It’s sort of funny when I think about it.
I’ve done this before, last year, when I rode my bike across the entire state of Kansas. But still there is doubt, the voice inside that says: “It can’t be done, at least not by someone like you.”
“I’ve done this before, I can do it again,” I fight back in my mind. But doubt doesn’t loosen its grip quite so easily. Sure, I did it last year. Maybe that was a fluke. Maybe the weather won’t be as kind. There will be more hills. And this year hasn’t been the easiest, or one that has provided much opportunity for training. There was a shoulder surgery in November that required months of rehabilitation before I could even think of getting back on a bike. By the time I could, my motivation was hard to find. Then the month of May struck – and with it near constant allergies and a particularly nasty illness that left me worthless for the better part of 2 weeks.
And to be quite honest, my head hasn’t been in it. I’ve been churning pieces of my life around in my skull, dwelling on the past, on those decisions that set a different course and that have forced me to if not embrace, at least accept, change. Those things that bring your weaknesses and failures to the fore and make your successes seem like fleeting, or even just lucky, events that aren’t really central to who you are.
But at this point, none of that matters. On Friday morning, I will load my gear and my bike and I will head out to Saint Francis, Kansas, which sits near the Kansas/Colorado border. From there I’ll traverse the state – nearly 500 miles – to the Missouri border town of Elwood. Along the way, I’ll stop – along with the nearly 1,000 other riders, volunteers and staff – in Oberlin, Phillipsburg, Mankato, Belleville, Marysville, Sabetha, and Troy. I’ve been told to expect a lot of hills, for which I’ve done embarrassingly little training.
Last year I had no idea what to expect. I was determined to achieve a dream I had held since childhood. Yet I was certain that I’d arrive at the first town – Johnson City – where I’d quickly be ignored and ostracized by much more experienced riders. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I made new friends – friends who listened to my sad and sappy stories. Friends who gave me advice on how to better manage a long day of cycling. Friends who encouraged me to go ahead and ride 100 miles in a day, so I could get my Century patch – friends who did the ride with me and celebrated the achievement. I found people who, despite my internal dialogue, accepted me and enjoyed my company. And I enjoyed their company, and the stories they shared with me. From there, and with the help of so many generous, friendly and encouraging people, I found a strength I didn’t know I had. By the end of the week I was standing at the Missouri state line, holding my bike triumphantly.
This year’s trip seems different to me. Where last year was a physical feat, this year seems like it will be more of a mental challenge for me. I have my lackluster training in the back of my mind. I’m concerned about the hills of Northern Kansas. I know that I could’ve done more to prepare. And in many areas of my life, I have to acknowledge the parts where circumstances just sort of knocked me on my ass, and the parts where my decisions are the reason I’m sitting in the dirt.
So today there is a horizon in front of me. And I have choices to make. I can let my doubt stand in the way of what I want to accomplish. I can let fear – fear that I didn’t train enough, or of the hills, or that voice in my head that says I’m not quite ready – control how this goes.
Or I can look forward to this horizon and consider what lies beyond where I can see right now. And I can consider that it might not be bad at all. Like last year, I might find more than I imagined. I might find a new connection with people, or a renewed appreciation for the spirit of Kansas. I might find something in myself I didn’t know I had.
A friend of mine, wanting to send me off with good wishes and positive thoughts, gave me a card that said it perfectly.
I think I will.