I walk away from social gatherings with an acute sense of accomplishment whenever I haven’t offended anyone and when my friends all stayed awake. I view myself as a bottle of wine that keeps getting better with age, but I’m slowly coming to grips with the notion that I am actually a bottle that may be corked. The great irony of life is that as we become more comfortable with who we are, we become more annoying to be around.
Fortunately, I enjoy being alone. I haven’t always felt that way, but my natural charm means I have had to cultivate a taste for it. That isn’t to say I don’t like being around others – quite the opposite – but being alone allows me the opportunity to reconnect with who I am. This is especially true when riding my bicycle. Riding alone, there is nothing to do but focus on the sensations of the ride: the wind in my face, the smells in the air, the sound of my tires as we hum along together, rider and bicycle.
Doing a long ride alone is an exercise of discipline. The little voices in your head may start quietly, but they build to crescendo inside your skull after a few hours of solitary suffering. The doors and patios on the cafés at the roadside start looking larger and more welcoming with every kilometer that passes under your tires. A point comes, on these long rides, at which Rule #5 becomes a matter of continuing on with the task; a determination to finish what you have begun.
We learn fundamental things about ourselves when we are alone in the Pain Cave, after we’ve dropped the flashlight and watched helplessly as it rolled off the shelf and into the void. Questions come knocking, and they won’t go away until you’ve dealt with them. This is when we grow, when we build confidence in the face of doubt.
We are lucky to find ourselves at crossroads where every direction leads to more suffering, where the direction we choose is irrelevant. The choice is simply to suffer or to go home. In a world where we have made a science of luxury, we Cyclists choose to suffer.
Vive la Vie Velominatus.