But not yesterday, as I followed my friend into the forest trails in Yorkshire. We were steadily going uphill. He on the biggest cog. Me, trying to keep up, vacillating between the three, always ending up on 1st each time the heat started to burn at my thighs, which was pretty often.
It seemed an eternity going uphill (mmm, closer to 15 minutes) when I started to think that consenting to this bike ride was a bad idea. I should have stayed indoors. Where it was warm, where I would be sitting, legs happily static. And did I really agree to going off-road into the forest on a road bicycle? What in the world was I thinking!
At some point--as I was huffing and puffing quite undignified-like--I thought, I can still turn back. It was one long stretch back to my friend's house. I was sure I could easily find my way. But this would require some serious pedal power to actually overtake my friend whose legs appeared--at least from my vantage point, with dust and distance between us--to be made of steal. So, instead, I followed on.
Off the road, up we went into the woods, which was, at the super slow motion speed that I was going, sublimely serene. I was struck with this external peacefulness, which felt wild and foreign but also very calm, mostly because it was a stark contrast with what felt like a raging battle within.
My heart was thumping wildly, each beat reverberating in my head. Each sharp slope upwards seemed to push me to some unknown limit. The struggle up the hill seemed to have given rise to loud, mutinous demons within. My demons. Old nemeses. Old so-called friends, pulling me down from all sorts of heights. "What was I doing?" they shouted in my inner-ear. "What was I trying to prove?" "I'm so obviously not good enough."
At some point, it got so bad I had to stop, pull-over, and have a good whimper. By then, I was in the middle of nowhere, my friend's dust had ceased to be visible. It was already late in the afternoon. And it was not a good time to have a total emotional breakdown.
So I inhaled and exhaled and pedaled. Albeit slowly, up the mountain. My friend came back down to meet me, by then quite close to the top. And we made our descent together. From there it was downhill. Also not smooth, on such rocky terrain, but downhill nonetheless. In fact, the entire way back--the same road we came up--was downhill, which made me realize that the entire first half was an uphill battle.
Life is a journey. There are ups and there are downs. The heights we have to sometimes climb seem insurmountable, impossible even. We are challenged. We are often pulled down by these challenges. But if we keep on, we find that it does get easier.
My body, heart, mind moaned and groaned up the forest trail. There was a riot in my head. And yet, slowly, inch by painful inch, I did manage. Though most of the pain, I realize now, was in my head. I got to the top of that blasted--and stunningly beautiful-- mountain. And the freedom of the descent, the exhilaration that came as I sped swiftly down the rocky pathway quieted the din of internal doubts and demons.
It was just me, the bike, and the winding road down.
And, actually, I am looking forward to going back. It won't be much easier, but at least I know I can do it. I can manage the tough ascent. And I'll enjoy the ride, the entire ride, both the up as well as the down.