Monday Musings…. Headstrong into the Headwind

Whether you call it stubbornness or persistence, both can lead to death. That’s the thought that was swirling around in my head space last week.

This was the second year in a row that I cycled through Ontario on my way back from visiting friends and family with my husband. I decided to take a few new routes and also to push my limits. Why I seem to have a fascination with doing this on almost a daily basis, I don’t know.

I did some great treks north and south west of Ottawa. Beautiful scenery. A few nice hills. The next day, I decided to do the Waterfront Trail from Mallorytown Landing to Picton, about a 125 km jaunt. And I was going to accomplish this in one day. It’ll be good training for the Granfondo in August I told myself! The weather forecast looked good, hot but not as humid as last year, where people were actually dying in Montreal because of the excessive heat. All was good!

So, my husband dropped me off in Mallorytown, we synced the tracking app so he could watch my route, and off I went! Westward bound!

The route was great, lots of awesome sites along the water, and then, as I entered the city of Gananoque, a man by the name of Roy rode up beside me at a stop light. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe that things just randomly happen. There really are no coincidences in this life. Indeed, I believe you are meant to be at a certain place at a certain time encountering certain people. And so here was this 70-year-old man on his road bike inquiring about my day. “Where ya headin'?” he asked. “Next pit stop is Kingston,” I replied. “Well, let me take you on a route through town that bypasses the main street.” “Fantastic!” I replied to this stranger.

So off we went, and sure enough it was a much more pleasant route than fighting the morning commuters. We eventually reached a point where I could get back on the trail and then he said 3 important things to me:

1. “You know the trek to Kingston is hilly right?” “Ah, that’ll be a good test for me. I’m up for the challenge.” I replied.

2. “Well, you’ll be biking directly into a headwind the whole way.” “Oh… that won’t be too fun,” I joked.

3. “We’re a dying breed. Have a good ride!” “Will do, Roy! Thanks for your help through the city!” I responded, as I turned onto the trail and directly into that headwind.

It was a 30 km trek to Kingston and Roy wasn’t kidding. There were a ton of hills that seemed to go on forever! As much as the descents were awesome, the wind was so strong that there was hardly any momentum to help propel me up the next hill. It seemed like forever to even go 1 km. I had to stop looking down at my computer that was tracking my stats, because it reinforced my thoughts: “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m never going to make it.”

And so, I did a self-assessment, half to pass the time and half to question my judgment! Why do I set myself up for these challenges? Is it that I‘m just so stubborn? Or is it that I’m persistent? In my mind, stubbornness has a negative connotation while persistence has a positive ring to it. And I think that as humans, we want to believe that even our faulty traits such as stubbornness can be turned into more appealing synonyms such as tenacity, determination and persistence. But the reality is, that if you keep pushing an idea or an activity too far, it can actually lead to disaster, and yes even, death. Roy said we were a dying breed and I feared I might fulfill his prophecy. You’ve gotta know when enough is enough. Roy had given me fair warning.

But alas, I kept going, against his better judgment. The difference between stubbornness and persistence kept my mind pre-occupied as my legs kept pumping and the sweat streamed down my face. I concluded that stubbornness is an attitude while persistence is the action that follows the attitude. So, the only thing that could stop my behaviour was to challenge what I was actually thinking. I know myself well enough that when I get an idea that I am passionate about, it won’t just stay in my head. I need to act. And when I act, I give it 110%. I wish I could reel it back at times, but it’s really difficult for me. It’s not a matter of letting others down or wanting others’ praise. It’s about pushing myself and achieving my personal goals. It’s a case of either letting myself down or celebrating a personal victory. It’s a tug of war in my own mind.

But having an attitude of stubbornness can be, well, plain stupid. On the 14th hill I certainly questioned my attitude as my legs felt like giving out, and the thought crossed my mind that I might pass out, fall into traffic and die. Perhaps Roy had been sent to me as the Grim Reaper or the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. So, I pulled over to the side of the road, sat under a tree, had some water and a snack, and re-evaluated.

Re-evaluation is the critical piece in this life– you and I need to constantly consider what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, and what we’re capable of doing. We all have a limit. Some push the limit too far; others don’t push it far enough. It’s hard to find a person who has everything in balance. So, we have to take stock of our whole being and try and calibrate it so that we can move forward in this life, at a pace mentally and physically that we are capable of. There needs to be some stress or tension to propel us toward a goal but it can’t be so much that we feel like we are sinking. And as I’ve written many times, we need to know what supports we need to help us to reach our goals. When we have the right amount of challenge, neither too much nor too little, along with the mental and physical supplies we need for the journey, we can make it through.

So when stubbornness borders on stupidity, stop. When stubbornness pushes you to accomplish something that is difficult but possible, go for it. But evaluate, constantly evaluate the limits of what you can handle. That's exactly what I did along my journey.

Did I make it to Kingston? Yes. Did I keep going on to Picton? Yes. It was no longer about beating a time, but rather finishing the course, one pedal stroke at a time.

When I reached my final destination that day, my husband asked, “Did you see many cyclists on the route?” I stopped and thought for the first time about that, “Hmm...yes… but they were all going in the other direction!”

Moral of the story: It’s always easier to travel with the headwind instead of against it.

Next year, I'll remember Roy, forgo my stubbornness, and be smart! I’ll check the forecast first and cycle with the wind to my back. Let "Catch the Wind" be the theme for this week!

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