When you are cycling, you go through many cycles. This may just be my own personal experience, and I probably shouldn’t speak on behalf of all cyclists, but I imagine this is at least true for other beginners. There are times when you feel like you are on the top of the world, looking down on creation and the only explanation I can find…whoops, sorry, that’s a Carpenters song. Anyway, there are times you feel stronger than ever, like nothing can get in your way, and you sail over the road like a speedboat going downstream. Then the wind changes, blowing against you, and it’s like you’re a dull knife trying to cut through butter that’s been in the freezer for a month. You start cursing the wind in abject frustration because even the slightest breeze in the wrong direction can make it impossible to gain speed, making all of your efforts utterly fruitless. Each hill that previously felt like another challenge to pridefully accomplish now feels like the universe shitting on your pillow. (The good pillow. You know the one I’m talking about). Your thighs burn and your crotch feels like you walked through a lake of sulfuric acid (like that scene from Dante’s Peak where the grandma jumps into the acid lake to save everyone in the boat? Don’t pretend like you didn’t see that movie and that it wasn’t freaking awesome).
I was warned about the troubles of chafing, but even with chafing ointment, that shit can get pretty severe. Seriously, I have blisters where no one should have to suffer having blisters. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. (I’ll give you a hint. They’re on my vag). As endorphins begin coursing through your fatigued and broken body, you go back to feeling invincible, which can make you do questionable things, like running a yellow light because it’s at the bottom of a hill, and you don’t want to have to stop and lose all of your momentum. You kind of start to feel like you rule the road, and cars are merely there for decoration. But, no, those things will kill you. Respect the cars.
On my first trip up Vancouver Island, I was in terrible shape. I couldn’t bike over an anthill without feeling the burning in my thighs, and the frightening rapidity of my heartbeat. In order to get over an incline of even a modest size, I would have to walk my bike up to the top. Once I got more used to hills I still could only bike up for about twenty feet where I would have to stop and rest for thirty seconds to a minute so that I wouldn’t pass out into traffic. My eyes would warp everything around me like I was surrounded by funhouse mirrors. I would finally reach the top and would finally get to coast downhill, but I was so frightened by the speeds I would reach that I would squeeze the breaks like my life depended on it (which I actually thought it did). Doing this prevented me from ever gaining enough speed and momentum to tackle the next hill, so I would have to slowly and lethargically pedal over it, twenty feet at a time.
My three week stay on Hornby did not go to waste. After the first week, when I had finally finished my online classes, I was able to focus on staying in shape for the next leg of my trip. I biked everyday for at least 10 miles. It was really strange at first to bike without all of my gear. It felt like riding on a tin can; it was so light. When I embarked on my first ride from Buckley Bay to Qualicum Beach, I thought that having the gear again with the added weight would make me revert back to being weak and tired, but it didn’t. I could go up large hills like they were nothing, and without stopping! It was incredible. It was like I had grown new cyborg legs or something. I would soar downhill without fear and would bask in the exhileration of traveling at warp speed. I completed the twenty-two mile trip in two hours, which was a record for me.
By day three, though, (which was yesterday) I was exhausted. I made the trip from Nanaimo to Duncan, which was only 30 miles, but it was against the wind. As I mentioned previously, wind is, like, the Regina George of natural phenomena. It can either be your best friend, or your worst enemy, depending on its mood. And it’s a fickle bitch, I’ll tell you. A strong tailwind is the best gift nature can provide to a cyclist, and a strong headwind is a metaphorical slap in the face. When I had reached Chemainus (which is a town about two thirds of the way to Duncan) I had made it over about five large hills without having to stop. Google Maps said that the rest of the way was “mostly flat.” Well Google Maps is a fucking liar. There were several more hills, albeit not large ones, but they were still hills. I was in a state of exhaustion, starvation (basically. I had only eaten a 450 calorie breakfast for the entire day), and thirst, because I had run out of water. I reeeaaally didn’t want to stop because my endorphins would deplete, and they were the only things keeping me from feeling the extent of my pain, so I pressed on, tired, hungry, and thirsty. When I would make it over one hill, there was another waiting for me. With no momentum to keep me going, I reached a point of, actually, I really don’t know the word for what I was feeling. It was a cocktail of sadness, hopelessness, frustration, and rage. Tears began flooding my eyes, and I felt like a couldn’t breathe. My esophagus was tight, and I was gasping for air. I figured that was probably the time to pull over. I had to calm myself down or I was going to pass out, or die or something. I focused on taking slow deep breaths until my breathing began to normalize, and my heart rate steadied. After a good five minute rest, I sat back down on my bike. Pain. Searing, burning pain. No more endorphins to mask the extent of my chafing injuries, and my sore tailbone. I looked up how much farther it was to my destination. Only two more miles! Excitement and happiness surged over me. I was back on a high again. I pedaled and pushed harder than I had all day knowing that food, rest, and a bath was in my very near future.
In a day, I cycled through thirty miles of hills, and about thirty different emotions. At the end of the day, however, I always end on a high because every moment of pain, struggle and veritable defeat is completely worth it, and has taught me just how much I am capable of overcoming.