Everybody needs to suffer, to make suffering easier.
When you’re pedaling along and your hands are so cold you can’t feel when you’re pulling the brakes on, and you can’t tell when you’ve changed gear, or even change gear. When you think you’re pedaling but it’s only by looking down at the revolving lumpen bricks of ice that you can tell. When you’re bonking deeply, empty cold and sweaty shivering on a Summer’s day, no water in your bidon and no food in your pockets and only lustful thoughts of what might be in the fridge at home to spur you forwards for the next hour. When all you can see is the back wheel in front of you, stuck there sucking up the refreshing puddle spray not quietly waiting for the right time to jump but in the tunnel-vision of silent desperate fear of what would happen should the elastic snap. When the sleet is smashing sideways, finding the gaps in your clothing and ripping into any exposed flesh and you still have 25 headwind miles and two hills to go it helps to have an extensive back-catalogue of when things have been worse to encourage you to just keep pedaling. When lying down in a ditch and falling asleep seems a cosy option you keep going, because you have suffered more.
Everyone needs a Rolodex of bad experiences they can flick through to put their current misery into context and just carry on because it has been worse. It’s always been worse.
Is this as bad as that day in the Pyrenees, excitement about climbing in the snow quickly vanishing after the summit when snow-melt splashing up from the road numbed your toes, and then your feet, and then froze your calves, and when you started to loose feeling in your knees it got a little bit worrisome. Having to sit in a café warming up with hot chocolates just to make it the 15kms home. No? Shut up and keep pedaling then. Just keep pedaling.
Worse than that time you were descending an Alp, escaping from a sudden rainstorm out of a blue sky at the top, summer clothes and a lightweight rain-jacket not quite adequate, your entire body shivering so hard it was transferring a dangerous speed-wobble through to your bike, but you knew that if you could just make it to the warm valley bottom you’d be fine. No? Man the fuck up and keep going.
Is it as bad as that time, after a long day in the saddle you were bonking your tits off on the last switchback climb of the day, in the rain, when you had to stop on one corner to neck an energy gel only to have to stop at the very next hairpin a few hundred metres further on to devour your final last gasp emergency French supermarket cereal bar. Is it worse than that, winching up a never-ending col in the stair-rod rain hollow to the core? No. Stop bloody whining then and just keep pedaling.
Once in a while, just once a while, a ride insidiously works its place onto the list of those you’ll look back on and ask “Is the misery and pain I am going through now as bad as that ride back then?” And you’ll reply to the feeble voices with a stoic “No” and you’ll carry on, just like you had to do that miserable day.
Suffering is easy.
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he’s not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he’s not doing either of those he’s pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he’s agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours doesn’t. He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.