I did not mean to ride 100 miles alone. I didn’t even mean to ride 100 miles.
In fact, just the week before, I had clearly stated to my friend, “I am not riding 100 miles with you.” Which was true, because I trailed far behind for most of them.
History and evidence would suggest that the most reliable way to determine my future is ask me what I would never, ever do. Chances are, I’ll be signed up and ready with snacks before dawn.
In all my years of suffering, I have not truly understood what the suffer provides, but in the days leading up to the bike-ride-I-was-not-going-on, some need for suffering occurred.
Some of you must understand: There is a kind of clarity that comes when we submit ourselves to whatever lies beyond our known limits. Why we aren’t enlightened yet, I do not know. It is my belief that people who have done couch-to-5K programs, marathons and the god-forsaken Ironman should all be monks of sorts. Only the latter comes with the branding tattoo, though.
I come from a “family of origin” that is about a functional as an overhydrated Flint football team. We all seem to do fine enough in society, but you throw us in the same holiday party or campground and one starts to feel like they’re an object in a Dali painting. Reality is distorted, history rewritten, and no one said what they just said.
I was just shaking off the lingering haze of such an excursion when a friend asked me to bike so far. I was confused about who I was and thus confused about what I needed, so I first rejected then accepted the idea.
There are many such people out there – the ones who are told they are not who they are, but rather the filtered versions assigned to them by the white sheep. If you are a black sheep, you know this existence.
Things that make black sheep: boundaries, not drinking alcohol, drinking alcohol, therapy, fidelity to fact, talking about the bad things. And feelings.
One hundred miles of just about anything will remind a person who they are, will ground them in their visceral body and transcend them beyond perception to their most basic, banal existence. By mile 60, I tend to just want to end existence entirely anyway, but it appears I am lacking godlike powers. Don’t think I haven’t tried. I saw it in an “Avengers” movie – seemed worth a shot.
In my case, I abbreviated the onset of misery significantly by not training. Not preparing for a hard thing makes the hard thing a lot harder a lot earlier. More bang for your buck. That’s what I told myself when I perched on my bike seat at 6:30 a.m. on a sunny Saturday on the shores of Skaha Lake in British Columbia. Tight hamstrings and a tender rear end told me I’d be finding clarity by about the first turn.
I was not wrong. Before we rounded the lake and started our way through wine country, it was clear that I should not have embarked on this mission. For it was a loop and there were no short cuts unless I got enlightened enough to hitchhike. Empty pickup trucks started looking sexy well before noon.
Canada is a beautiful place. It has all the wide-open glory and green of the U.S. with a tiny flare of European style and the pleasantness of a nation founded on Midwest generosity. Their road shoulders were wide and their drivers gave us plenty of space. And whoever invented the Ambrosia Apple Juice Slushy should be Canadian royalty like Neil Young and maple syrup.
Even with all that beauty and kindness on the horizon, every mile provided such remarkable discomfort, I became curious about why we do these things and what we learn from anticipated, even planned pain. It’s not like we get out there and are surprised by the fact that our knees are screaming and our thighs cramping. We intended for this to happen.
Around mile 70, as temperatures threatened triple digits, far from the comfort of apple juice, I realized these solitary experiences are a touchstone to forming a reality of my own. This experience was indisputable (also because I log every bit of GPS data for the same reason). These truths could not be taken from me. No one could tell me it did not hurt. And if they did, I would know they were wrong.
I grew up in a home where I was told it did not hurt. The same people still tell me that if it hurts, it is my fault, my perception, my issues.
Running 50 miles, riding 100, trying to hold a plank for more than 30 seconds: There is a palpable difference between self-inflicted suffering and the pain for which others refuse to be accountable. I think this is why ultrarunning and tattoos exist. We need to feel the difference. Our truth lies in knowing that difference.
It isn’t until mile 90 that I choked back tears. They were tears of overwhelm but also of relief. One day, we realize we don’t have to do any of it anymore. We can ride our bikes for fun. We can skip the family reunions.
If it takes 100 miles of solitude to learn we don’t need others to accept our experience for it to be real, it is a small price to pay for freedom. And should one need a reminder, they are abundant in nature, long walks and good friends.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at email@example.com
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