We started out at 5 a.m. For the first five miles, the morning felt cool and promising. The sun rose brilliantly over the trees. Birds chirped. We covered ground quickly. After ten miles, the air felt warm and heavy. We began to groan. A slight inline seemed like a steep mountain pass. Our tires dragged. Our progress slowed. After 25 miles, our muscles ached and our breaths grew ragged; but it was too late to turn back. We had the trip more than halfway done. There was nothing to do but go forward and finish.
Twice I made this bike trail ride, from my home to the old railroad bridge that had been converted to a new trail destination. The trip covered 45 round-trip miles, under shady trees, through farmers’ fields, past grain silos and cattle corrals.
When we finally reached our stopping point, we coasted to the rail of the bridge and stood eye-level with birds that flapped above the river bed far below. We snapped pictures, sipped water, stretched our aching quads; then we turned around and headed home. We counted off 45 exhausting, creeping miles before we finally careened into the driveway, kneaded out the cramps, and crashed on the couch for the rest of the evening.
Our lives can often feel like that long bike trail ride. The destination seems far off and mysterious, the trail rough and shadowed. We wonder what lurks around the bend, what we will glimpse through the trees, and how we will ever make it home again.
Along the way I have learned a few lessons to help me enjoy the journey.
Train over time. For weeks we rode the trail, first a mile out, then three, then five. We increased our distance gradually, built our endurance slowly. Preparing for success requires time to grow strong. We get ready for the big rides by completing miles of shorter trips and smaller steps.
Have a partner for the trip. For a long ride, it is important to enlist a buddy to accompany us on the trail. Companions help us if we fall, call encouragement, and give us strength to continue. We need friends to keep us motivated and moving forward.
Plan ahead. For a day-long trip, we packed our handlebar bags with: crackers and cheese, apples and bananas. We filled bottle racks with extra water, carried sunglasses, sweatshirts, bandanas, bandages, gloves, tires pumps, Chapstick, cell phones. A life-long journey is easier when we prepare for the future, consider contingencies, and collect the skills and strengths we may need on the way. If we make a mistake and leave something behind, we remember to take it with us on our next long meandering.
Allow time for rest. Along the trail, we coasted on every downhill grade. We took numerous breaks to stop, stretch, and look around. We enjoyed the swaying trees and whistling birds, explored the shadows and scenic stops along the way. Atop the bridge we paused to look down and ponder the drop below and the distance we had traveled. At the end of the day when the ride was done, we dragged into the familiar living room and collapsed on the welcoming couch. Throughout our lives it is important to take periods of rest to relish our sense of accomplishment and feel grateful for the ground we have covered.
Life is one long road, and we are merely riders. We cannot turn back, but have to keep moving. When we maintain our momentum and keep propelling ourselves forward, we find joy and satisfaction waiting for us at the end of the line.
What do you take with you on your trail? How do you stay motivated to keep moving?