The day after I finished Amy Snyder’s Hell On Two Wheels, I got on my bike and went out for my first long ride since 2010. The first 10 miles, or so, felt somewhat forced. I wasn’t sure if I was out there as a way to avoid my adult-hood responsibilities or to reacquaint with my long lost passion. Long rides take time and, in a world full of obligations and required “to dos”, time is of the essence. On top of this back-and-forth debate with myself, it was raining and the wind coming off of Lake Washington didn’t provide much inspiration. But a good friend of mine quickly met up with me and off we went.
Side by side, we paced each other up around the northern part of the Burke-Gilman trail that runs next to Lake Washington. On a typical day the water is calm and you can see Mt. Rainier and the Cascade Mountains looming in the background. This day was foggy and the rain reduced our visibility quite a bit. That didn’t matter, though, as we rode on.
The pace was a light tempo – perfect pace for a long ride in January weather. The plan was to also meet up with some other riders in the Redmond area for a quick 15-17 mile group ride. If I played my cards right, I could sit in a pace-line and draft off of the fresh legs of the other riders as I logged more miles. Of course, that’s what I did until the sprinting started and a few hills quickly spread us out. Aggressive riding is good, especially amongst each other, because it keeps you honest. There’s no hiding when the pace picks up into a large climb that you must get across. You either will yourself to keep the pedals turning or you just quit. There’s no faking it when there’s a hurdle to get over.
I think that’s when I realized that inspiration comes to those willing to take that first step and attack the obstacles that are in our way. Inspiration also occurs when we’re pushing each other in friendly sport and encouraging each other to be at our best. I stopped hiding and got out in front a few times and attacked some tough sections. I stopped holding back and went for it. We finished the Redmond segment with new memories and a feeling of expansion as we all knew that we were stronger than before.
The rest of the riders went back to work as my friend and I rode back toward the Burke-Gilman trail into Kenmore and Seattle. I started to think of Amy Snyder’s passage about the RAAM (Race Across America) riders and the mythic qualities of “those who get close it it.” She references the American mythologist and author Joseph Campbell’s description of a universal life-affirming myth shared historically amongst cultures. She writes, “It offers a way to understand the allegorical meaning of this race and racers’ motivations.”
First off, if you aren’t familiar with RAAM, it’s a very brutal test of the human spirit and capacity in enduring a self-induced hell for a race across the continental U.S. It’s a time trial by bicycle that starts in Oceanside, CA and ends in Annapolis, MD. There’s no money involved and racers show up annually to test their grit against the clock, and each other, as they race through deserts, mountains, and rolling plains. Many of these cyclists, men and women, go without hardly any sleep and complete the race in eight to twelve days. Why do they do this?
In Joseph Campbell’s myth, “an ordinary person receives a ‘call to adventure’ that compels him to leave an everyday world that he’s psychologically and spiritually outgrown. He journeys in a dreamlike arena – a dark forest, a desert, a foreboding place. Along the way he encounters a teacher who instructs him in skills he needs to successfully achieve a goal that is now revealed to him.
“The protagonist is challenged to his limit by a series of terrifying and demanding trials before finally reaching and overcoming one final ordeal. Through these struggles he experiences a euphoric transfiguration and is forever changed. Unencumbered by personal limitations, he discovers new powers and purpose. He then sets off to re-enter his normal world.
“His last task, Campbell says, is to share his discoveries, which promise a boon to his society that will somehow restore its vibrancy. He encounters many who are incapable of comprehending. Finally someone hears the message and arises as the next adventurer” (Snyder 203-204).
For those racers and their support crews, perhaps RAAM is their teacher throughout this spiritual journey. They’re all adults, most of whom are working class, and they’re taking to the road to expand their lives. For the rest of us, the outdoors and the bike trails are our teachers and inspiration. My 80 mile ride was my teacher and the other riders were my inspiration. For us, the roads are our sanctuary as we test our own limits and expand our capacities. As we return home to our lifestyles glued together by a string of “to dos”, we achieve a better balance as we walk forward. We push each other to be better than before.