It burned. It burned so much.
The burn became quicker and fiercer as the day dragged on, but we had to continue. Why? It’s not a race. It hurts and there is no competition, so why continue? But on we went and on we would go until we made it to Nice. We knew that this tour would push us in a variety of ways, but we didn’t know how soon.
One thing I love about cycling is how it connects you to the character of your landscape. If you are in gently rolling hills you can expect a gentle ride. If you are in a flat, open country your ride will be also be flat and everything is open to you. So it should have come as no surprise that the dramatic cliffs around Monaco would offer a dramatic first day.
The weight of our bikes and baggage equaled almost half of our body weight, but there was really nothing we could afford to toss. We set out from Menton with our bikes fully loaded, but secure, feeling prepared and optimistic about the first journey. However, our first prolonged climb was sobering. Like swimming up-river, the weight felt as if it was pulling you backwards and you had to pedal hard to make any progress. Even holding the bike on the slopes while stopped required some effort. Our pace got slower and slower as our legs burned and the sun pressed down on us. At one point we stopped to regain some blood in our legs and check our maps for navigation. “We still have a long way to go.” Tiffany’s eyes filled with tears. “I just don’t know how we’re going to do this! I don’t know if my body can do it!”
Lots of sporting wisdom tells you to “keep your eye on the prize,” but I’m not totally convinced that this is always a good idea. You set out for the prize (whatever the prize may be) and you train for the prize, but in the moment of action I think you must only keep your focus on the present moment. Our greatest moments of distress came from looking at the prize. The prize was a tiny speck of dust on the horizon. Looking at the prize, or in our case, at the elevation above us that we must climb with our loads was just depressing. Forget the prize. Keep your eyes only on the switchback curve in front of you. You can pedal a little while longer now, so keep pedaling. You can make it to the next turn, so for now don’t think about the next turn and the next and the next and the next. There will be time for that later.
About 2/3 of the way up we came to an overlook and we stopped to refill our water bottles and take in the view. It was truly astonishing. The struggle made more sense once we could see how far above the sea we actually were. We had started at the beach near Italy that morning so we knew we started at sea level. Now we looked down at Monaco and the Grand Casino and all of the vestiges of last week’s Grand Prix all far below us. It was completely and utterly satisfying to see how far we’d come. Although, we still had some climbing to do and it felt like my legs had reached maximum fatigue over two hours ago. Slowly but surely we climbed. A few other serious-looking cyclists without loads came along. We were a bit gratified that at least they were breathing hard too. When they passed us, their eyes widened as they looked at our packs. “Oooo la la,” said one. When we finally made it to the little town of La Turbie on top of the mountain it was pure bliss. A quiet evening in a precious little town with delicious food and wine. A perfect little reward, and appropriately, Turbie possesses one of only two ruins of “Roman Trophies” (structures built by Caesar to celebrate a victory) in the world.
“Ahhhh, thank God! It’s all downhill from here,” we thought. Which was just a little bit too true. We had gone a long way up and we had a long way down. It is usually a joy-ride to speed down a hill you’ve climbed, but this was a really big hill and we were practically riding weighted bobsleds by steep mountain edges along with other cars. To keep control of these bad boys we had to apply a ferocious grip on our brakes for nearly 10 miles of downhill. Now instead of my legs, my forearms burned and my fingers ached, but we could not afford to let up and lose control on the mountain. At one point, I could no longer see Tiffany behind me and I was afraid of my fingers giving out and no longer being able to stop, so I clinched down and finally came to a halt. When Tiffany came to a stop behind me, her voice started to shake and the tears rolled. After a few sniffs she reigned in her fears and bravely continued.
Although I did not cry, I still think Tiffany showed the greater bravery on this ride. I love the simple line from William James, “Be not afraid of life.” It’s true that life begins just beyond our comfort zone and bravery is what it takes to step outside it. But the thing is that no one’s comfort zones are exactly alike. It could require more bravery for an acute introvert to smile at a stranger than for a stunt-double to jump off of a building. What bravery looks like for me will not necessarily be what it looks like for you. In this way, I have to appreciate how incredibly far beyond Tiffany’s comfort zone we were at this moment. I grew up in a family of actions sports and adrenaline junkies. Tiffany had never done anything like this until she married my brother, and here we were flying down this mountain at dusk with ledges on either side and cars whizzing by and our ability to stop becoming weaker every moment. It was dangerous. She was right to cry, but she was brave to keep going. She didn’t call a cab but put her fear aside for the moment and continue on. To forget the far away prize and all the potential pains and pitfalls along the way, and just continuously decide to act bravely in the present moment, I think this is bravery.”
By Patricia Andrews – The Tour de Farm – FRANCE