Friday, June 23, 2017

Why Do It?

“Why do you do it, Mom?” my daughter asked. “I mean, you always want to back out the night before. It’s like you really don’t want to do it at all, you know?”

It was happy hour. Just my daughter and me. A time to catch up with the details of each other’s busy lives. A time to enjoy my adult daughter in a way I never thought possible as she scrapped and scrambled through her teens. Now in her late twenties, social worker and student, wife and home owner, she is the daughter of storybooks and dreams. And she probes me with questions and forces reality checks like no other.

“Why do it?” she insisted in the silence of my stall.

It was the night before Flying Wheels, a 46-mile Cascade Bicycle ride, 46 because my riding group made the collective decision that none of us were conditioned for the 75- or 100- mile options and all of us knew the 2200 foot elevation gain would kick our collective butt.
Struggling up Ingram Hill
"It’s great exercise. I want to stay strong. I want to stay connected with these friends. It’s just that it’s so hard, I guess.”

“I get it,” she said. “Besides, nobody really likes exercise. We like the results, but not doing it.”

I didn’t contradict her. I didn’t mention the women I know who seem to truly enjoy grueling exercise. Or about my concern that others in my group are far more passionate about cycling than I am. Where is my passion, I wondered? Why am I so often tempted to quit?


I once heard an NPR interview with an NFL player. When asked about the pain involved in training and playing football, he shrugged it off. It’s part of the game, he said. If you play, you hurt. I remind myself of this as I gear up for each ride. I also remind myself that if I rode more, if I trained harder, pushed faster, climbed more hills year-round, it might not hurt so much, I might be able to breathe more easily. But then maybe not.

The obvious lesson that NFL player taught me was that it’s all about attitude. It’s about turning the negative to positive. I’m strong. I can breathe. I can do this. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

The anxiety I feel before a big ride is similar to the feeling I get every single time I stand before an audience to read my work. I always want to back out, call in sick, fall through a hole in the floor. But somehow I get through it, and usually I feel a sense of deep satisfaction when it’s over. The same holds for distance cycling.

Yes, it hurts. Yes, it’s dangerous. Yes, it’s time-consuming. But cycling builds muscle and endurance, both of which are hard to retain and even harder to build as we age. The great thing about cycling is that it is a sport for all ages and skill levels, a sport I can continue well into my 70s, maybe 80s. They’re out there, on every ride I see older women (and men), pumping the pedals at their own speed, competing against no one other than themselves and the ravages of age. Through their dedication and passion, they inspire me to do the same. 

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