For the second year in a row, I took part in the Bike MS Bay to Bay Tour over this past weekend. This bike ride stretches from Irvine to Mission Beach, San Diego over the course of two days. Riders can choose an express 25-mile option on the first day only, a 50-50 ride which splits up the 100 miles over two days, a 75-50 option in which riders do 75 miles on the first day, and a 100-50 option in which riders do 100 miles on the first day. It’s not a race, but there are certainly competitive individuals who take part. And while each option is quite rigorous, riders who go beyond the 50-50 are challenged exponentially more.
Having been on a bike for about 60 miles total since last year’s ride – that’s a few jaunts to and from work and some infrequent rides up and down Alamitos beach – I figured I was in decent enough shape to wing the 75 this year, rather than do the 50-50 as I did last year. I thought, “Hey, I’m a freaking pole artist! My arms are made of steel and my legs can crush diamonds! I’ve got this. MS, FEEL MY WRATH!!!”
Oh, naïve Haley.
I haven’t been looking forward to this, but here’s a confession I didn’t quite crack to my teammates on Saturday night or Sunday morning before our next leg: I didn’t finish the 75 in its entirety. I made it 66 miles on the first day, cried from how much my knees hurt (the 16 miles I rode after the initial 50 were all freaking hills), and hopped into the rescue vehicle with two others to return to the hotel where our “after party” was being held.
I felt defeated. I felt like a failure.
You see, I had barely prepared bike-wise last year as well – and I had barely been working out on top of that – yet I still managed to finish the 50-50 slowly but surely. Having had so much difficulty this year, despite being in-shape in other ways, was a gargantuan blow to my ego. Thoughts that ran through my head as I limped into the vehicle ranged from “Did I develop a case of osteoporosis since last year? I must have, otherwise this wouldn’t have happened.” to “I NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL AND GET MY BUTT CUT OFF AND BOTH KNEES REPLACED NOW!!!” For the reminder of the trip, I quietly omitted my “just short of a finish” from teammates and other riders. I did immediately tell my parents, boyfriend, and a few friends who weren’t there what happened, but I still felt bad that my immediate surroundings were shrouded in my quietude on the matter.
As for now, do I feel crappy? Yes – a lot crappier than I did when I thought I blew out my knees, which says a lot. I’m usually an extremely honest, self-deprecating person who makes fun of herself even when it’s unwarranted, so this was an unusual behavior pattern for me. The good news is that despite my inner plead to have half my body amputated, I actually *was* able to finish the 50 additional miles the next day – without getting picked up by a Honda minivan. Yay!
But this wasn’t the only takeaway I got from this ride. During the many miles I rode, I obviously had a ton of time to think about life and other quandaries. After all, I always ride solo (introvert prefz, yo) and headphones were strictly forbidden on the ride, so what else was I going to do?
While on the ride, I thought about my parents. I thought about how much I loved them. Do I see them enough? I’m glad I live in California right now. My parents need to know that I am always here for them. Do they know that?
And my siblings. Do I tell them I love them enough? We are the kind of siblings who infrequently talk when we’re apart but are as thick as thieves when we’re together. Sometimes I think all of my siblings are too cool for me. Maybe that’s why I don’t reach out as much. I’m 25 – isn’t that line of thinking really stupid? Am I stupid?
I started thinking about what would happened if I were more confident in middle school and didn’t send myself into such a downward spiral throughout high school. Then I stopped. “No thinking about the past allowed”. Oh, wait, that’s like telling the Ninja Turtles “no thinking about how much you love pizza and crimefighting”. Sigh. But I did stop for a second.
I only stopped to think about my friends. I take my friendships seriously, but like with my family, I don’t reach out to my friends as much as I should. Lingering social anxiety problems I suppose. An excuse? No. An explanation? Yes.
I miss my boyfriend, I thought. Because he’d tell off that crazy homeless guy who yelled at me for nothing as I rode alone on the street. Then we’d make fun of each other’s pizza choices at dinner later that night. And draw Batman pictures together.
Speaking of Batman, how does everything I do affect the environment? Oh, wait, that has nothing to do with Batman. But kind of speaking of Batman: am I part of an oppressive system? Am I the oppressor? What types of privilege do I have? Do I abuse those privileges?
What about the state of education in this country, including elementary, secondary, and post-secondary? How on earth do we fix the broken system? How do we align ourselves with other nations whose systems are far superior to ours? In what direction is this country headed?
What’s going to happen during the presidential election? If I vote for the candidate I want to win, does it even matter? He’s awesome, but he’s being beaten in the polls by crazy douchebags. Why are there so many scary people in the race?
Why are there so many scary people in life in general? Lots of people are afraid of things like spiders and snakes. Or bears. Or heights. Or the ocean. These things aren’t really that scary, though. Inanimate objects have absolutely zero agenda against anyone. Animals only do if they are truly threatened. Humans are the biggest fear to be feared. Humans are crazy.
Speaking of, am I crazy? Sometimes I imagine that I’m in a world where everyone is trying to create a false reality for me. Not like the Matrix or anything like that, but maybe people see me as this wilting, unconfident, failed writer and they want to cradle me into a mediocre life medicated from passion. I want so badly to succeed in the things that I want to succeed in, but I can’t quite seem to get it right. Yet everyone tries to bring me up and still says I’ve done x or y. That I’ve done a good job. That I’ll be successful. What’s the real story?
Here’s an idea – it’s impossible to know the story. The past doesn’t always dictate the future. They could be right. They could be wrong. What percentage of the future is within my control versus out of it, though? I have no idea.
Now my knees hurt. But is the pain my own construct or is my body truly not having this? How is my pain tolerance compared to other peoples’ pain tolerances? Can I truly call myself an athlete if this is so hard?
I even came up with a name for a daughter if I eventually decide to give into the perils of child-rearing (in which case I would (a) adopt and (b) be at least 35 years old). But I forgot it. COME ON.
You might be wondering why I expended over 1,300 words on my own personal thoughts up until now. I know, I know. Booooooring.
I suppose I have a few other aims with this post, if you’ll hear me out.
First, I want to encourage you to do something difficult, even if you think you’re going to fail. Even if it’s something you don’t normally do or aren’t good at. Just do it. If you fail, guess what – you tried and failed. And that’s way aswesomer that not trying and failing.
Second, I want to encourage you to tell the truth, even if it’s embarrassing. You are much more real and likeable if you’re able to admit the not-so-flattering things about yourself. People who don’t like you in light of your truth aren’t worth your time anyways. They are, as my little brother would say, “dumb and stupid”. Profound and true.
Third, I want to encourage you to consciously spend time thinking. Even if you’re just sitting on your couch alone and in silence. Think. You may be able to approach yourself in a way you couldn’t before. You may have a breakthrough. You may come up with an awesome idea. You’ll be able to get all of your worries out of your system instead of filing them away.
I do this ride because in addition to raising money and awareness for an incredible cause (MS research), I get a whole lot out of it personally, too. It’s a ride that attracts so many wonderful, helpful, inspiring people who are fascinating to talk to when you get a chance. And when you’re alone on the ride, you get to pass through beauty that you didn’t even know existed. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done, and I’ll keep coming back every year.
So, I suppose a fourth aim with this post would be to get you to come do the MS ride with me next year if you get a chance. I can personally guarantee that you’ll have a great time and get a ton out of it. I will buy you a bike if you don’t. Serious.
Just don’t forget your Advil and maybe some knee braces. Perhaps some butt pads, too, if you’re interested in that extra layer of protection. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
To 150 miles and beyond next year! (Okay, not beyond, please – I actually don’t want to get my knees replaced.)