A Glimpse Into Determination
Those of you who know me, know that I love to ride my bike. Cycling can be a powerful metaphor for life and I hope you enjoy this story, which is an excerpt from something I wrote in 2010 about one of my favorite rides. This story gives you a glimpse into the kind of mindset necessary to succeed.
Extrapolate from it... apply its essence to your own goals... and take away this one nugget of advice:
Whatever your goals are, you're going to run into times when quitting seems like a really, really wonderful and sensible option. I encourage you, don't give in to that voice.
Sorry about the bike component references - the bike geeks like me will get it :-)
What’s it like to ride the Highlander? 129 miles, 11,000' of climbing, an extremely well organized ride, breathtaking scenery, strong camraderie... but there's something about this ride that humbles me - a Colorado girl and strong cyclist - and pushes me to my limit every time.
The Highlander has hills that go straight up.
As in ‘rocket-launch’ straight up.
OK, who builds roads like this - roads that for no sane reason are completely vertical???
In Colorado we call them ski runs and we go down, as gravity intended!!
Look at Bristol Mountain from the parking lot, where the Highlander starts… and imagine pavement under the chairlift. That’s what they call roads in upstate NY! For those with steep driveways in Colorado, 4x4 truck with a permanently-attached snow plow is not a luxury, but the only way to get the groceries home. Driveways become bobsled runs in winter (and during mud season too, thanks to baby-poo sticky clay soil), often negotiated sideways at awkward angles that cause flatlander visitors to gasp uncontrollably and grab their knees in white-knuckle terror.
But… even the most idiotic driveways in Colorado generally employ an obviously little-known-in-upstate-New-York engineering secret called “switchbacks.”
But noooooo, the Finger Lakes road builders figured the most efficient way to get from A to B was to draw a straight line from A to B. But there’s the issue of topography (well, I consider it an issue). Not these guys. A steep hill in the way? Bah, no problem! The fastest way to get from here to there is a straight line, duh.
So geniuses that they are, that’s what they did. Straight line from A to B.
Yes. In a car.
And that of course begs the question… who in their right mind would ride a bicycle up these roads??
Umm… I would. I, among many other “enthusiasts”. For reasons of our own, we are compelled to prove to ourselves that because a hill is there, we can ride it. Not that that’s necessarily the “smart” thing to do. It’s just what we do. We don’t cower and hide. We may whine and whimper, but we resolutely point our bikes at the hills, embrace the challenge, and attack.
“As long as I live, I attack.” – Bernard Hinault
Background on me: I love climbing. Really, truly love to go higher and higher on a bike. It’s pure zen. Yes, I love the downhills too, but because I live in Colorado, at 7,000 feet above sea level and many of my rides routinely take me from 6,000 to 11,000 feet (and back down) I've learned to love the climbs.
And then I ride the Highlander and I’m humbled, big time.
There is no county-maintained road in Colorado that exceeds 18% and even those are exceptionally rare. Most of our climbs are in the 6% range – they can go on for 16+ miles… but once you settle into your rhythm and learn to effectively utilize every available molecule of oxygen, you’re golden. It’s almost like riding on auto pilot when you get in the groove. But, there is no such luxury in the Highlander. Riding the Highlander is riding intervals all day long. Max effort, max recovery. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
I’m an endurance rider. A diesel. Point me in a direction and say “go”, and I get in my groove and go. For me, the Highlander is a challenge of epic proportions – to keep on going despite rarely finding my groove because there is no groove. You just have to keep going, no matter what the devilish upstate NY road planners throw at you.
There is one hill I must mention, the infamous Bopple Hill (true, that's the name!). Bopple will hurt you. 12-22% grade for a mile (for comparison, the famous Lombard Street in San Francisco is naturally 27% but the clever road builders there incorporated 8 switchbacks so it's not so ridiculous); while not the steepest road in America, it hurts to ride up it and will challenge even the strongest cyclist. Riders' names are painted about halfway up to encourage them, and at the top, a cemetery in which a lone bagpiper plays... I couldn't possibly make this up. It's all part of the Bopple legend.
Conquer Bopple, and you’ve conquered yourself.
What it's like:
One minute I’m cruising along a scenic lakefront enjoying the views and the shade… Yes, I know “it” (Bopple Hill) is coming, but in my mind I have my eyes closed and hands firmly clasped over my ears, lalala, I can’t see it, lalala, total denial, lalala, this ride is easy, lalala!
And then for no good reason, the road warps into an insane Escher drawing.
My mind can’t really wrap itself around this strange phenomenon. Why would somebody just fold one corner of the road up like that? Why?
Who folds roads into origami?
My first reaction is a very un-ladylike expletive pertaining to procreation. Then, a drastic and sudden downshift, chain skipping over metallic teeth as I desperately hunt for the third-from smallest gear. Pride, people, pride… goeth before the fall, yeah, I know, whatever, it's just not in me to shift to the smallest gear right away!
(that's a photo of me, but not on Bopple Hill - you can tell because I'm smiling!)
I silently thank Our Lady of Shimano that my derailleur didn’t snap off and the chain is still in one piece. I guess thanks are relative at this point. The fact that I did not experience catastrophic equipment malfunction means I am now stuck riding this thing. Oh goody.
I hammer out the first couple feet of Bopple out of the saddle, aware of a rather alarming drop in velocity despite my best efforts to continue the 20+ mph pace I had been carrying at the lakefront.
Within seconds the remaining two gears are ejected in favor of the only slightly less painful granny. I feel the deceleration, but before I succumb to the black hole pull of the bottom of Bopple, I sit back down and power up the hill in the granny gear.
Ha ha, power up in the granny gear. I have to laugh. Stupid oxymoron.
But there’s no time for this kind of thinking. Fully in the moment, fully in the pain of this abrupt climbing experience. I am convinced this is a form of medieval torture. This is climbing as in “trying to scale a wall while being pulled backwards by an angry mob wielding pitchforks.”
I crane my neck to impossible angles just to catch a glimpse of the top – depressingly not yet visible. I know better than to look! It’s smarter just to look down and keep pedaling. I push on. I think I smell something burning, accompanied by a dull realization that my legs seem to have caught fire. Hmmm. If they fry, I won’t have to do this. No such luck. Somebody’s having a barbecue, watching the carnage on the hill. That, or I’m hallucinating. Legs intact but screaming, I push on.
“Death….before….dismount….” I chant silently in a strange form of self-motivation, I really don't know where that came from... each breath keeping in cadence with my pedal stroke. Pedal. When, when will my rhythm come??? It dawns on me, it won’t. There will be no rhythm. Only doing what I have to do to keep the bike and me upright and moving forward.
There is no “settling in” to a climb like this. Strength and finesse all the way up. I’m a girl, I don’t have to do this! Oh yes I do. Fight the tractor-beam pull of the bottom! Fight it! Go! Go! Go!
There’s a slight break as the road "levels" out to 12%. A slight giggle because I’m somewhat shocked that I consider 12% a relief. It's all perspective, isn't it?
And then the real fun begins, the real climb, where the road ridiculously kicks up a couple of notches to over 20%. The Escher drawing that is this road twists into yet another mutated shape where ‘up’ and ‘down’ are equally daunting. Those of us with a (healthy) deathly fear of heights do NOT look down.
It’s remarkably difficult to keep a bicycle upright at very slow speeds. I am amazed at the acrobat-like agility that allows me to balance on tires less than 1” wide for what feels like eternity. I try to keep my upper body relatively still, bobbing up and down rather than side-to-side to minimize the metronome-like pumping that threatens to tip bicycle and rider over.
At some point that extra movement became a necessity. Anything to maintain forward movement and my strength and body weight aren't enough anymore! I bob a little more, pumping unseen energy into my legs. It’s a miracle of physics! How is it possible that I’m still moving forward (sort of) and still upright (barely)? I know the sight must be both comical and incredible at the same time…
Time loses all meaning on Bopple. There is only the NOW, the zen, the joy and the suffering of the moment.
Random thoughts. Why am I not going anywhere? Why is it that I’m able to read every single name painted on the road? Am I going that slow? I’m thirsty. I hate this. Why do my frickin’ triceps hurt? When do I ever use my triceps on a road ride? I think my handlebars are gonna snap if I pull any harder. I wonder if I can catch that guy? I can’t believe I just thought that!! Amazing how those miniature chain pins can support this kind of load. Oh, look, there’s my name! I love this! Oww, sweat in my eyes! Hey, I can hear the bagpiper! Wow, I can feel my heart beat in my hands! I want this to stop! But no! I can do it! This is so stupid. Grape. Pie. Grape. Pie. Really. Yummy. Grape. Pie.
There is no room in my head for idle chitchat. This is serious stuff!
If nothing else, I keep my mind busy so it won't keep bugging me to stop!
Riders ahead of me zigzag in tandem, engaged in their own struggle to ascend Bopple. There is a grace in two cyclists undulating back and forth across the road, much like skiers whose tracks rhythmically cross each other’s as they silently glide downhill (having fun) through the powder. No silence here, only the creaking of components and the gasping of breath…
Some riders point their bikes skyward with grim determination, legs pumping up-down-up-down. Others engage in an epic wrestling match with their machine, bodies and bikes rocking and jerking, simply willing themselves to continue. A few walk, for the moment defeated by the hill. I catch only glimpses of other riders’ ascents as I concentrate on the pavement in front of my wheel. Don’t wanna look at the top. Don’t wanna see how far I have to go. It never gets closer!
I imagine this is about the point where people either get religion or make a pact with the devil. Or, if you’re like me, Phil Liggett's delightful English accent comes into the announcer’s booth in my head with commentary worthy of the best Tour de France mountain stages. “Oh, it’s all she can do to keep those legs ticking over!” or “He’s cracked! He’s going backwards and she passes him like a freight train headed for the station! There’s no stopping her now! She’s won the stage and possibly the maillot jaune!” and “What an incredible effort on this most difficult of the mountain stages!”
Seriously. What would I do without Phil?
I see the top, but it never gets closer. Must. Keep. Going. Oh. This. Hurts.
So why is it so much FUN???
Near the top, spectators cheer me on. Somehow it works. My ego kicks in when I see them. A smile/grimace and from who knows where, I find that last little bit of oomph and give them – not me – a little extra. It’s a miracle.
The chant comes into my head again – “Death. Before. Dismount.” Each word a sentence unto itself, each eloquently expressive of suffering and determination.
Phil Liggett is thankfully still there, too, urging me on, imploring me to reach deep into my suitcase of courage. Huh. Did I pack that?
Go. Go. Go. C’mon, legs. Go!
You got it, girl! Go!
Yes! Yes! There's the top! Yes!!!
With a final lung-exploding burst of effort, I clear the top. Keep rolling. Keep the legs spinning or they’ll seize up… grab a drink. Breathe. Keep rolling!
I slump a little on my bike and roll down the road, a sense of triumphant accomplishment mixing with agonized breaths. Must recover quickly! I am aware of my heart beating slower now, relaxing back into a sustainable, sub-emergency level.
Thanks, body, thanks, bike.You did it again. Phew!!
I almost neglected to mention the inevitable question that pops up frequently during the ascent up Bopple Hill: Why do I do this every year? Why?!?
Einstein said that insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Do I really think this will ever be any easier? Why do I hate it so much? Why do I love it so much? Why do I keep coming back year after year for more torture – and more fun?
Because I can.
Because there is something about this ride, this challenge, that is above and beyond anything I normally do. This ride truly has the ability to strip away everything but one’s essence. This is where I find out what I'm made of, the stuff that will carry me through other struggles that have nothing to do with bikes.
Stay in the moment, never mind what’s coming, I say to myself. The internal chatter kicks in – but wait, there’s more hills like Bopple, more insanely folded roads that you are going to ride today! (Whine, whimper, moan). Don’t you wanna go home?
No. I want to ride. Up, down, up, down. Slow. Fast. See what's around the next bend. See what I can do.
Why? implores the small insistent voice. This hurts!
Just because I can. Because if I tell myself I can, I can.
At any point in the ride I could have said, "I'm done, I've had it, I quit."
But I didn't and I'm glad.
The suffering was temporary, but the triumph has endured.
Another year, another Bopple conquest. Another conquest of the negative mind.
Sometimes, you have to keep your mind busy with present-awareness of an observant kind, noticing the beauty, absurdity, pain, exhilaration, emotions, senses and everything else you can pull from any moment. This will keep you from dwelling on anything that threatens to override your desire to achieve a goal. This will keep you from quitting, when the going is tough.
To help you conquer the negative mind, please check out our brand-new MindPT Membership where you can get my MindPT session on Perseverance - that magic "sauce" that helps you overcome the biggest obstacles and come out shining on the other side - as well as every other session in our library, two sessions per month for just $9.95/month. That's less than five bucks a session and you get to choose one New Release and one Classic session, to help you achieve YOUR "Bopple Hill" goals!