Sounds cute and innocent enough…a 20-mile “fun ride” through central Georgia. Part of the State Banana Pudding Festival. Pudding at all the rest stops! A pudding tasting at the festival! Banana carving! What’s not to love?
There was a 20 mile and a 40 mile option. People asked me what I was doing…funny. Even 20 miles would be about 7 miles longer than I had ever biked. There were maybe 20 of us, total. 5 doing 40 miles, 15 doing 20. Some chit chat at the start line…quite a few of us were new to this event, but nearly all had much nicer gear and bikes than I did. Several wore fancy kits advertising their distance races. Most were also my age or older. Friendly. After all, we weren’t competing.
Straight out of the gate there was a huge downhill. I thought to myself, we are going to pay for this with some big ups.
How right I was! What followed was mile after mile of mostly huge hills. Every turn had me holding my breath and often shaking my head in disbelief. Another ?!^&@# hill!!!
The 40 milers and some of the more experienced cyclists were long gone as I steady pedaled up the first few hills. A couple of older women who had come together took a number of breaks on the side of the rural roads so I kept in touch with them. Finally at one point I turned around to see several people about 50 yards behind me along with the police safety vehicle that signifies the back of the pack. I’m doing ok, I thought. Just keep moving.
Up and down. Up and down. At one point I just get off the bike and walk it up the last part of the hill. My back and my saddle soreness told me it was fine to take a little break. At one point people pass me and then I hear the sound of the car over my shoulder. It would be over my shoulder for the remainder of the miles. Kind of taunting me. Once in a while tempting me. Others had given up, hoisted their bikes and climbed in. Put themselves out of the slow rolling pain of endless hills. Should I?
I’ll spare you the pain of all the inner doubt and dialogue. I knew I was too stubborn to give up. Yes, every time I would get off the bike to walk some horrible uphill they would pull up next to me to see if I was ok. Always the answer: “yes” with a smile and a thank you. Even with the headwinds of a storm blowing in. Even after an hour and a half with no mile markers and not a bowl of pudding in sight, I kept going.
We did finally get to the pudding stop. There was just one. The rest of the 20 mile group was there, sitting and snacking on pudding and sandwiches and nilla wafers and orange slices. We all pulled out together a few minutes later. I learned we just had about 7 miles to go, with a few more horrible uphills between me and the finish line.
It took forever, it seemed. Me and the sweep truck just puttering along. One hill had me so mad I started hyperventilating. But I had to calm down… “You didn’t come this far to just come this far,” I told myself. “Finish it. Finish it. Finish it.” Counting my pedals from 1-100 just to focus on getting. up, the, hill.
And at long last, I did finish. The finish line was nothing special. In fact, people kept saying “just keep going,” then eventually I was riding into the festival crowd and I turned around. The follower vehicles were gone. No finish line, no bowl of pudding, no cheers or way to gos. I just got off my bike and sat on the ground for a minute. Shaking my head. Shaking all over, really. What just happened? I finished.
This may have been the hardest physical thing I had ever done. I had to work harder than I wanted for longer than I wanted because there was someone just over my shoulder, waiting for me to quit. No stops for photos or scenery. Just a fight through pretty much every single mile.
I am stubborn, that is for sure. I can endure pain and discomfort for as long as I need to. I can keep going. I can sustain. I don’t have to satisfy anyone but myself.
A bucket list activity turned into a one-and-done. A few bites of pudding and many sore muscles and memories. Sometimes the things you look forward to contain tests and challenges you don’t anticipate or imagine. But pushing through them is its own gift. It leaves you with a sense of achievement. And a plan to improve.