What Is My “Why”?


I was recently invited to provide my thoughts regarding the 500km ride that I attempted at the end of last year for a short documentary film, 500km, which will be released on YouTube in the near future. In preparation for the interview, I spent some time thinking about why I enjoy riding long distances, and in particular, why I wanted to attempt a 500km ride. Although some of those thoughts may have found their way into the interview (and maybe into the final cut?), I thought it would be helpful to write down some of my thoughts.

Trailer for the upcoming short documentary film, 500km.

My initial response to the question, Why?, is Why not? Admittedly, that’s not helpful and really does not move the needle—at all. To the contrary, there seem to be many more reasons not to attempt such a ride than there are supporting reasons. After all, most people can easily think of hundreds of things they would rather do than pedal a bicycle for 24 hours or more: everything from sleeping all day to having their teeth pulled.

Nor is it helpful to simply respond, optimistically, Because I think I can!?; or, better still (and more truthfully) Because I want to find out if I can! However, these variations suggest that at least part of the reason Why? is rooted in ability: Can I do it? That is the question, and the answer lies in the ride itself. Only one way to find out!

Nevertheless, simply ascertaining whether I am able to accomplish such a feat does not really seem to answer Why? Why would it be important to find if I can do it? In addition, once my ability is proved or disproved, that would seem to put an end to the matter and, potentially, preclude further attempts. Or at the very least, render such further attempts unnecessary.

But the contrary is true: Once proven, I may be compelled to keep proving it, over and over again. This is not mere speculation; it is established fact—Just ask anyone who’s done it. And the negative is also true: If I do not succeed, then I will most assuredly try again (and again…) until success is achieved. Seemingly, then, we are back at the start: Once again: Why?

At some time or another the challenges of ultra-endurance sports have been likened to climbing Mt. Everest. Although arguably not a fair comparison, maybe understanding why people attempt to climb Mt. Everest can help me understand why I like to ride my bike long distances?

Contemplating the reasons why anyone would attempt to climb Mt. Everest, George Mallory famously wrote:

“Because it’s there… Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instictive—a part, I suppose, of Man’s desire to conquer the universe.”

George Mallory

Ultracycling seems different though. With a long ride, there is no there there; but if there is, it is seemingly much more ubiquitous, and simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. That is, the place and time is subordinated to the ride itself… or, more precisely, to the rider.

Perhaps there is best thought of as a state of mind, separate and apart from time and space. There were certainly moments during my attempt at 500km where I was “in the zone.” The rain was pouring down, it was dark, and it was freezing cold. Although focused on the road ahead, I became aware that the world around me seemed to give way to the steady sounds and feelings of my heartbeat and breathing. And there was a growing sense of inner peace: No thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow; no thoughts of the road behind me, or what lies beyond the ken of my senses. No stress. Just being.

But these were just brief moments on a seemingly endless slog, in which emotions and physical conditions seemed to run the gamut of possibility. Nevertheless, the Why? may lie in these beautifully wonderful moments, despite their brevity.

My Why?

Following are my various attempts to answer that elusive question, Why?:

  • Riding long distances challenges me on multiple levels–physically, mentally, and spiritually; and there is no greater feeling accomplishing such “impossible” challenges.
  • To see if I can do it! Every ride brings a fresh set of challenges to overcome—whether because the distance or the vertical elevation is greater, or because the conditions (wind, precipitation, temperature) are more demanding.
  • I like to push myself to the limit to see what I am capable of.
  • To master my craft. To succeed in any challenging endeavor requires planning, flexibility, and adaptability. I’ve made mistakes of one kind or another on every ride I’ve done—everything from forgetting a tool or a piece of kit to missing a turn. So, you have to be flexible and adapt. My hope is that each ride I do, I am able to learn from my mistakes and learn how to handle situations better. Maybe someday I will experience the perfect ride.
  • Cycling gets me out of the house; ultracycling gets me out of the house for a long time.
  • I love being outdoors. I love the mountains. I love the seaside. I love the deserts. I love the wind and the sky. I get to experience all of these things (and more!) on my bike. In ultracycling, I can experience all of these things in a single ride.
  • When I am out all day riding my bike, the stress of daily life (and there seems to be a whole lot of it) melts away. I have to pay attention to the road, avoid hazards, and provide nutrition for my body. There is no room in my mind for thoughts about yesterday or tomorrow. This renews my spirit!
  • I love to ride my bike!

What is your Why?

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2 thoughts on “What Is My “Why”?

  1. Thoughtful post, DLM.

    I’ve only done four centuries. After the first, I figured I’d be done. The secinf two were back to back. 325 Kms in 2 days, a supported charity ride for multiple sclerosis. I added on 30 miles to make it 202 miles. It was pretty brutal for an older, amateur, fat cyclist such as myself. But I persevered and made it through.

    Why? Well to raise money for the cause, which I did in excess of $2,000. But sure, for many of the reasons you mentioned, to see if I could, to test myself, to be part of something greater (being among 9,000 other riders was a cool experience), to make the miles matter.

    But there’s something ineffable about it where at some point the miles don’t matter, or more like time, space, and distance fade and you’re reduced to being in the moment. You’re just riding your bike. And that indescribable, intangible, possibly unknowable thing is a state of mind/body that can’t easily be replicated in other ways. Or maybe it can through music. meditation, petting a cat, etc. But those take far less effort.

    Whatever it is that’s good about it, there is also the pain, ego, expense, and suffering. And I don’t have the time, bike, or body for it now. It’s a bit like when I went skydiving. I know it happened, but it’s kind of a dream now. And that’s ok.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, A Dude! Charity rides definitely bring a sense of purpose to the ride beyond just completing the mileage goal, particularly if the donations are made on a per mile basis.

      One of the first century rides I ever did was back in the 1990s. I raised just over $5,000 for the Leukemia Society through their “Team in Training” program. My grandfather had recently passed away from Leukemia so there was that connection as well, I suppose. The Team in Training program is really a wonderful structure, particularly for those who have never ridden a century before. The program provides coaching and organized weekly training rides (assuming the program still operates the way it did 25-30 years ago). There, the donations weren’t per mile, but you had to make your target donation amount in order to participate in the program.

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