Every mountain climb starts and ends with the same thing, a revolution of the cranks, a pedal stroke.
What’s the significance in that?
It is but such a small effort, but it’s not just a lever propelled by a shapely leg to get you over the top, often it’s a lever that’s pushing a big hairy and heavy personal goal.
So often we choose to climb mountains as a goal.
But if the methodology behind starting and finishing the goal is exactly the same, where’s the stretch? With every pedal stroke the completion of the goal is coming ever closer. Thousands of that same movement when strung together in a serial fashion will result in the achievement as long as the road in front is followed.
So why is it that so often we put a mountain in front of ourselves and we start to quiver?
At the bottom of the mountain staring up at the peak we’re inclined to think that it’s a long way to the top, it’s out of reach, it’s quite far, it’s going to hurt, it will require commitment and dedication to the task. There’s only one way to go, and that is up.
Whether the goal is a mountain climb, a fastest time, a new bike, a new car, a garage to put them in, a training camp or a trip with your mates, it’s pretty much the same. Once the momentum is set in motion with that first pedal stroke, you’re well on the way to making the final one.
The starts and ends are easy in comparison to the most challenging parts of a goal: The middle.
The middle is where reaching and stretching fall into a league of their own.
It’s the humdrum of that same movement that begins to tackle us, from the outside and within. With every pedal stroke we might be duped into thinking that it’s getting us nowhere, it’s not making a difference to that fat peak way way in the distance. It sits there, looking back at us, taunting us by its magnitude.
Let the games begin.
The fact is, with every action, progress is being made. It is easy to become fixated on the micro, hoping that the computer display will tell you you’re making swift progress when surely the tens of metres are ticking by at a rate far less than the whopping figure of your cadence or your heart rate is blinking back at you.
But focusing on the macro is no help either. The peak just sits there.
Reaching within we can find help. It is highly likely that when we stared at the beginning of that route up the mountain earlier, it wasn’t the first time on the bike.
There was at least one training ride one would hope. It’s there hiding in previous experience that a level of competence and confidence has been developed. Whether it was one kilometre or a hundred, there’s a mine of resources awaiting your excavator.
Reaching into that kit bag, you’ll know what you previously were capable of, how you did it, what pains taunted you, what successes brought joy and what completion felt like. You know that fatigue didn’t stop you that day but did make you feel pretty woeful. The pain in your thighs told you that this is uncomfortable and you want it to stop. The gap in your belly shouted for sustenance and the beads of toil running down your face asked for more liquids.
The little guy on your shoulder keeps asking: “why am I doing this?”, “what for?”. And saying: “this is ridiculous, I shouldn’t be here, I should have prepared better”, “Do I have enough food?”, “I think I’m going to run out of water soon”. “I think my brakes must be rubbing”, “Did I pump my tyres properly?”. Maybe even “gee my butt’s sore”. “God it’s hot”.
This is where the goal has all but lost its significance, in the dark hole of the middle. It’s also where the chance to stretch is at its highest probability.
These mental gymnastics are the talk that more experience and sufficient preparation help to muffle or even quiet. Over time we can create many instances and pilot tests to reduce the risk of becoming derailed by nothingness.
Each training ride or experience can reduce the error rate. Maybe once the problem was not enough food that induced sugar flat, agitation and very spongy pedal strokes led by a foggy head. From then on, nutrition has the chance to be improved by acknowledging what went awry and taking action to prevent occurrence. Maybe you’ve got to the point of carrying three replacement tubes plus a repair kit, who knows?
It’s about allocating consciousness to reducing the error rate across all the complex domains involved in a bike ride. Equipment, nutrition, hydration, course information and knowledge, navigation, contingency planning for spares, food, bail-out options, emergency details, attire for changing weather conditions, appropriate gearing, you name it, there’s plenty. However, if on each ride prior to this one we tackle one domain consciously and reduce its probability, then when we face that mountain we can reach in and know that we’ve got it covered.
When we talk about stretching for goals or ‘stretch goals’ often the emphasis is on increasing some parameter. Maybe it’s duration, a distance, a dollar figure, and quantity of something or a percentage increase. Whatever the case, the change in parameter indicates a stretch from previously targeted capacities.
Returning to those pesky yet purposeful pedal strokes, whether it’s a mountain 10 kilometres long and up to 1000m altitude or a new one at 20 kilometres and 3000m altitude, that same stroke by stroke methodology is going to be in place.
It is funny though how that additional metric quantity creates a stretch. I’d put forward that the parameter is really only an indicator, a way of labelling the goal as even bigger and hairier than before.
That bigger goal is loaded with purpose though. And I reckon that when we are given or give ourselves these stretch goals that what we’re really asking ourselves is to find a deeper purpose within. We want to immerse in a right of passage, a test of our resilience, a challenge to our assumptions and personal boundaries that we’ve locked in place due to life’s developments.
I’d challenge that each and every one of us has a purpose resident in mind that seeks to be put to use or woken up if dormant. It doesn’t have to be massive, life changing or disruptive to everything that’s gone before, but surely once it is evoked, it will not slumber until it’s provided with its own personal stage.
That mountain peak staring at us is the instigator, but it is in the middle where we test the purpose of what we’re about. If we care to look there’ll be gold hidden in there, much more than that which sits at the top of the climb. How we mine for it, how we tussle with the excavator, what we find to draw on when the numbers don’t appear to be ticking by fast enough or the legs are screaming out to us to stop, that’s the stretch.
And what point would there be in climbing a mountain easily within reach?
It is all too easy to get fixated on what the goal looks like or what the number says, but perhaps that really is immaterial as long as we take that first pedal stroke and get moving, because when we take that final stroke wherever it is, we’ll know that for every bit of the middle, no one else can roll over that line for us.
One does not climb to attain enlightenment; rather one climbs because he is enlightened. – Zen Master Futomaki
My thanks goes out to the gentlemen that welcomed me to the Vic Alps Tour because without them I’d not have conquered another of those many mountains.