Living my life this past year, I’ve learned one thing: The only thing I can control is my willingness to push through mental discomfort and go further than I feel like going sometimes. Feeling the need for this, I set out to ride to the base of 4-Peaks from my house giving me 56 miles under cooling skies with 5200ft of climbing. This trip paid dividends in sights unexpected, surprising sounds and experiences which leave me dreaming of more.
As I clawed up a ridge today, straining to find momentum in the face of a stiff head-wind, buffeted by chunk and bogged down by sand; I fought off the mind games that made me want to rest. Just then, off to my left, a Harris hawk appeared; hovering as if still. Riding the wind which was pushed up the side of the cactus choked ridge off my left shoulder, the hawk was moving forward at an almost identical pace as I. I thought to reach out to it, for it could not have been more than 20 yards away from me at the time. It did this for what seemed like forever, but must have been no more than 10 or so seconds, before it zoomed up and over me…never to be seen again, except in my mind. I no longer cared about the wind holding me back. The ridgeline with its rough and loose surface no longer concerned me. I just rode on.
Later in the day, I saw a snake warming itself in the sun; a sun that had been baking me and drawing my strength with every drop of sweat from my forehead. The same wind that I’d been fighting earlier in the day brought with it a cool down, leaving this snake betrayed by the promise of a sunny day like the days before. I stopped my bike, and looked at it; me perfectly still, it also, perfectly still. Then realizing how beautiful it was, I decided to move on lest I spook it. I’m not sure why I thought that…but as I rode away, I peered over my shoulder and there it still lay…trying to take in as much sun before the impending cold front. For the first time on this ride, I reveled in the cooling temperatures which had previously baked me during the climb and had sapped my strength.
Grinding away on a particularly sandy and hummocky section even later, I once again was fighting the lack of momentum; playing a balance between high RPM spinning, and pumping through the bumps to maintain any speed left. A black and blue butterfly appeared in front of me, startled off its perch within a Palo Verde tree along the side of the path. It fluttered in front of me much like a balloon, low on helium and in the path of a semi-tractor trailer on the highway. As I passed it, it fluttered over me and out of my existence. The thought of its silent beauty removed me from my struggle and centered me in the present….churning away, pondering beauty…hopeful for another distraction, but thankful for the ones I’d already received.
Towards the end of my ride, when low on fuel and close to home; I came across an individual who recognized me from a recent post online. He remarked, “I’m out here looking for your tequila tree”; as he pointed at me with a devilish grin. Laughing, we introduced ourselves and I told him he was on the right track and I wished him luck. Prior to running into this individual…I had been ruminating on my poor fuel choices for this 55-mile ride. This mental anguish sapped my strength and had me grumpy on a few climbs; for I knew I could have done better with my food preparation for the day. I had needed food for the past hour or so, and although I was almost home; I was just suffering through it at this point. My pause to stop and share in the excitement of my ride and the stoke of his adventure left me fueled to the brim. The remaining ride was spent in the joy of a quiet mind; the sound of gravel beneath my tires, the wind in my ears and the cooling breeze around me.
Being present for the now is not always easy, especially when things get tough. Yet it’s at these moments that we need it the most. The difference between knowing that you’re not in control and truly feeling it is huge; but so is the difference between accepting it at face value and fighting the wind.