Hills Are In Your Head

This is the fifth in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

Pedaling up a hill is hard, even if knowing that the other side provides an enjoyable downhill respite. The absolute hardest part of a hill, though, is the mountain that grows in your head.

It’s amazing what happens when you let your mind add fertilizer to a hill in front of you. Suddenly that little incline becomes a nearly inpenatrable earthen fortress that you must fight your way up. Gravity battles against you and each stroke of the pedal barely moves you forward.

Yet, the same hill, when appoached with a mindset of “this isn’t so bad, once I get to the top I get to take a nice break while coasting down the backside” seems to be little more than a slight incline that you shift into and pedal up, quickly summiting it and leaving it behind you.

Though they are physical obstacles, hills really are a mental challenge. If you can approach them with an optimistic attitude then you will find that you will successfully rise up and pedal on past them. Let them loom in your mind, however, and they will keep you down, sapping your energy and forcing you to walk even though, physically, you are more than capable of riding all over them.

The Wind Always Faces You

Similar to hills, the wind presents mental challenges. It can sound so loud as it passes by your ears, giving you the sense that it’s blowing far harder than it is. This can trick you into thinking you aren’t making as much progress as you are.

Of course, wind also presents physical challenges. It pushes you back, or sideways, causing you to struggle to make progress or keep on a straight path.

Air Conditioning, Literally

The wind helps cool you down on a hot day’s ride, so it can be an appreciated companion while pedaling. Appreciate it, instead of focusing on the challenges that it presents, whether mental or physical.

While riding, Ashley and I have noticed that the wind always seems to be facing us, no mater which way we are traveling. In part, this has to do with the fact that we have put so many miles on our bikes – eventually the wind has to face us. We comfort ourselves with the idea that we are riding so fast that even if there is no wind, we are rushing past the stationary air so quickly that it sounds like wind in our ears and we can feel its resistance as we push through it.

So much of riding is a mental challenge. Being forearmed with this knowledge can turn a miserable ride into quite an enjoyable one that provides a great sense of accomplishment.