Sometimes I wonder what on earth I’m doing. It’s cold, I’m tired and I need some time to relax and simply do nothing. But totally exhausted from a full week of work, I find myself pulling on lycra rather lounging in bed with a cup of tea.
Why? So I can ride up a really steep hill, barely able to breathe, with my cadence dropping ever lower as I struggle to turn the pedals. I grunt, I frown, I get annoyed with myself for being slower than Dave. Then when I get back from riding, I spend the rest of the day alternately stuffing my face and falling asleep, a sofa zombie reading the newspaper.
Two weekends ago I decided to spend one of my precious days off driving for over six hours so that I could ride up a mountain for just two, and I hate driving! The route in question included more than 40 switchbacks, it was going to be very hot and sweaty on the way up and really cold on the way down, oh yeah, and it was really steep and the air would be thin. But suited and booted in a cacophony of colour I trotted out the door, eager as anything to hand over my day to the utterly pointless summiting of a mountain.
On the long drive through the Alps I paused for a moment and wondered what I was doing. I mean it’s a bit odd really, isn’t it?
Cycling can be fun and easy – all breezy rides with a bunch of flowers in your basket as you pop out for a cappuccino - so why deliberately ride up a mountain when it’s so hard? Why do some of us choose such challenges to begin with, or in another curious exhibition of masochism, try and make our rides harder than they need to be? Is there something lacking in our lives, some lingering primeval urge that needs satisfying now so many of us are deskbound?
I seem utterly incapable of riding my bike in any kind of ‘normal’ manner. I always go harder than I need to or I’ll knowingly select really punishing routes, pushing myself to the point of exhaustion when I’m not even training for anything. It’s a bit silly when you think about it. Does it really matter whether you are fast or not? Who cares whether you can climb that hill in less time than you could a year before? Even I don’t even care – I’ve long stopped analysing Strava standings!
And it’s not just me. I recently received an invite to ride the Etape De Tour with a friend of mine where he said, “Come along, it will be ‘fun,’ kind of.”
We spent the next hour anxiously watching a holding page on the internet so that we could pay 100 Euro each to travel a really long way, spend a load of cash and ride up a hill with lots of strangers. What kind of madness is this? Why were we both drawn to this ‘fun’ in inverted commas, rather than the other kind that doesn’t come with suffering attached?
It would be easy to say it’s because of the reward when you summit a mountain – incredible views, the feeling of accomplishment, perhaps pride in your strength. Or I could say it’s because the descent is so thrilling and the speeds you achieve thundering along with your friends give you a flutter of excitement. And yes, these things are brilliant, and cycling is awesome, and boy, do I love bikes….
But I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think we push ourselves so the enjoyment is heightened by the lengths you’ve gone to stand proud on a mountaintop. Yes, delayed gratification is good, but that’s not really why we do it, is it? The truth of the matter is that cyclists like me enjoy the hard bit as much as we do the reward delivered by that view, that descent or those Strava ‘king of the mountains.’ Which leaves me with just one conclusion… we are all a little bit weird.
Photos: Dave Noakes
& Juliet Elliott