Editor’s note: As we ring out 2013, we look at 13 of our favorite stories of the year. Dan Wuori’s At The Back reflection on doing the impossible originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Velo magazine.
Years ago I dated a girl with unusual stamina.
By this I mean, sadly, that she exhibited her staying power in unusual ways — most notably at the movies, where she would remain reverently seated until the end of the closing credits. I learned this the hard way on an early date when I stood to exit, only to be greeted by an incredulous stare.
“Each of these people has devoted a part of his or her life to making this film,” she explained as I scurried back to my seat. “I like to honor them by staying.”
So stay I did, scrutinizing the name of every gaffer, best boy, and key grip, increasingly convinced the night would end with a quiz. As to whether she applied this same stick-to-itiveness to other parts of her life, I could only speculate — since I vowed never to call her again. But I did think of her fondly during March’s Milano-Sanremo. At 298km, La Primavera is hardcore by any measure, but the 2013 running bordered on ridiculous. Plagued by late winter weather, the race was interrupted after several snowy hours, with riders bussed to a safe location from which the monument (minus a pair of treacherous climbs) restarted two hours later.
I’ll never forget one particular photograph taken that day. Taylor Phinney, his helmet and cap caked in ice, tweeted a self-portrait from the BMC Racing bus that looked like a frozen Jack Nicholson in his final on-screen appearance in “The Shining.” Indignant on the riders’ behalf, I sent a direct message to Phinney to ascertain his thoughts on the wisdom of the organizers’ decision to press on. His response was delivered with what I can only assume was an equally incredulous stare: “Monuments should never be cancelled. That’s why they’re called ‘monuments.’”
And there you have it: All that I love about pro cycling in 140 characters or less. Ours is a sport that seems to fetishize suffering. But to believe so is to miss the point entirely. It’s not suffering we relish (truly, who does?) — it’s the joy of accomplishment and the satisfaction of facing down your fears without blinking. It’s about sticking it out longer than you think you can or should. Cycling is about doing the impossible.
My best day on the bike began as my worst. Emboldened by having completed a number of smaller goals and overconfident in my abilities, I registered years ago for a mountainous century ride near Asheville, North Carolina. You probably have something similar where you live, a ride with a silly name like “Death of a Trailsman” or “Taint Misbehavin’” that delights in the unpleasantness of the task ahead.
Because I live several hours away, I arrived the evening before and decided to scope out the course by car before checking into my hotel. Several miles into my recon, I nearly turned around and drove straight home. The route was simply unrelenting, beginning with a longer, steeper climb than I’d ever begun to consider riding, and continuing on from there. As I imagined the sheer challenge involved, I rounded a sharp curve and was greeted by a family of bears standing in the middle of the road. Not only was I going to fail, I was going to be eaten alive, literally.
I texted my wife and told her I was coming home. I wanted to be the kind of guy who rode up mountains, I explained, but in truth I wasn’t sure I was. Her terse response was positively Phinney-esque: “Get your ass up that mountain.”
After an almost sleepless night, I lined up the next morning on the verge of a full-on panic attack. But once the ride began, I did what we’ve all been called to do at one time or another: I did the impossible. My impossible, at least. It wasn’t pretty or fast, but I hauled myself to the top, pausing at the summit to photograph the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen: clouds shrouding the valley beneath me. I sent it to my wife with a short message of celebration before continuing on.
“Turns out I am that kind of guy.”
I’ve had a lot of terrific moments on the bike, but few so special as those in which I’ve managed to prove myself wrong. Finding these moments is easier than you might think. It just takes patience, stamina, and a certainty that some rewards can only be realized after all the credits have rolled.
Dan Wuori could totally take a bear in an uphill sprint. Follow him on Twitter at @dwuori.