I don’t know how we ever got it into our heads that voluntary suffering signifies dozens of qualities we look up to in society. In fact, we market suffering heavily as a means of embodying those qualities without actually having to do much other than hurt ourselves without dying.
I would like to consider myself a bit of an expert in this arena, especially since I just spent my weekend riding the 24 Hour Round the Clock Relay. By myself. Because apparently my friends are all much smarter than I am.
So I rode a bike for 24 hours as my pit crew cheered me on and heralded things like my “courage” and “toughness” and “determination” and “willpower,” while the only thing in my head was “stupidity.”
On the bike I had a lot of time to consider what had brought me there to the suffering place and what the purpose of all this suffering was.
Historically, it appears that most suffering actually had a purpose. People suffered to get somewhere, win a war, survive great challenges or acquire great fortune.
The 24 Hour Round the Clock shirts are pretty rad, but I bet if I just waited a year or so I could find one at a thrift store without even having to ride my bike.
This made it blatantly clear that the modern American woman is lacking in the sort of character building experiences that previously shaped humanity, so we find certifiably crazy things to do that emulate those and sign our names on the dotted line.
Then, we train for the suffering. I used to think training minimized suffering but I now realize it only raises your threshold. You still suffer – you just accept that it takes more to actually suffer to death. And in 24 hours, you sometimes wish for that.
I wondered what my prize would be for all the suffering. Would I become village leader? Would I find my spirit animal? Achieve enlightenment? At 3 a.m. I was grasping for reasons to keep pedaling and they were getting harder to come by.
I came to the conclusion that the prize was the end of the suffering. It was the moment that I could get off my bike and stretch out my legs. It was the 12-hour nap I was going to take – and the incredible amount of cake I was going to eat.
It is in our nature somehow that we drive ourselves to these things. Some of you (arguably more intelligent people) are driven to more reasonable means of self-acknowledgment. You probably volunteer at the soup kitchen or some such commendable thing. I blame some of my viking heritage for the reality that most of my personal growth needs must be met by driving my body to its ability and beyond.
Just before dawn I nearly ran over a pygmy owl on the trail. I gave him fair warning with a bell ding and he launched into flight just as my tire came by.
If owls are symbolic of wisdom and this was to be my vision quest experience, it came as no surprise to me that I would receive only a very small owl.
Shortly thereafter, I realized that migration might also appeal to those deeply rooted human needs. Then I promised myself that next year I would bike tour instead, at a leisurely rate, probably through wine country, visiting a string of B&Bs.
The tiny owl had served its purpose.
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