A friend asked me how I was feeling the other day…
“I feel like I’m driving with the gas pedal smashed into the floor of the car- pinning it down- charging full speed ahead- and I also feel stuck- inextricably stuck.”
I have a tragic character flaw (or you could argue, a gift) that is to make everything exceedingly difficult.
The upside is that I have developed a resiliency that I can always depend on when things go sideways- as they inevitably do- I mean sometimes life does sideways things.
And the downside is something we might call stubbornness?
How do we know when to take our foot off the proverbial gas pedal and actually investigate why the car isn’t moving? Should we try and fix it? Or just get out and walk? Where is the line between perseverance and self punishment? Between dedication and dogma?
I guess the common theme here is that we have to take our foot off the gas.
We have to STOP.
Take a breath.
Observe how we’re feeling.
Perspective. Get some perspective.
A few years ago I did this thing called the “Tour Divide” which means I rode my bike (by myself) from Banff (Alberta, Canada) to the Mexico border. I don’t want to go too deep in the weeds about the trip as a whole here- but just to give you some context- I was riding my mountain bike with all of my gear, food and water by myself for 15–18 hours/ day climbing almost 200,000 feet in elevation over the course of the 30 days it took me to complete the route. I showered 2x during that month and slept outside on the ground in my bivy 80% of the time- the other 20% I stayed with random people I met or I stayed in motels.
So I’m sure it goes without saying that this experience was not without its existential reflections- isolation, dehydration, exhaustion, and nature tend to lead us to some poignant and powerful realizations.
So one day- in the middle of my trip- I came to a section where I was supposed to take a detour.
Well, I couldn’t find it- so I decided to just go with the original route I had on my map.
I proceeded to spend the next 8 hours dragging my bike through a mix of sludge and cow manure somewhere in the middle of Colorado.
The sludge was so thick that it coated the bike tires — so every 2 or 3 steps I had to take my hand and scoop the mud off the tires so they could continue turning- or sliding- or whatever would keep the bike moving forward.
I slipped and fell more times than I could count- oftentimes just laying on the ground next to my bike in defeat.
I screamed and cried for the duration of these hours.
“WHY. WHY AM I DOING THIS. I’m quitting. I’m so done. I’m going to bike to the nearest town and take a cab to the nearest airport and fly my ass home. I am so done. Absolutely done.”
My brain repeated these thoughts as I screamed and cried step by step.
Eventually after 2ish miles and 8ish hours- the sludge field ended.
I encountered a stream with no more than 2 inches of water in it- but it was enough for me to get something to drink.
After filtering some water, I passed out covered in sludge — mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.
I woke up the next day- now covered in dried sludge- and decided not to quit. I eventually finished the Tour Divide covering 2,740+ miles in 30 days.
I didn’t know the STOP acronym at the time. But that’s exactly what I did.
I had to get some space between myself and the sludge field to make a decision.
As humans we have an innate urge to feel better- to get away immediately from those feelings of inadequacy or defeat or failure.
So in the middle of the sludge field- of course my decision was to quit- I just wanted to stop feeling every emotion that flooded me in that moment. I had spent years trying to heal from traumas- to build myself up- and in that moment- every shred of self efficacy that I had started to build had evaporated- it was gone- and I was just this stupid unprepared idiot who was spending all of this time and energy and money to do this stupid bike ride. I was ashamed, frustrated, annoyed, and completely defeated.
And once I could get some space and some perspective- I could see that many of those thoughts I had were not true- and were leading me down a path of decisions that I did not like for myself. I wanted to keep going- I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it- and in that moment I had to accept the fact that I would likely have more days like that in the future.
What I didn’t really acknowledge in that moment was that my days of feeling stuck in the sludge would continue LONG after The Tour Divide ended. And that navigating those days would arguably be more difficult than the physical feat of dragging myself and my bike through sludge.
But the lessons I learned on the Divide were truly priceless and have been useful again and again and again in the 6 years since I finished that trip.
And that is precisely why I return to this experience now at this point in time when I feel inextricably stuck again.
I return to this story as evidence that I can get unstuck- as evidence that I can do hard things- and as evidence that I am resilient.
Hopefully reading this has reminded you too of your own resilience.
At the Mexico border after completing the Tour Divide (2015)