If you had asked me prior to our departure why I was about to set out on this ride, I probably would have answered something to the effect that I wanted to experience the wonderful variety of people and places that one encounters traveling at a bicycle pace. I certainly wouldn’t have answered that I am riding 5000 miles because I want to get to Alexandria, Virginia. There are much faster, easier, and cheaper ways to do that. So why does it bother me when we make very little progress because of hills and headwinds? Is not my professed objective the journey itself? Why should it matter if on any given day I don’t travel a lot of miles? Are there not sufficient people and places on a forty-mile day to satisfy my curiosity? Of course there are. So again, why does it bother me when our progress is hindered?

My guess is that I derive significant satisfaction by accomplishing goals, reaching objectives, ticking off parameters. I wasn’t lying when I talked about the joy of encountering new people and places but who wants to say “I’m riding across America to satisfy my goal-oriented personality?” Doesn’t quite have the ring of “experience the wonderful variety of people and places” does it?

Like every experience we have, the experience of bicycle riding is not the actual events that occur but our perception of those events that comprise our version of reality. When the wind is at our backs and we are sailing along at speeds in excess of 20 mph, I always feel exhilarated. There are other times, when the headwind is strong or the hill is steep, or I’m just plain tired that riding can be so demoralizing.

It is during those periods of demoralization that it helps to remember that my despair is largely self-induced. For example, some of the most demoralizing hours I have spent on a bike are when riding up long hills at about 5 mph while cars pass me at 60 mph. It is the contrast between our speeds that emphasizes my lack of progress. I have developed a little trick that really seems to help in this situation. Instead of paying attention to the speeding cars, I imagine a long line of pedestrians trudging up the shoulder of the road AND I AM PASSING THEM! Magically, my progress is magnified. Am I traveling any faster than I was when I was paying attention to the cars? No. It is my perception of my progress that has changed.

Blessed are the optimists, for they shall enjoy their lives.