Grow Stronger

Yesterday I rode 17 miles on my bike, my regular route, a route I’ve ridden dozens if not hundreds of times. My phone says the wind averaged 14 mph from the west, but the gusts made it much harder than that. To be honest, I’ve ridden in fiercer wind many times, but this time I pushed into it instead of backing off. Maybe because of something I read in a small cycling book titled The Rules. The author was writing about cycling uphill, but I substituted wind because, well, you know … “Everyone talks about (wind) being hard, but (riding in the wind) is, in its essence, a simple matter of pushing harder on the pedals. There is an art to it, make no mistake, but going fast (in the wind) comes down to the strength of your will, and with what fury it can make your legs piston the pedals.”

So yesterday afternoon I rode hard and pushed every time I felt the wind in my face, which was all the time. I know there is more to cycling that simply pushing harder into the wind. There is downshifting to keep cadence high and prevent early onset oxygen debt, there is riding with hands on the drops for improved aerodynamics, and had I the opportunity to ride with a group, there is the energy-saving technique of drafting behind other riders. But even with all those, it eventually comes down to pushing harder on the pedals.

I was reminded of a scene from the movie The 13th Warrior, a historical fiction story set sometime in the Middle Ages, when an Arab diplomat, a highly-educated intellectual, surprisingly found himself going into battle with alongside a tribe of Viking warriors. When handed a Viking sword he said, “I cannot lift this,” to which his Viking trainer simply said, “Grow stronger.”

It makes no sense to complain about the wind. I have no excuses. I’ve lived in windy West Texas for 51 of my 59 years; only a fool would be surprised about something as permanent and persistent as the wind. (It’s like complaining about long lines when Christmas shopping … either get over it, or stay home … but don’t act surprised.) The decision is whether or not to ride, and if I decide to ride, know the wind will be part of it.

Besides, we have no hills around here, so there is no climbing. The wind is our only natural adversary other than the voice of resistance in our head that encourages us to stay home and take it easy until conditions improve.

I started this current phase of cycling a few years ago, once my knees submitted to arthritis and I could no longer run fast enough or far enough to work my heart and lungs. I first noticed I was losing endurance when hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains. I needed a new aerobic workout if I intended to keep moving.

So I stepped up my cyclingcycling 5 game. I started riding further and faster and more often. And I grew to love the time I spent on my bike. So far, it hasn’t been as meditative as running, which is what drew me into running for 38 years, mostly because I have to stay mentally engaged to ride well and avoid traffic. But I am learning to appreciate how it speaks to me. I fully expect cycling to find a long-term place in my mental and spiritual health during the next 38 years.

I finished yesterday’s ride exhausted and breathing hard. Cyndi tried to talk to me about making plans for the evening but she eventually gave up. She said, “I’ll wait until you catch your breath and the blood returns to your brain.”

I was a happy man. I felt the subtle burn in my lungs and legs until bedtime. It was my first time to work so hard since knee surgery last summer.

There are few things as satisfying as the exhaustion following a hard workout. It feels like accomplishment, like improvement, like I am the Comeback Kid, like I am Super Man, like I can do anything, like I conquered the “No” voice. I can’t wait for my next ride.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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