The last two days have given me a new respect of the landscape. Cycling allows riders to become intricately connected to the land, especially when there are derastic changes in elevation.
Connecticut, a man at our host told me last night, is a land in which the glaciers roved, causing ripples in the landscape. That means there are many changes in elevation. Yesterday the hills brought me to my knees. And today, the hills built me back up.
Our ride yesterday brought us through 30 of the most challenging miles of my life–all before lunch. I thought Pittsburgh’s hills were amazing training, but confronting these monsters allowed all my inner demons to come out.
Hills are almost entirely a mental battle. Physically I am capable of everything we have done (as I am in Kent, CT instead of Providence, RI) but half way up a 9% grade that doesn’t seem to have an end, and the meanest voices tell me I am not. Fighting with the land is nothing compared to fighting against inner demons feeding on weakness. The voices in my head that I battle against can smell my fear of failure, my terror that my legs won’t hold up, and my desire to leave the physical agony behind. The voices thrive in conditions like these, where hope is the last thing on my mind, and success feels impossible.
I have discovered three kinds of hills in Connecticut. Each type can be agonizing to climb, each type forces you to wish that it is any other type of hill, and none of them really better than the next. There are rolling hills, where a decent is followed quickly by an ascent (and your momentum can help you up the hill). There are steep climbs, which normally are short and can be over quite fast. And there are long steady inclines, which allow you to plug away and conserve energy.
During any of the above, I have found only two ways to get through pain. Yesterday I cursed the gods, chastized myself for even imagining this trip, and begged my legs to keep pedaling. I got through the day on shame, stubbornness, and pleading with my body. It was certainly the hardest physical challenge I have put myself through, and possibly the hardest mental obstical I have hurdled.
Today, I woke up and immediately climbed a steep hill, cursing life itself. The next hill I encountered was very slow, and not so steady. It was a 9% grade. As I climbed the curving mountainside, my legs started finding a rhythm, my breath steadied itself, and I tucked my head and got to my job. I was rewarded with beautiful sights, and a waterfall to swim in!
Today was amazing. There were climbs that hurt, but my way over them was different. By looking only a few feet before me on tough climbs, and clearing my mind of chatter, I could enjoy what I was doing. I slowly, over the many miles and many up, up, ups and down, down, downs, was able to wrap my head around what I am doing here.
This summer I get to wake up every morning and I am allowed to bike–that’s it! I get to cycle through an unbelievable beautiful county, every single day. I get to spend two and a half months with 30 of my amazing new best friends, hanging out and playing. And I get to build houses for people who need them. This is the life I have always wanted, and I have the chance to fully experience these beautiful and fleeting moments.
Thank goodness for the hills–I’m not sure such incredible joy comes without a little (or a lot, in this case) of pain.