Jesse and I are discussing plans for the weekend. It may rain. I’m threatening to go to my first-ever Quaker meeting on Sunday morning, all but disqualifying Sunday for bike riding. The most interesting ride on Saturday starts far away. But wait—Jesse has an idea! He’s showing me on Google maps. What if we do a ride that starts like the regular Morgan Territories ride, but instead of taking the road that goes South past Mount Diablo, what if we take the road that continues East? What if we go to the Sacramento River Delta? What if we go all the way to Stockton?!
And you know what? We could. I know that now.
Yet I found myself thinking with one half of my brain, ‘Okay, cool,’ while with the other half I was wondering what else goes on on a Saturday around here. If we didn’t go on a bike ride, would we spend the time volunteering, going to an art museum, writing, brunching, doing a Cultural Event? And what would that feel like?
I think I’m at that exact point in my pursuit of this sport where what you can do produces a diminishing return of thrills. Oh, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a long way to go as a cyclist. I know I do. I could get a lot stronger, a lot faster. I could get a better bike, become a safer rider, improve my descending skills. There are whole echelons of slang I haven’t adopted yet. I could start talking about VO2 max or get able to know what the hell people are talking about when they use numbers to talk about their chainrings. I could take a bike on an airplane. I could do a charity century, a multi-state ride. I could get better gear.
It seems awful early to be having burn-out, so maybe I’d better think of it more like a plateau: I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s going to be another quantum of amazement for me in this sport that’s quite as large as the one that described the span between “I haven’t ridden a bike except as a commuter or a recreating child” and “Ride over 100 miles in a day, over some small mountains? I can totally do that.” It was a physical adjustment, to get in shape for that, but even more so, it was a mental one.
Mentally, I went from rejecting certain feats out of hand as crazy or impossible, to greeting them with a calmer attitude. It was more like a change of identity than anything else. I can figure out how to do that. I am the *kind* of person who could. And while I can imagine being in twice as good of shape as I am now, the mental adjustment seems like a one-time deal.
Why do I mention this now? I think it’s because in my first months of riding, the thrill of making that mental adjustment was a prime motivator for me. Almost every time I went out, I did something I hadn’t done before or didn’t know I could do. I rode fifty miles for the first time. I beat a man (albeit, a man twice my age, but a man damnit, and an experienced rider at that) up a fierce hill. I rode seventy-five miles for the first time. I rode Diablo. I did the Roanoke wall. Then, I did the Roanoke wall without wanting to throw up once I reached the top.
The question that forms is: Why keep going? If the guiding thought is no longer “can I?,” then what is it? That’s what I’m asking myself this off-season.