“What used to be about burning calories is now more about burning up what is false. ” – Kristen Armstrong
I didn’t need the alarm to wake me up at 4:00 AM for SBT GRVL yesterday morning. I had been pointing to this day for too long to sleep through it. There was a time around mile 67 at Bohemian Sto Mil when the thought crept into my head that there was no way that this was going to happen. I wanted to quit there more than I ever wanted to quit in my life and if I couldn’t handle 100 miles at sea level, how was I going to handle 140 high in the Colorado Rockies? I hated myself for feeling this way but I couldn’t help it. Gravel was just too tough. I wasn’t worthy.
Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter once said you have to forget your last marathon before you can try your next one. Your mind can’t know what’s coming because if it does you won’t do it. Interesting… Guys and gals with gold medals in their sock drawers go through this, too. I didn’t know.
I don’t believe that anyone in a right state of mind really wants to suffer, and so if Shorter is right why bother lining up at all? There must be something more to it and there is. I think it all goes back to what Armstrong says. Line up often enough and life itself is slowly revealed to you with a clarity that is just not possible otherwise. Some of it is real. Much of it is not. In the end, you either want to know the difference between the two or you don’t.
So let’s say you’re one of those who wants to know. What is it about endurance sports in general and gravel in particular that makes discovery possible? I think a lot of it has to do with how alone and exposed and vulnerable a position you willingly put yourself in out there. You’re alone even when other people are around. If you’re not sure what being truly alone feels like, go find a gravel road and climb a mountain or two on your bike. The mountain will explain it to you in no uncertain terms.
The mountain will also reveal the truth about a great many things that have nothing to do with the bike. Do you quit when the going gets tough or do you struggle through it? Do you play it safe because it’s easier than pursuing the things in life you really want? When you decide to do something, what do you let stand in your way and defeat you?
SBT GRVL was an amazing experience. I managed the day really well from tapering to nutrition to the discipline with which I rode. As a result, I finished faster than my previous two gravel efforts AND I felt strong all day long. I didn’t really hurt all that much except on the three major climbs. That was a given.
The people I met here were so like other gravel people I’ve met and so unlike the people media companies bombard us with every day. I presume we all look at the world through different filters and yet somehow we all managed to find commonality and respect and joy together. No reminders were needed. Words of encouragement and concern for fellow riders were the rule of the day. New friendships were forged. Gravel is kind of like glue in the sense that it binds anything that comes in contact with it.
People sometimes ask me why I ride a bike so much, and especially on gravel and not around town like a normal person. This is why. Gravel is the canvas on which I get to paint my life. Gravel reveals what’s real and what isn’t. It’s an exceptional gift. I wish it would have come decades earlier, but I’m much more grateful that it came at all.