One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced and overcome was a self-imposed one. In 1999, I rode a bicycle 330 miles through Appalachia in 3.5 days. I raised $1900 for people suffering from AIDS in the Washington D.C. metro area, then joined 1700 other riders to pedal my bike from North Carolina, through Virginia, and into D.C.
I had never done anything like this before. I was 24, newly married, and my husband was going to be away for several months for a research trip. I think I had recently gotten a bicycle I enjoyed riding, I wanted something to occupy me while my husband was away, and a friend had done the AIDS Ride the year prior. I was awed by the idea. I signed up, sent out fundraising letters, and started training.
The training certainly occupied me. I was not an athlete; gym class brought down my GPA in high school. I think it was the only class I didn’t get an A in. Athletics were not my strength or my preference, and so the thought of relying on my own body to transport me over 100 miles per day, through mountains, was a little terrifying.
But I trained. And I trained. Training and eating occupied all the time I wasn’t at work or sleeping. I rode all over the state of Maryland, I rode through Amish country in Pennsylvania, I trained inside the beltway, outside the beltway, in Delaware, in Virginia. I saw the countryside like I’d never seen it before, listened to trees whisper and bike tires hum. I climbed up hills with sweat pouring down my face and back and chest and thighs, then flew down the other side with glee as the wind evaporated the sweat and cooled me down. I marveled at how sweat works as a cooling mechanism. I rode until my legs turned to jelly when I got off and tried to walk. My bike, a compact, navy blue Cannondale, became an extension of me. I felt as comfortable on it as on my own two feet.
Prior to the AIDS Ride, I didn’t know know my body, or what it needed, or how it worked. I didn’t know about nutrition or hydration, or how good it feels to be fit and strong and tuned in to your physical self. I didn’t know the strength of my determination, and that if I set a challenge for myself, I was going to do my damndest to meet it. I didn’t know I could do hard things.
I’ve met other significant challenges in my life, and had life-altering events, but the AIDS Ride was the first, and it was the first that was strictly between me and myself. Riding onto the National Mall in Washington DC, after being on a bike saddle and sleeping in tents for three days, was one of the most momentous days of my life. I could not believe I had done it. More than twenty years later, I still remember what it felt like: the elation, the joy, the wonder, the relief. The feeling of holy shit, I did it. I really did it.
This is my entry for Bloganuary prompt 14: Write about a challenge you faced and overcame.