“There will always be another hill. The important thing is to never stop climbing.”
Cycling Great Lakes of Ontario: Day 11
June 25th’s ride from Manitoulin Island to Espanola, Ontario was one for the ages. If you want a hill workout on a bike, look no further.
This route up highway 6 north is unforgiving. As soon as you think, well this incline is going to be fun, you soon realize that the incline you were kind of complaining about actually kind of was fun compared to what the rest of the route has in store for you. Steep hills among steep hills.
And it’s not just the volume of hills, but it’s the difficulty. There are moments where I can almost be certain that drivers and passengers passing me by are looking at me thinking, “that poor SOB”, because that’s exactly what I would be thinking if I saw a face in pure struggle, sweat dripping down the cheek, butt fully erect from the bike seat, watching one pedal slowly go down, while the other one takes its time to come around.
As I passed the Historic Little Current Swing Bridge located at the community of Little Current in the town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands about 45 km out from Espanola, the hills really became serious game and way more frequent. Oh how perspective will get us every time.
But nothing compared to the final 15-20 km. Most of these hill’s going up required a 90 second full blast power struggle, with about 45 seconds downhill or at the very least a comfortable pace. This is the realest sort of HIIT training imaginable; 2:1 work to rest ratio at FULL POWER, but with unforgiving hills in 25 degree temperature after 5 hours and over 90 km of biking. C’mon man. – don’t get me wrong, the sun helped with the tan, so it wasn’t all bad.
There even came a point where my bike and legs simply couldn’t combat 1 specific hill. This hill was monstrous! It was winding on a steady steep incline for at least 1.5 km, just past the town of Whitefish. My legs and pedals were moving so slow that I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d tip over if I didn’t remove myself from the clips. Thankfully, in what I could tell was going to be my final rep, I was able to un-clip my right foot. This was key as my left leg couldn’t turn the pedal over and with that I literally stalled, as I was left starring up the hill.
My legs were jacked up!!
In the 13 days cycling across Ontario this was the first time my legs and pedals simply refused to turn over. I made a strict promise with myself that if there was a hill to be climbed and my legs could turn the pedals over, I would cycle it. This was the first time I had officially lost the battle.
But hell, it’s a massive winding hill up the mountains; nothing to be ashamed of. And with that I did the next best thing. I hopped off my bike and walked it 10 minutes up and around the bend, jumping back on as soon as it was safe and practical to do so.
But this wasn’t the main event or anything. Sure it was the hardest, nastiest individual hill I would face, but it by no means was the last. Hill after hill, the sun kept beating down, and the legs kept on battling whatever the roads threw at them.
I eventually surrendered to the idea that these hills are just going to keep coming, and it was something I would have to push through. And with that, the experience quickly became a metaphor for how life plays out for us.
The bigger the journey, the more “hills” you are going to have to climb, and the greater the intensity, volume and discomfort you will have to endure.
Here I was cycling Ontario, an entire province, so it was almost poetic justice with 3 days to go before completing the end to end trip, that the hills would be this intense and unforgiving. It was as if it were a rite of passage. Who knows what the final two days have in store?
But I realized that we deal with “hills” constantly in life. And the greater the goal, the more hills we are going to have to face.
A lot of us can get past the slight inclines in life, those small moments where some grit needs to be invested and a little bit of determination must be applied. But it’s the constant “hills” day-after-day or overwhelming gigantic hill that wears most people down. The hills beat us up so consistently that eventually, rather than persisting at an extremely slow yet continuous climb, we lose our vision and turn around. When the hills become too frequent or too daunting they defeat the logical side of our brain and scream at our emotional side to stop the pain. And with that we lose ALL the great work and time we invested previously.
But here’s the thing, hills aren’t always meant to be climbed with power, ferociousness and will power. Sometimes you will have to “get off your bike” and walk it up just to keep moving forward. You’ll have to literally get stalled where you stand in order for you to re-invent how you can get up the hill most efficiently. This is where success truly lies. It’s the people who can keep going forward, vision still intact, regardless of how daunting the “hill” looks, who prosper much more often; it’s those who can navigate their way up the hill most intelligently that keep the fire burning. This is how you stay consistent and eventually reach the top of the hill. Because if you stop now, there’s very little to no chance you’re going to be willing to start the journey all over from scratch.
And ironically when we push through, eventually you will get to the point where the hills become less frequent and less taxing on the mind and body, due to the fact you’ve experienced and defeated them at a high level previously. The hills may even turn around in your favor and give you the easiest ride of your life for a little while, which happened to me quite often on this day: The more hills I went up, the more hills I was able to glide down, barely even having to pedal.
The moral: The more you persist, the greater the reward on the other side; and eventually, the easier the hills become to navigate past.
The really cool part is that now that I’ve battled through so many days that suck and made me push past countless hills, that eventually I’ll have a whole bunch of days of “smooth rides” coming my way. And with that, I’ll appreciate and overcome them more efficiently.
This is why you never stop climbing.
These once “unconquerable”, devastating “hills/challenges” now become a story you tell yourself to keep you on path.