The Janus of Suffering
I came strongly into the Fall, stronger than in other years thanks to a late-season objective to do well at my first Heck of the North gravel classic in Minnesota. I was light and I had built good power and endurance by riding the steep gravel roads that pepper the North Cascades and suffering through brutal interval sessions on the windswept stretch of road along Shilshole Bay. I was good at hurting myself.
With the race behind me and the first of the next season’s objectives many months away, I entered into what in many ways is my favorite time of year to ride: Winter. The months between objectives at that time of year provides a kind of serenity on the bike that is hard to find when goals are looming. Focus shifts away from building a sharpness in the muscles and towards putting in long base kilometers at steady speeds. There is no need to push hard on the climbs, just slip into a nice tempo and explore the beautiful quiet of a steady rhythm.
With that serenity comes a different kind of suffering; not so acute but where the cold winds and rains harden the mind against the long hours of discomfort and somatic pain. Simply staying on the bike all day, riding from sun up to sun down, is suffering in itself. The willpower and discipline needed to hold the course and do the Work is itself an entirely different but very real kind of suffering – even if the suffering is not intense at any given moment.
But as Winter slowly loosens it grip and the days grow longer, so too do the objectives for the coming season loom nearer. It is time to pull myself out of steady rhythms and once again build towards the sharp sensations of a hard effort. I find I’ve nearly forgotten how to do it; my body resists the signals coming from the mind; its first impulse is to employ the Scotty Principle, I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got captain! It seems my mind has forgotten that whenever it gets that message, there is always another 10 or 20 percent left to to be taken from the body.
Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and transitions; he has two faces – one looking to the past and one to the future. I’m transitioning from one kind of suffering into another; the work I did yesterday will make tomorrow’s ride a little bit better. My mind navigates through the mixed signals it receives, and the body responds and adapts. To transition is to explore the boundary between two seemingly separate entities. Science explores the boundary between ignorance and knowledge; art explores the boundary between reality and imagination; Cycling explores the boundary between the mind and body.
We are Cyclists. The rest of the world merely rides a bike.