This I Believe

Bernard - Denver, Colorado
Entered on May 8, 2006
Age Group: 65+
Themes: sports, work
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This I Believe – I Believe in Bicycling

I believe in bicycling. I believe in running. I believe in pursuing that academic degree you always wanted long after most people have given up on it. I believe in taking on a job that seems just a little beyond our reach. I believe in facing challenges that push us beyond the limits we may have imposed upon ourselves.

I believe that facing challenges is more than half the battle. What constitutes conquering a challenge is a definitional issue; one, which we must resolve for ourselves. That which appears impossible, and beyond our reach, is frequently doable. The act of facing such challenges kindles within us an expanded sense of self-worth and inner strength.

As prosaic, as it may sound, I have come to see cycling (or any of a number of other physically, mentally or spiritually challenging activities) as a metaphor for life.

For the past twenty years, I have been organizing an annual bicycle trip for my family and friends. Our routes have taken us over every 10,000-foot or higher paved mountain pass in Colorado. They have taken us into Wyoming and New Mexico. They have taken us around Lake Tahoe. They have taken us to the San Juan Islands, the coast of Oregon and around Yellowstone Park. Each route has offered new challenges. Each mile of the thousands of miles we have covered together has offered up a new challenge; a new opportunity for self-improvement. For newbies the challenge has often been riding a bicycle for 50 or 60 or 70 miles in a day. For others it has been climbing a ten-mile long grade to elevations deemed impossible. For some it has been realizing that just finishing the course is far more important than being the first one to finish – competition turns from external motivation to the internal inspiration. For others it has simply been doing something that they “knew” they could not do. When we discover what we can do, rather than what we cannot do, we grow; we improve ourselves.

In twenty years and thousands of miles, every member of our group has experienced personal growth. They may not have known it at the time, but they have. There has never been a failure. There have been successes too numerous to mention.

For fourteen of the twenty years I have voluntarily ridden at the back of the group. I have frequently found myself literally miles back with the last riders; riders struggling to face and conquer their own challenges. My role has been to keep them believing in themselves. To keep them inching their way along to the goal that they frequently doubt they can achieve. The excitement of topping the hill, completing 100 or more miles in a day, or discovering the beauty of our great land from the seat of a self-powered vehicle is spiritual in the best sense of the word. Other may have such an epiphany when completing a marathon or 10K or a run around the block. Still others will get it by completing that long delayed GED or Ph.D. years after they left the system to pursue other goals.

Six years ago, at age 60, I developed an unusual heart condition that keeps me at the back of the pack involuntarily. What used to be easy for me is now difficult and sometimes requires that I get off my bike and push. The delight of facing the challenge is still there for me, and others in the group are still finding a personal form of salvation on a bicycle. After all, I still believe in bicycling, running, and all those other challenges that enrich our lives.