600 miles in 6 days. As I sit on my comfortable queen sized bed, basking in the air conditioning that distinguishes the motel interior from the 100 degrees of humidity outside these walls, I can't help but reflect on what has been an absolute roller coaster.
Over the past week, each day has seen 8-10 hours of sitting on a bike. Sunrises quickly become sunsets, and sleep is merely an unconscious delay towards the next day of riding. Reaching the destination at the end of the day is an incredible feeling, as relief and satisfaction overwhelm the body-- but it is short lived. After a quick meal, shower, and scramble to take care of any remaining needs, it is off to bed only to continue the grind the next day.
If you, the reader, believe that it is possible to remain completely sane throughout this process - you are mistaken. The journey on the road is flooded with highs and lows, and very little in between. The high moments leave one feeling on top of the world, while low moments can be completely demoralizing.
Luckily for us, the week started on a very high note. Leaving Shoshoni Wyoming, I was already stressed at the complications caused by my patella tendonitis, while attempting to prepare mentally and physically for what would be my longest day thus far - a 125 mile ride to Glenrock. Compounding to the stress was the fact that the road was through the Wyoming high desert. Miles of seemingly endless highway with limited resources in between (one convenience store for 100 miles). But little was I aware of the (literal) push I would receive that day.
The winds blew easterly with sustained forces between 15-20 mph. Leaving breakfast, I remember feeling the wind rush through my hair and forcing a smile on my face. It felt powerful, and more importantly, it made me feel powerful. Pedal after pedal, the bike gained speed. It was effortless. Looking down at the speedometer, I witnessed a reading of 30 mph, but was still in disbelief. The bike was moving so quickly, that all feeling of the wind had disappeared. This was an illusion of course, for the wind was still there. It was like I had become the wind. My bike was an extension of my body and for the first time in days, I was excited to be on the bike. Finally, I wasn't simply going through the motions, but I felt alive. Invigorated. It was like medicine for my broken body.
While days like this are necessary for the spirit, truthfully, they are far and few in between. It is this realization that has forced me to focus less on hoping for great days, and instead to brace for the impact of the difficult ones.
Upon reaching Nebraska, we had anticipated miles of flat road and eastern winds -- smooth cycling. This was not the case. The winds were strong, and they were against us. Pedal after pedal, we had to work for distance. No meter came easy. In our lowest gears, we sustained speeds of 9 mph. The ground was flat but it felt like we were climbing, only this time we would not have the gratification of a downhill reward in the future. As minutes became hours, my mind became more desperate for something to blame. I thought about how "unfair" the situation was. I pondered why the winds had to fight us. How much simpler this could be without such an incredible resistance. Deep down, you start questioning if fate is simply against you. Although these thoughts are pointless, the darkening skies and thought of hours of riding until reaching the destination keep them in the back of the mind.
The constant cycle of highs and lows is taxing on both the mind and the body. At times it is easy to ask the question; Why keep going? And truthfully, there are many answers to this question, all intermingled and contributing to our individual motivations. But sometimes, it requires something above the daily minutiae of thoughts to truly act as a reminder of why we endure such physical and mental hardship day in and day out.
Upon reaching Brady Nebraska, we were hungry, battered by winds, and an hour away from our destination. Distant thunderstorms left us trapped in this small town which had no restaurants but a local bar. One of the waitresses saw us and immediately sat us, reading the distress on our faces. She learned of our story and our cause and was immediately humbled by how far we had come and how far we still had to go. After ordering, she told us that our meal had been paid for. Such a simple gesture, but the impact was indescribable. Among the midst of struggle and hardship, it is too easy to be blinded by the moment to moment challenges. Incredibly, a simple gesture was enough to remind us why we ride. For the foundation, and all the good the ride was doing. For ourselves, and all the strength gained from perseverance. This was more invigorating than any tailwind -- and immediately, I felt like I had once more been saved from the doubts and fears that plagued my mind.
So we keep on riding. Mile after mile, hour after hour, each turn of pedal brings us closer to home. Closer to our families, friends, and normal lives. Personally, I yearn to be surrounded by all the people whom I've grown to miss desperately on the road, and almost every day, I daydream about being reunited with them. But a process like this cannot be rushed. Day after day, I know we will become closer to home and until that day comes it is necessary to be immersed in all that is going on in the present. The highs, the lows, and everything In between. Truthfully, I don't think I would want it any other way.