John and I decided to brush the dust off our bikes and take a “nice easy ride” on President’s Day. Multiple times, John emphasized that he wasn’t in riding shape and since it was the first time out in a couple months it should be a “nice easy ride”. Well, apparently that is code for “a ride that will test your guts”. John and I spoke in this same code when we went for a “nice hike” in Kauai and the next thing we knew we had done 22 miles of the treacherous Na’Pali Coast in a day. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at what would follow.
I have learned from previous experience that it is always good to pack a little more food and water than you think you will need. Not knowing exactly what we were going to do, I packed a few “goo” packets, a couple sodium tablets, trail mix, gatorade and water. I was ready for anything.
We decided we would drive to Malibu to avoid biking in traffic and start our ride from there. I thought we would just do a “nice easy ride” along the Pacific Coast Highway for awhile and then turn around. The PCH was terrific! The opulent view along the ocean was magnificent and being back in the saddle of my bike was like heaven to me. I could not have been happier… seriously!
Then things got even better. We turned off in Ventura County into some farmland that reminded me of the San Joaquin Valley where I grew up. There were wide open spaces and crops as far as you could see. The farmers out fixing fences and tractors turning up new soil was a far cry from the crazy scene of Venice Beach and my heart smiled.
I still did not know where we were going, I just followed John and did my best to remember the route because I felt sure I wanted to return soon. Then, I saw something else that made me smile — a hill. I attacked it because I didn’t think there could be all that many of them on this “easy ride”. Apparently, John had forgotten just how many climbs there were and just how steep.
We were entering the Santa Monica Mountains on Highway 23 which I now know is known for its twisting lanes that convulse into a knot of mountain switchbacks. The increasingly windy canyon reaches grades as high as 18% and averages about 7%. This ride easily rivaled rides I am more familiar with in Utah such as American Fork Canyon or the Little Cottonwood Canyon climb.
My heart was pounding, my legs burning and my face was smiling — (okay a very contorted, twisted smile), yet with each pedal stroke I kept telling myself I can go a little farther. “I can make it to that sign, or that tree”, I thought and pushed myself on. I kept double checking to make sure I couldn’t shift down to a lower gear. I confirmed unfortunately, that I was in deed in my lowest gear and would have to pound on.
I drew in courage from my gut, but I also literally used my core to push through each pedal stroke to give my legs some reprieve. Soon, however, I was concerned that I couldn’t keep my momentum up sufficiently and would have to stop before my bike tipped right over with me still attached to the toe clips. Finally, I did the unthinkable… I got off my bike and walked.
At the time, I had no idea where it would end. Once off, I saw that I had made it almost to the top of this particular climb. I don’t know if I could have gone any further, but knowing where the end of the suffering is helps sometimes to endure the present pain. This is my new goal; I will conquer this hill. Knowing approximately where the pain ends will give me a slight advantage on my next attempt.
Well, it was definitely the steepest ascent of the day – but not the last hard climb. There were many more to come. As I rode on, I continued to smile. I still didn’t know what was behind the next bend — another climb, a flat road, another hairpin turn? But I enjoyed the gorgeous scenery, my bike, being with my best friend, and the present moment. In this grateful state I could greet the rest of the ride with a smile and attack each new climb.
As I rode, I couldn’t help but think of “Up Only” and what it means to me. There was no question of ever turning back. As I saw the next hill I knew I must climb it. There is not going to be just one steep hill for me to climb in life. When I think I have gotten past the steepest climb or the most difficult challenge I will have to face in life, there WILL be another. But each time I climb higher I am taken to new heights, with new perspectives and spectacular views.
This day was a metaphorical one for me. In addition to the gut-testing challenging climbs, we rode through beautiful wooded tight finger canyons, past amazing million dollar homes, through wide open farm country and along miles of impressive California Coastline. Each time the view was magnificent and caused me to be grateful for the chance to be in the present moment. This reminded me to stay on course and climb the climbs. Though we don’t know when a trial or challenge will end, one thing we do know for sure…is that they do.
Ultimately, the legendary curves gave way to the element of gravity. I am generally a bit frightened of fast descents and was anxiously concerned with just how I would get down. I remained cautious, but decided that rather than struggling against the force that was pulling me down the mountain I could choose to dance with it. It was another remarkable learning experience.
Once back to the familiar PCH it felt like we must be close to home. And in deed we were certainly “closer”. We only had about 15 miles left, but there were still more climbs before we reached our finish line. In the end, that “easy ride” was a 70 mile, four-hour adventure. I didn’t know what to expect when we walked out the door this morning, but “easy ride”, though implied, was never the reality and we are stronger because of it.
Is life much different?