I used to hate riding solo. Nothing gave me more anxiety than the thought of riding alone. It’s funny to look back on how much time I wasted sitting at home being butt hurt, rather than embracing time with myself. Time is precious, ya know? Solo time is life changing, and builds you into a better version of yourself.
Then the magic happens…
I spend a lot of time riding by myself now. I still very much enjoy riding with my friends, and am always looking for buddies, but it’s not what motivates me to ride anymore. I don’t need outward sources to get me on that bike and out the door. It’s not always awesome, and I’ve spent a few rides crying alone in the middle of nowhere, but I wouldn’t be where I am now without solitude.
One day last summer, I decided to ascend Mount Mitchell for the first time. I knew it was going to be hard, and I thought I was prepared for it physically, but my mental game took a big hit. On the way home, I lost my shit within 10 miles of my house, and wasn’t sure if I’d make it back. I rode 90 miles that day, with an ungodly amount of climbing. I was officially cracked.
My Mount Mitchell experience pretty much sums up the past year, not only on the bike, but life in general.
This past weekend wasn’t any different. I raced 6 Hours of Warrior Creek- my first endurance mountain bike race. I haven’t raced my mountain bike much (2 XC races last year), and I was nervous about not being able to pull my weight. I was on a coed duo with my brother, and I wanted to make him proud. He’s been racing and riding bikes for over 20 years, and he’s the one responsible for creating this monster (me). I let him take the first lap, because I was too scared to put myself in the “dumpster fire” that is a mass mountain bike start.
My brother came around after the first lap, and I got ready to go. He said he wasn’t feeling well during the transition, and I told him I would do 2 laps if I needed to, but he said he’d feel better after I came back around. I took off like a scalded rabbit. I rode hard and actually felt pretty good. I was gonna make my brother proud of me. My first lap was 1:18; not bad for a 14 mile loop.
As I rode towards the car, my brother said he didn’t feel any better. I know what that’s like. There’s nothing worse than feeling horrible and knowing you have to get back on your bike. I decided I would take one for the team. “I’m going to do one more lap”.
And I busted out of there like I was being chased by dogs.
As I came through again, I decided to go around for a 3rd time. I had already surpassed my max number of mountain bike miles by 5, and figured 14 more wouldn’t be so bad. I hated myself by mile 4, and rag dolled though all the rock gardens. I was exhausted and it showed. I overshot a switchback within the last couple miles, and took a pretty solid digger. “What the hell have I done?” I’ve ridden for 6 hours on the road, but nothing prepared me for this.
I managed to make it to the finish, missing the “last lap cutoff” by 20 minutes. I was actually kind of relieved, because I didn’t know how I would make it another lap. I managed a 1:18, 1:20, and a 1:30- a little over 4 hours of mountain biking at race pace. I don’t know how you endurance racers do it.
And then my body told me to fuck off. It was a pain I’d never felt before. I kind of liked it.
Some days you’re the nail, and other days you’re the hammer. I just happened to be the hammer that day and I took advantage of it. I knew if I could just get myself past the point of no return, I’d have no choice but to exceed my expectations. When you ride alone, there’s no one to bail you out. The work is yours. No excuses.
I don’t know what kind of effect my experience at Warrior Creek will have on me, but I’m sure I’ll reap the rewards when I least expect it.
And I’ll figure out a way to top it. Solo.