Unlike Haegan, I’m very new to cycling. That being said, it’s kind of crazy I agreed to do this trip mostly by bike. It’s only after riding more regularly that I have realized this. I used to have blind confidence that I could a bike through Europe for 5 months with 20 pounds of stuff attached to my bike. My confidence is no longer so blind, and although it has been a challenge, I am starting to see myself getting stronger and more comfortable on the bike.
Starting in October I’ve been following a training schedule that Haegan came up with for me. It’s taken me a little bit to get used to riding every day, but I’ve adjusted to it and am really starting to enjoy it. We kicked off my training by spending a week in Tennessee riding every day. Riding in Tennessee was great because the roads are long and open and much more scenic than Atlanta, a nice change. I hit some of my highest and lowest points on the bike during that week. At times I felt so exhausted I didn’t think I would finish the ride. At other times I was so elated I couldn’t stop laughing. My biggest accomplishment though was riding 63 miles in one day. I have never felt less human than I did after that ride, but it was inspiring to realize that I can ride that far, and that it will only get easier. The week in Tennessee made the trip feel real. I now have a sense of what I’m working towards, and that is perhaps the biggest motivator.
While in Tennessee I discovered that while being able to ride long distances is important, it is equally important to be comfortable and confident on my bike. I also discovered that of the two, I struggle more with the latter. A few weeks before we went to Tennessee we had gone on a trail ride the morning after it had rained. I slipped and fell three times, each time becoming less confident in my ability to handle my bike. It wasn’t until Haegan set up a mini cross course that I realized how scared of my bike I’d become. Going down small hills and seeing inconsistencies in the ground caused me to panic. I knew I had nothing to fear, I’d fallen in the grass plenty of times. I was still convinced that any loss of balance would cause my bike to hurl me into the ground. Eventually, I got it. Haegan helped me rediscover my ability to put my foot on the ground, an act that magically stopped me from falling. He also showed me that if I lost my balance for a second, I could easily shift my weight to regain control. This all may sound silly, but in my panic I had forgotten the simple stuff. At the end of that day, I rode the cross course for 30 minutes, each lap faster than the last, and on my last lap I finally conquered the narrow, steep hill I had been running up before. I couldn’t stop smiling after that, especially thinking of how the day had started. I found my confidence again, and although riding off road still intimidates me, I have a better sense of the control I have.
It’s been about a month since the Tennessee trip, and training has been good. At times difficult to start, and sometimes it’s just boring. Sometimes though, I can really tell it has paid off. Last Friday, Haegan and I rode 47 miles. The last 10 or so miles were cold with light rain, weather we were not dressed for. I didn’t feel exhausted, I had enough energy to go longer, and it was my fastest ride to date. This was a huge accomplishment for me. The first time I rode 45 miles I could barely move by the end. Everything hurt and I rode only fast enough to keep balanced. During the training week in Tennessee I rode 45 miles for the second time, and although it was better than the first, I definitely hit the wall a few times. So last Friday, I finally started feeling like I was really making progress, like biking 45 miles three days in a row won’t kill me. That’s a pretty good feeling. That ride also allowed me to admit that the previous 45 mile rides were hard, painful, and not all that fun. In an effort to keep myself motivated, I didn’t want to think negatively at the time. This is not all to say that I’ve reached my goal, but that it’s starting to get easier and whole lot more fun.
So, on my ride today, I was thinking about what I’ve learned in my not so literally fast paced three months of riding. There are a lot, but here are a few:
Going on rides without food is always a bad idea. I like hills alright, but I hate wind. Yelling is fun and helps pushing through a tough bit. Singing out loud (and loudly) while riding is surprisingly difficult and so satisfying.
I think the most important thing I’ve learned so far though is that progress is slow. I’m not a patient person by nature, which is probably why I’ve never been very successful at any other sports until cycling. Having someone to ride with is more helpful than any equipment or weather or route. I probably wouldn’t have starting riding without Haegan, at least not this early, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten this far without him. Sometimes I just need someone to tell me that I am in fact making progress, or someone to tell how miserable I am, or how fantastic I feel. Most all it’s nice to have company. With someone to talk to, the hard parts are easier and the easy parts are more fun.
Note from Haegan:
I know that going from hardly riding a bike to touring across Europe in less than a year sounds like a lot, but Autumn’s going to have no problems. She’s made so much progress in just the past 3 months that I have no doubts that she’ll be ready to go come March. For me, it’s awesome to be able to share something that I enjoy doing so much with someone who I enjoy being around so much. It’s pretty ideal. Since I won’t be racing next year and don’t have the structured training that I’ve been so used to for the past 3 years. Instead of doing workouts, I’m planning them, but seeing the progress Autumn is making is almost as rewarding as making it myself. It’s cool to watch someone go through basically the same process I went through when I started riding and it’s amazing to see, from the outside, how quickly the “slow progress” really happens. I’m excited to have someone to ride with me all winter and I can tell that Autumn will be ready in no time.