The task spreads out before me like molasses poured onto a tabletop, indulging in its viscous immensity. Its growing breadth makes it a kind of enigma, the sort distinguished by an elusive end and therefor an intangible beginning. It occurs to me, at this moment, that the difference between those who achieve and those who stagnate is not measured by their greatness, but by their courage to begin. There is a boldness in embarking on that to which the end is unknown, to trust in your ability to navigate a path along which the way can be felt more than it can be seen.

In life, our path is fractured by the paths of those in our social and professional proximity. In training, we are simply a product of our discipline and will. In a world full of change and flux, training stands out as a beautifully simple thing. Time in the saddle goes in one end, and progress comes out the other. The magnitude of the change we see as a result is directly proportional to our commitment to a goal; there is nowhere to to seek answers to our failures but inside ourselves.

The most sacred act in Cycling is, for me, the day-long solo training ride, especially in Winter. On these days of 200 or more kilometers, I rise with the sun still lingering behind the Cascades to the East. There is a chill in the air even inside the house as I shake off sleep and prepare for a ride book-ended by the twin fires of sunrise and sunset. I wait patiently for the streets to be lit well enough to allow my safe passage; perhaps I’ll have another espresso while I wait for the sun to laze above the horizon.

Setting out, my heart will be heavy with dread knowing the ribbon of kilometers, hills and climbs that lies ahead. In Winter, the effect is heightened by the gray clouds in the sky and the knowledge that rain and possibly snow will accompany me. Before I even begin, my mind casts ahead to the warm shower and hearty meal which will greet me at the end of this long day. Yet, the only way to arrive is by loading the pedals at the outset and getting to the business of turning them endlessly until I return to the house.

My usual long training route consists of chaining together my daily training loops. While familiarity with the route serves to comfort me, the conclusion of each loop carries me by my home – each time I find myself tempted to escape into the warm confines where my family, a shower, and a meal awaits. Yet, with each passing of the house, my resolve is energized, I continue. I continue with only the thoughts in my head, my discipline, and the cold and wet to keep me company. When I finally return home, my spirits fill with a sense of accomplishment.

These rides help me find form, certainly, but they serve a more fundamental purpose that echoes in my personal and professional life. They serve to remind that a large task is an aggregate of smaller, more simple tasks and that we need only the courage to begin. Just as a long ride is accomplished by the simple act of turning the pedals, we achieve our goals in life by starting today to incrementally move towards them.

I am reminded through the solitude of the ride that simply beginning is the most critical element to finishing; fail to do that, and you will never have the opportunity to finish. Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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115 Replies to “Solitude”

  1. @Collin I have something of the same approach. I’m not banging out 200K rides yet, but if I decide to go for 80-100K I usually map out a loop of some sort through the countryside around me, ideally covering at least one section I’ve never been on before (or at least not in that direction). The exploration makes it so much better than just doing 5 loops of the same section that I did on Tuesday morning before breakfast.

  2. @Pedale.Forchetta

    I do really like solo ride, especially when I’m on holiday, when you don’t know the route very well and because of that I feel a slight sense of uneasiness.

    Sounds like every time I ride a mountain bike.

  3. @G’rilla


    I do really like solo ride, especially when I’m on holiday, when you don’t know the route very well and because of that I feel a slight sense of uneasiness.

    Sounds like every time I ride a mountain bike.

    While I assume you’re referring to the slight sense of uneasiness, I’m confused as to how that relates specifically to the mountain bike? But maybe we’re getting into potato-potahtoe territory here.

  4. Solitude = Sitting on the turbo watching a virtual climb of Mont Ventoux with no sound track for 30 minutes at a pitiful pace in the little dog and absolutely fucking loving it!

    First time on the bike since the ankle op (I am not allowed in to the real world till Feb) with flat pedals and wearing this!

    I got dressed in my V jersey just for the joy of it and trying to remember what it was like!

  5. Very serendipitous this as I was only yesterday wondering if there were a thread on this topic – great minds …

    Have been unable to make my usual 6am hit out with mates due to finally accepting I have three children and a wife … so have found myself riding solo, later in the day. And I love it.

    Aside from anything, I enjoy the confused, envious from some, bemused looks from others thinking ” lucky fucker I wish I was riding my bike ” or ” why the fuck is that loser not at work ” or ” fuck he’s hot ” ….. Its a rare chance to dream, isn’t it, and exist without interuption for a moment outside the humdrum, the pedestrian, the miserable

    Cannot wait to set off alone today.Rare, privileged vibes.

  6. Damn, this just serves to cast my mind back to what I was doing a year to the day, today, in 2011 – my first ever HC climb in Southern Spain up to Ronda – one of the most glorious things I have ever done

    If I compare it to the rides across the Pairofknees in June, with all their grandeur and history and HCness, I have to say, my memories of that long ponderous climb, now confirmed by Strava as being shit slow, still remains my happiest day on a bike – the first day I ever felt La Volupte too

    I was alone that day, unlike all the big rides since, but I remember thinking, the V-people are with me

    Thanks everyone

  7. @Dr C


    could you not get cleats for that fine cycling aircast boot?

    I wish!  3 more weeks to go…but got on the turbo again today so just happy to be doing some riding!

  8. @frank


    Yes, the solitude of the long solo ride. Strangely, a different kind of solitude can be experienced with a faithful riding partner. My brother and I are almost equally matched in form. On long rides, we share the wind, silently trading places when it feels right. A day of hard riding-few word are spoken. Solitude.

    With the right training partner, for sure. Also, when you’re deep in the cave, you can find solitude even in a group – like several of us experienced on the Seattle Summer Cogal.

    That said, though, there is something about truly being solo that sets those rides apart. Sharing the wind, trading places, those are all impossibilities when solo. The work needs to be done just by you and no one else.

    Thanks for the inpiration. My riding partner wasn’t around this weekend so I set out (a little late) to Belfountain for a 125 km solo ride. The sun set about half way back to Guelph so I was dependent on a tunnel of light from my Leyzne to see the road. Solitude.

  9. @mcsqueak

    @Nathan @actor1 – great, thanks for the suggestions, I’ll check them out!

    I do think the Castelli aero race glove looks good, but I wish they made one that didn’t go so high up on the wrist.

    I have a set of the Castelli aero race gloves, the Garmin Cervelo version, and they are fantastic, I even ride them on cool mornings because they are just so comfortable. I highly recommend them and the only time I have ever wanted to take them off was when I was doing hill repeats on an insufferably hot day, and in saying that, I didn’t end up taking them off. I used to suffer from what I call “claustrophobic hands’  and normal gloves just weren’t cutting it. So if you suffer from the same ailment, these are the only way to go I think.

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