The Regret of Rides Not Taken

By Eric Cox

Gun metal gray rain clouds loomed over the bay. Trees swayed in a chilly, late summer breeze. A cool mist speckled car windshields all over town – less than ideal riding conditions for sure. While I could’ve employed the inclement weather as a suitable excuse for avoiding a ride … I didn’t.

But, the temptation to procrastinate was there, nagging at me, like almost every other day of my life.

Certainly, we all have duties and responsibilities we’re happy to put off. It’s those unsavory or monotonous little chores that get kicked like a can down the street toward tomorrow. For instance, I can understand delaying grass mowing for a day or two. The same goes for dusting, laundry, flossing – or any number of other tasks which we find distasteful and worthy of procrastination.

But, bicycling? Why was I looking to put off one of my favorite things in life?

I considered that question as I forced myself to leave the couch’s comfort and start airing my hybrid’s tires. I started going down my mental list of Things I Love About Cycling, checking off each enjoyable aspect: gorgeous scenery, fresh air, a sense of freedom, exploration and purpose, sustainable and active fun … wait.

Maybe it’s the active part, I thought. Perhaps it’s my rigorous approach to cycling that inadvertently discourages me when I think of going for a ride. It’s true: I sometimes ride too hard, trying to go too fast. Of course, this leads to pain in the legs and other discomforts associated with a hard cardio workout. Yet, I’ve also found that aspect of cycling to be one of the most enjoyable parts, in spite of the pain.

The guys in the shop agreed and some of us concluded that a critical part of many of our rides is the need to sort of suffer – to exercise hard and feel the pain of, say, a long, steep climb or a 60-second pull at the head of the quick pace line. How could it be then, I wondered, that the pain of exercise can be both a thing that deters me, while simultaneously motivating me to push harder and go further?

It is, I suppose, a central phenomenon in the realm of sports, where humans perform sometimes super-human feats, leaving the world astonished by incredible demonstrations of endurance – physical and spiritual. Distance runners describe the fabled “runner’s high,” in which the athlete experiences a euphoria-inducing rush of endorphins released by an anatomy stressed by physical exertion.

Some describe workouts or rides that “hurt so good” and road cyclists who roll in groups can be heard wondering aloud, “Who’s driving the pain train now?” Others use phrases like “sweet pain” and talk about how their imminent workout will “destroy” their legs or “rip” their abs.

Pain, destruction, hurt … indeed, how could this ever be something that would make me balk? HA!

Finally, it dawned on me that the pain associated with my hard rides is, mind-bogglingly, the thing that both drives me to and deters me from cycling – a strange yet useful realization to say the least.

Now, my decision to procrastinate and forego a ride is met with a better understanding of just exactly what I was avoiding in the first place – the pain of exercise. Armed with that knowledge, I now skip over that part of the internal argument and go straight to just airing my tires, the final decision made.

Though I’ve had many struggles with procrastination, I’ve never regretted a single ride before which I had to really force myself to go do it. Even with inclement weather threatening, a ride taken begrudgingly still satisfies the soul, nourishes the spirit and exercises the body.

Also, there’s a brighter side to sunless riding conditions. Such sanguine days often leave the Wheelway and other riding areas empty, devoid of the fun seekers who normally populate them. With so much gorgeous weather here, the less desirable days – those troubled by potential rain and dark skies – often make for better Wheelway riding, at least as far as I’m concerned.

The bottom line, of course, is don’t put off until tomorrow a ride that could be done today. Because sometime, in the knee-deep snow and frozen landscape of early February, you’ll want to believe that you really did seize every reasonable opportunity to ride while the weather was still good. If not, you’ll feel the regret of rides not taken when the sun still warmed us.

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