There’s a widespread misconception among many of the touring cyclists I’ve met. It is that that the physical challenge of a bike tour is something that must be overcome in order to enjoy oneself at the sport. A more subtle belief is that the reward of a challenging climb is the view from the top, or sillier still, the descent.
Climbs can drag on for what feels like an eternity. The challenge can feel punishing –distinct from torture only by the unusual fact that we subject ourselves to it willingly. More times than I’d care to admit, I’ve stood at the shoulder of a mountain road, dejectedly asking myself, “why am I doing this?” And yet, I’ve continually gone back for more. I’ve climbed for hours long after my body has said stop, long after the so-called challenge has been overcome. I’ve climbed to the vastest lookoffs, well-knowing that the view from the top would be completely fogged in. So really, why am I doing this?
The answer is that when we push ourselves physically and mentally, time stands still. The neuronic flashing red lights and blaring sirens in our quadricepts after thirty minutes at 13% grade are a signal that’s impossible to ignore. There’s no tuning it out. There’s no distracting ourselves with something else. It doesn’t matter how many times we look at our bike computers or heart rate monitors. We’re going to feel every single, solitary second of this climb in the most visceral way. There’s is nothing but to be with it.
We could always take a bus up the mountain, frivolously thinking about the back of the head in front of us, or what we ate for breakfast, or the dreadful week of work waiting for us on our return home, or, for that matter, just how inhuman it feels to be on a tour bus. But on our bikes, there is none of that. There is nowhere to hide, no distractions, no past, no future. There is only this mountain, these legs, these lungs and this heart. No, it doesn’t feel pleasant. But it feels. It feels so strong that we can’t ignore it.
So, who wants to do some climbing?