Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pushing Ourselves Uphill

Over the July 4th weekend, we rode our bikes to the Girdwood Forest Fair, a little over eight miles on the “Bird to Gird” path. I ride a one-speed with coaster brakes, the only kind of bike I’ve ever had. (I’ve done triathlons with that bike. People laugh. Did I mention that it has a big basket on the back?) Coming back from the Fair, I used to walk my bike up the relentless uphill. Then, about ten years ago, I started riding the bike up. Somehow, I’d gotten stronger. Now, it’s what I do.

Except this year. This year, I became convinced I wasn’t strong or fit enough. Heading out, I noticed all the downhill, thinking, Oh, no, that’s the uphill I won’t be able to do. So on the way back, I steeled myself, grit my teeth, groaned and pushed and sweat and got that stupid bike up the #!*&!# hill.
All the while, I was thinking, “No one has a gun to your head. You can stop anytime and walk the #!*&!# bike. You can just stop, get down, and walk.” My heart was racing, sweat was pouring, and I thought, “You’re going to have a #!*&!# heart attack and yet you won’t stop and walk the stupid bike.”

I didn’t have a heart attack. I got up the hill and continued biking along. Did I have some incredible feeling of accomplishment, of pride, of relief? No, mostly I was trying to figure out what gun I had to my own head.

Do you know this feeling? Is it about facing down some age-related decline, some fear of mortality that’s fueling this doggedness? Is it about having some notion of my capabilities and not wanting to see them wane? Or is it just pigheadedness and tenacity looking for a target?

Years ago, I wrote and performed in two one-woman plays. After publicity was already out and tickets already sold, I panicked. Not only was I portraying some personally revealing subject matter, but I was doing it on-stage with lines I had to memorize. Memorizing those lines became a trauma for me. I distinctly remember saying, “Nobody put a gun to my head. Why on earth did I sign up to do this harrowing thing?!” I was consumed with terror at the thought of forgetting my lines on a stage with no safety net.
In the end, I made it without a problem, but only after the fact: each night, I was positive on-stage humiliation loomed.

In two weeks, five other women and I hike the Chilkoot Trail. I have not trained as much as I’d like specifically for that so I’m just POSITIVE I’m missing some vast storehouse of strength and fitness, and I’m worrying about it even though a few weeks ago, I ran my annual half-marathon. (Yes, I can run a half-marathon and still worry about whether I’m fit or not. I can come in fourth in my age group and still worry about it.)

Before any race, I am never sure I’ll pull it off. This time, on the way to the start line, the sun was shining and it cast my shadow in front of me. That shadow – that person – looked really fit. She swung her arms, had a zip in her step – she was really strong. She knew she’d finish well. At some point, I made the connection: that shadow was me. I could be that person. I relaxed and ran my happiest half-marathon yet.
Yes, in my Third Third I have skills and capabilities that I don’t even question. I tackle plenty of things that cause me no angst. But on the ones I have self-doubt about, I have to struggle to entertain a positive outcome, to believe that I am strong enough or capable enough or resourceful enough to pull off whatever it is. And yet I sign on for these things!

What I ask of my Third Third is that I’ve learned something. Maybe wisdom, maybe just insight – so elusive! But now I have two thoughts that I’m trying to internalize for the challenge of the Chilkoot Trail:
  • The Chilkoot Trail is a plodding kind of trail. It’s meant to be a walk uphill. There is no timing chip, just one foot in front of the other. Metaphorically, I can get off the #!*&!# bike.

  • If the sun shines, I can find my shadow and follow her to the finish.


  1. Please take me off your mailing list. I will rejoin under my new email. Thanks

    1. Hello "Unknown," I can't tell who you are or what your email is. The easiest thing is for you to scroll to the very bottom of your Third Thirds email. There's an "unsubscribe" link. And then welcome back at your new email!


Sharing Button