The final and greatest lesson I learned while bicycling 1,200 miles across Namibia and South Africa.
It’s been a week now since we rode victoriously into Cape Town. I’m currently sitting in the airport lounge (such as it is) in Hoedspruit, South Africa. Feeling is slowly returning to my palms and wrists. I no longer whence when sitting. I still have limited use of my right hand due to a pinched elbow nerve that was battered by bad dirt roads. The late night leg and shoulder cramps are dissipating and I’ve gained back 5 of the 25 pounds lost.
“What is my take-away?”, I ask myself. In broad strokes, for me the ride started as pure unmitigated torture. First of all, I joined a group of seasoned riders who had already pedaled 6,300 miles from Cairo, Egypt. The average age was around thirty. This was their 8th and final section and they were anxious to finish. Keeping up was an elusive impossibility. Next, 1,000 of the 1,200 miles we rode were sandy, wash-boarded (labeled corrugated by the locals), dirt roads totally ill-fitted for bicycles. That’s right, 1,000 miles – as in from Phoenix to the Canadian border on a dirt road. Add to that, 112-degree heat and brainless drivers roaring by within a foot or two showering rocks, their contrails bathing you and your lungs in fine gritty dust. Had I any idea I would have at least brought my mountain bike. Instead, I rode the entire route on a hybrid hard-tail (no rear shock) with drop down handlebars. Our final 7 days (of the 15) were back-to-back averaging over 150 kilometers and 3,000 vertical feet of climbing each. (One day we climbed over 7,000 feet.) Unable to secure consistent momentum or traction, my miles per hour were compromised. Consequently, I averaged 8 – 9 hours of riding (actual “on the bike” hours) per day. This left me little time to clean up, wash my cycling gear, work on my bike, set camp, eat dinner and wash dishes for we were usually in bed by 6:30, up at 5:30 and riding by 7:00. The full tour riders said it was arguably the hardest section of all. It was brutal. It was unforgiving. It was relentless. For me, it began as true torture.
On several occasions I became despondent. My world centered around me and my travails. It was a myopic, self-centered view and I swore I’d catch a bus to Cape Town and fly home. At 62 years of age “I” didn’t need this.
But I pedaled on. Here’s how: I was able to shift the context of my ride into an arena much larger than “me”. I reminded myself that I was helping my friend Mike Hobin (who began his 7,500-mile ride in Cairo) raise funds for Rancho Feliz. Suddenly the ride wasn’t about another feather in “my” cap of grueling endurance adventures. I started to think in terms of my pedal strokes equating to scholarships. It was about people pledging donations for every mile we rode. It was about forever changing the lives of children not born into our same fortunate circumstances.
This shift in perception, in consciousness, imbued my ride with purpose. It was a purpose much larger, richer and more rewarding than a personal achievement. Suddenly I was energized. A new optimism surged thru my veins and I rode stronger – more determined. Sure I still suffered, my legs were just as tired and my bum just as sore. But it seemed a small price to pay as I visualized the young lives my efforts, my pain, would forever change.
The ride and all its tribulations suddenly expanded far beyond “me”. It was as though a door was opened and I stepped into a much larger reality. I could enjoy the scenery, the new friendships, the different cultures and even the dirt roads. I found that things suddenly started going my way. I could relax a bit and trust that it would all work out. It’s said that Spirit reveals itself to those with a higher purpose. I know it sounds crazy but just when I couldn’t pedal another inch the hill would crest and I’d have 15 kilometers of downhill. Or the 157-kilometer day was miscalculated and I’d arrive at camp 6 kilometers sooner than expected. And the examples go on and on.
So again, what’s my take-away? Simple, to bring the greatest meaning and joy into my life I must have a purpose larger than myself. I must elevate my focus from my individual concerns and their constricting nature to the greater global good and its expansive possibilities. In other words, the best way to serve myself is to serve others.
It works and here’s the proof: I finished the 1,200-mile ride and “Team Rancho Feliz” raised over $60,000.
This was my final lesson. Gil
Special thanks to cycling coach, Jeff Lockwood (firstname.lastname@example.org), for training me for this ride and to Kaolin Cummens and his crew down at the Flat Tire Bike Shop in Cave Creek (www.flattirebikes.com) for their help in preparing and packaging my bike for its long trip to Namibia and back.