The Joy of Suffering

I was trying to explain why I like cycling to someone awhile back.  It’s hard to explain to a sedentary person just how awesome it is to go out and completely gut yourself on a bike.  Yeah gutted, thats a term we use, it has two meanings, to remove the intestines and internal organs before being cooked, or to feel very upset and disappointed.  In cycling lingo gutted is closer to the first definition.  It means to ride so hard that you have nothing left, you can hardly get off your bike, you’re dead, cooked, stick a fork in you, you’re done.


When I think about it, we use lots of terms that may lead people to think that cycling is more about a group torture session then having fun.  We bonk, get road rash, endo, go on death rides, death marches, we kill it, drop the hammer, we suffer, have a sufferfest, get used and abused, and sometimes we auger in, that’s when you crash and get driven into the ground.

So what makes it so great?  I was on a veteran’s day mountain bike ride last week that makes for a great example.  Give me a minute to walk you through it.  Seven of us started the ride, all good riders, and everyone looking for a good full ride since we started early.  We kept things very civilized through the first part of the ride.  Eventually we came to the “Coon” a 2.82 mile trail that mostly climbs up to the road that would be our turn around point.  Eli took the lead on this climb and kept the pace very manageable, but as we got closer to the top he would slowly turn it up a notch, then another.  I was sucking wind and just trying to hold on and felt a great relief when we finally got to the top.


I decided to get a little revenge on the way down.  I’m not really that brave of a rider, but I pretty much let it all hang out on the way down.  I managed not to do anything too stupid and kept the bike upright.   While the climb was a steady state grind the descent was a series of all out sprints followed by hanging my rear way off the back of the bike and hoping I could get slowed down enough for the next turn.  I knew everyone was behind me trying catch up and I didn’t want it to be easy.  At the bottom I was sucking wind and bushed.  Tom explained what is so great about riding like that.  He said that when your riding trail at those speeds every bit of your concentration is focused on riding, there is no time to worry or think about anything but the next few yards of trail.


On the way back we detoured to do a little exploring and look for some new trails, we rode old school trails that are slow and technical.  Eventually we came to a natural spring that was really cool.  The water gushed out of a a hollowed out tree root.  Of course I had to try some of the water.  The sulfer content was very high so the water had that delicious rotten egg taste and I immediately spit it out.


We continued on and I began to pay the price for my earlier hard efforts.  The ride was going a bit longer then I had planned and I was getting low on calories.  I could tell this because I was beginning to get light headed.  I found myself dangling off the back of the group.  When your blood sugar gets low on a ride it’s called a bonk.  A full on bonk can come on real fast and take all the wind out of your sails.  An extreme bonk can leave you nearly delireous.  Fortunately this was just the early warning signs, I was feeling weak, tired, and just a bit lightheaded, but I could remember my name.  I stopped and ate my remaining gummy bears.

The next couple of miles were a blur, I was teetering on a bonk but  I felt the delicious high fructose corn syrup in the gummy bears creep into my system and soon energy levels were back up, and just in time too.  Our final climb of the day was a quarter mile up a rough fire road.  I was near the back but feeling great.  I got out of the saddle and launched the bike up the climb.  Tom was in the lead and had been riding strong all day, it wasn’t really a race, but you know.  I passed a few guys and came up on Tom fast.  He glanced back and saw me then kicked it down.  I drew up beside him and saw we were almost out of hill. I was giving everything I had to the bike but I couldn’t pass him.



The quarter mile gravel road to the parking lot was the longest quarter mile of the ride.  I slumped over the bars, barely able to keep the bike moving.  Joe asked if he needed to come pick me up, even though the truck was now in view.  In the parking lot I slid off my bike and crumpled to the ground in a state of both complete exhaustion and euphoria.  Why would anyone drink or take drugs when you can feel this good for free?  I remembered to thank Joe for his military service in South Asia.

About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
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