the water. I forget to appreciate the effort, the experience itself, even though those moments of being completely present in my body and in the world around me are the most rewarding moments of training. I obsess over astronomy and forget to look at the stars.
I needed this reminder from transcendentalism, overly sentimental though it may be, and I was thankful for it.
(Oh, and I finished the climb, making sure to enjoy every last moment of it) and made it home before dark.