What is normal for you when you ride a bike? How far do you go? What kind of riding do you do? Do you ever push the envelope? If so, were you surprised how comfortable you were at being outside your comfort zone?
Our area offers a multitude of opportunities if you want to do something epic on a bicycle. For example, and an admittedly extreme one for beginners, Spokane is the home of a unique ride known as the Midnight Century. It takes place on the first Saturday in August. It’s 96 miles long, and about half of that distance involves long, steep climbs and rough gravel roads that make it easy for people to quit. But you don’t quit the Midnight Century. It defeats you, but only if you let it.
Just last month I rode my fourth Midnight Century. The gravel roads were in the worst condition I’ve seen in my four outings. Washboards jackhammered the saddle into my backside, wreaked havoc on my wrists and almost blistered the heels of my gloved hands as they hung on to vigorously shaking handlebars. Deep gravel made my front wheel unexpectedly veer in directions I did not intend to go. Finding that sweet spot where it wasn’t too bumpy or too loose was a never-ending quest that warranted constant vigilance. I would have had better luck searching for the lost city of Atlantis.
The climbs were longer and steeper than I remember. My psychological immune system was probably helping me by making important details like that fuzzy. Climbing in the dark was disheartening because I couldn’t see the top. Climbing in the dawn was disheartening because I could see the top, and it looked so far away. Combine the miserable road conditions with the incessant climbing, and I have to say that this was the most difficult Midnight Century I’ve done, which means it was the best Midnight Century I’ve ever done. That might be both a confusing and disturbing thought to some people, so let me explain.
It’s true that the Midnight Century is not for everyone. But it isn’t because of the difficulty, the distance or that it’s mostly in the dark and the sun pops up over the horizon when you’re pretty damn tired. It’s just that not everyone has the requisite frame of mind. If you want to do epic stuff on your bike, you have to remove the limitations holding you back.
It took me many years to gradually push my limits outward. When I first heard about the Midnight Century seven or eight years ago and how 12 people would start and only three would finish, I thought, “That’s crazy.” The ride did not appeal to me at all. But over the following years I expanded my cycling experiences. I explored paved and gravel roads on the West Plains. I took up cyclocross racing. I tried out new and longer routes while bike commuting to work. I rode my bike 23 miles to my medical appointments at Fairchild Air Force Base, and then 13 miles to work. I learned that I could exceed the limits I had placed on myself. And I could go beyond what other people expected of me, what they considered “normal.” I don’t care for being normal any more.
I apologize if this reads to you like an extreme ego trip, but there are many other people I could present as examples too. I see them at cyclocross and mountain bike races, long distance rides and out bike commuting to work. They don’t let weight or age stop them. They ride up the Post Street hill for the first time without walking and across the desert of Central Washington.
What could be your new normal in five years? If you can ride 10 miles, why not stretch that out to 15? If you can do 25 miles, why not double that? If you can ride once a week, why not make it two times? Try different types of cycling, and see how you like them. There are trails, roads and racecourses out there waiting for you. And when you show up, you’ll see athletes crushing it, but you’ll also see people just like you and me. Ordinary people finding adventure, pushing beyond their boundaries a little more each time and constantly redefining their normal. Most importantly, they are having fun.
You don’t have to dream big, but you should never stop dreaming. Now that you’re done reading this, your bike is waiting for you. //