Halfway through the same thirty-two mile bike route I’d ridden the week before, I headed up one of the same hills on Cowley One, a couple of miles south of Rose Valley Cemetery. As I stood up to put a little extra power into my pedaling, I noticed a sudden tweaking in my thighs. “What?!” I exclaimed to myself, “I’m barely halfway through this ride! How can my thighs already be cramping?!”
I sat back down quickly and down-shifted to an easier gear. “What is going on today?”
Several miles earlier I’d been surprised at how much more effort the ride was taking and then realized the wind was stronger than I’d anticipated. Determined to take the route I’d planned, I’d ridden directly into the wind for another seven miles. But now I was not riding into the wind. Why in the world would my legs be cramping with another fifteen miles left to ride?
And then I remembered: I’d adjusted my bicycle seat before starting out on this ride. I knew to never do that before a long ride. Make the adjustment and take a couple of shorter rides to let your body adjust. I knew not to do it but I had done it anyway. Sounds like a gravestone epitaph, doesn’t it?
I’d raised it up no more than three-eighths of an inch and adjusted the distance from the front of the seat to the handlebars. Very small adjustment. But it had changed the angles, put the rotations of my feet, ankles, legs and knees into different relations. Even though my muscles were very used to the motions, they were not used to these positions. And they made me very, very aware of that.
I was already sore but after a few more miles and a few more hills, I was hurting. I thought about calling Randa and asking her to come pick me up. But I was determined to finish the ride I had started.
Like a few other times in my life, that determination came with a price tag. By the time I topped the last big hill on Highway 166 heading west toward Ark City, my thighs and lower back were killing me. By the time I crested the railroad overpass on Kansas Avenue, it was about all I could do to pedal at the pace of cultural change in a remote village. Half a mile left with only a slight uphill slope.
Finally home, I leaned my bike against the doorframe of the garage and walked into the house. I could not move without pain, could not stand up straight. And knew, like the last line of one of Jimmy Buffet’s most famous songs, it was my own damn fault.
It’s sometimes a thin line between the vice of stubbornness and the virtue of persistence. Mostly it’s a matter of perspective: do we agree with the purpose or not? Even when others may think we’re being really stupid, there is value in making ourselves stay with something long after it’s not easy. Each time we push our way against the wind and up the hill we increase our stamina and increase our confidence. Doing something worthwhile after it’s not fun anymore is a very useful life skill.
Eventually we have to ask ourselves, “Is it worth it?” Every other opinion in the world will not matter. The key is knowing whether we’re sticking with something that really matters. Or just being stubborn.
In either case, though, a good long soak in a tub of warm water can do miracles.