by Krista C.
Recently, in the middle of a challenging bike ride, I stared down at the cheerful screen of my Wahoo Bolt and saw the jagged zigzag of the route before me, a crude lightning bolt shape of switchback after switchback. I passed a sign with a picture of a right triangle that read “16%,” further indicating the tough climb ahead. My legs were already sore and limp, my lungs were dry and crushed, and I had only just begun. The gentle crunching of gravel under my tires and my rhythmic breathing provided the only backdrop of noise. In the quiet of the slow climb my mind flowered with pain, as different internal voices began to bloom, begging me to end the ache and get off the bike.
Switchbacks to the Castiglion del Bosco, Wahoo saying Hello, Climbing Monte Santa Maria
My drive to self-motivate kicked in, and I reasoned pain with more pain. With each pedal stroke I automatically conjured up emotionally painful memories--kissing my father’s forehead the day after he passed away, the deep cold that stayed on my lips like a basement, the day I was diagnosed with the same illness that caused him to die--and moments of physical pain--the NYC marathon I ran in his memory, how ill-prepared I was for it, the various emergency room visits caused by my illness, waiting endless hours to be seen. When I focus on those pains I come back to the present and think, “This doesn’t hurt as much as that, and I lived through that.” In that pain I harness the strength from my past. I get to the top of the long climb and I keep going.
I believe that the places from which we draw our motivation from can be the same sources that hinder us, two sides of the same coin. Living with a chronic illness, in my case a genetic kidney disease called Polycystic Kidney Disease, is a great balancing act. I’ve found great strength and drive to use my body before I lose it, as my disease is progressively degenerative and I’ve witnessed the loss of ability the disease can wreak through my father. But I also have days in which I live in the shadow of my illness, where fear, anxiety, depression and anger eclipse all other feelings.
Part of my experience living with chronic illness: MRIs and clinical trials
I experienced the gamut of my motivational drive during the ride described above, which was the route of the famous, original L’Eroica route in Tuscany, Italy. The route is 209 kilometers through mostly unpaved, white gravel roads ridden during a one-day event celebrating the authentic roots of cycling, which my boyfriend and I split over three days. The route spoke to me because its origin is based in an ethos of rediscovering “the beauty of fatigue” in which the participants are called “hunters of feelings and emotions.” I connected to this immediately and through the 4,000+ meters of climbing the route provides.
Many times along the route I hung my head from the pain and fatigue, focusing on the few feet in front of me, oblivious to the beauty of the landscape around me. But there is always a crest in cycling no matter the ride, or at least a destination. In my great balancing act I knew how to push myself so that I could settle into the fatigue in a way that honored it and acknowledged that it was a creation of my own making, that I still possess the strength to keep going.