This past weekend I celebrated 24 years being in this world. I had the pleasure of spending by birthday doing what I love to do most, riding my bike and pushing my limits. I rode a 95-mile route with the Mountain Goat Cyclists, a route that had us scaling Mingus Mountain (Jerome, AZ) not once, but twice! I had never summited Mingus Mountain twice in one day, and the fact that I did it twice during such a long ride made for quite a day in the saddle.
I have absolutely no complaints about this ride. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with plenty of sunshine, minimal wind, and open roads to ride. There was a group of about 6-7 of us that completed the entire 95-mile route, and all of us made it back safely and happy with the experience. Despite the ideal conditions and an eager, fast group of riders, I didn’t quite have the performance on the ride that I would have liked to. I felt really strong summiting the mountain the first time, and this feeling continued up until the halfway point of the ride when we stopped in Prescott, AZ.
On the way back towards Mingus Mountain, I felt myself begin to fade, and fade quickly. I kept getting dropped off the group the entire ride back home, and found myself keeled over my bike halfway up Mingus Mountain fighting the urge to vomit. With the help of my amazing friend, Jared Miller, I eventually made my way over Mingus Mountain and back to Cottonwood, upon which I recovered quickly after getting some fluid and a few calories in me.
There are probably many reasons why the second half of the ride was so rough for me, not the least of those being the fact that I am still in recovery mode from my most recent bout of overtraining. Physically my body feels recovered, but my fitness just isn’t quite in the same place it was a month back before I was foreced to rest intermittently over the past few weeks in order to let my body heal. The group of riders I was with were also much faster and more experienced than I was, and so the pace was fast for me from the start. I definitely think I pushed too hard when sumiting Mingus Mountain the first time, and this came back to bite me the second time over the mountain.
It doesn’t really matter what led to my slow demise on this particular ride as I know my fitness will return in the coming weeks as I get back to my consistent routine and I will know to pace myself a little better next time I do such a long ride with fast riders. What I find to be the most important takeaway from this ride is just how fitting it was to have had this experience on my birthday.
Much of my life over the past few years since being at the deepest depths of my depression has been about pushing my mental and physical limits in an attempt to better myself and to improve my mental well-being. I have explored my limits in many, many ways, but cycling has given me the opportunity to learn more about myself than any other pursuit. Since becoming a triathlete a couple years ago, and particularly since joining the Mountain Goat Cyclists almost exactly a year ago, I have dug down to some pretty deep and dark places within myself while riding my bike. Both the happiness and the suffering I have experienced on my bike has allowed me to grow in ways previously unimaginable. I am a completely different person because of the things that I have experienced while on two wheels.
This is why I think it was so fitting for me to have had that experience on my birthday. I set out to accomplish an epic ride on the day that symbolizes my birth into this world. Despite conquering the ride, and having a great time in the process, there were definitely low moments and moments in which I wanted to quit. To me, this symbolizes much of what the past few years of recovery from depression and hospitalization for suicide has been.
Sure, I completed an epic ride of 95 miles with 8k of elevation gain, summiting a massive mountain twice, but what is most important was the journey that I ventured on in order to get there. There were ups and downs, both literal and metaphorical, and it took a lot of hard work and persistence to complete that ride. The past few years of my life have operated much like my birthday ride did, with many ups and down on the road towards my mental rehabilitation. The overall trajectory of my life and my well-being has certainly trended upwards since my lowest point back during the summer of 2013, but it hasn’t been an easy journey.
I think the lessons learned from on my birthday ride can be applied to just about any pursuit in life, no matter how big or small of a journey. Anybody that sets out to accomplish anything will experience both hardships and happiness along the way. There will be triumphs and setbacks, highs and lows, and plenty of lessons learned. At the end of the day, all that really matters is that we keep moving forward, even if the progress is miniscule. While in the midst of my ride over Mingus Mountain for the second time, there were points in which I felt as if I was barely inching my way forward. There have been times along my journey of recovery from depression that I have felt as if forward progress isn’t even possible. I kept moving forward though, finding ways to make continued progress, and it has led me to the top of so many mountains.
Keep moving forward, one step at a time, one day at a time, and one year at a time. Regardless of the mental or physical discomfort, putting one foot in front of the other has been one of the most important lessons I have learned so far in the 24 years I have been alive. Here’s to another year wiser, and to another year filled with triumphs, setbacks, lessons learned, and forward progress!