The Miles in Milestones
In the past six months, I wrote and defended my dissertation alhamdullillah. I studied the effect of volunteering on brain health and cognition in older adults, and found that volunteering improves executive functions. To celebrate this PhD milestone, I am going for miles.
On Sunday, I tried the Hains Point 100 mile bike ride in Washington D.C. My friend Meena suggested it last week, and although I’ve never logged 100 consecutive miles on pedals or feet, she convinced me that it would be a fun challenge in the middle of December.
I got excited about the adventure the night before, and prepared a bunch of my favorite foods: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, peanut brittle, pumpkin cookies, dates, and fruit. 100 miles is a lot, but with peanut butter and pumpkin, it will be a party, I thought.
20 miles into the ride, I realized that I thought wrong. I felt so frozen that I thought nothing but cold. When I am cold on a run, I know what to do: go faster to create heat out of cold. On two wheels, I tried this strategy, but it created wind that made me colder. The fight against the elements felt iteratively futile: try harder, face faster winds, and freeze deeper, down to the bone. I can deal with numb fingers and toes, but when my core failed to warm up after over an hour on the rode, I stumbled off the bike, and curled up on the ground.
What sort of a celebration is this? I asked myself. I need food. I need clothes. I eyed my provisions locked up in Meena’s car. I searched for Meena, hoping that hunger or cold might call her off the rode, too.
Soon she came to the rescue! MEENA! I screamed with all sorts of mixed emotions.
My friend opened up her car and shared a thought out loud, “I’ve never seen you this disgruntled before.” Meena proceeded to provide encouragement, “You are doing great.” Shivering, I nibbled on cookies until I realized that I was starving. Then I swallowed two sandwiches. As my body thawed, I felt better, but still not great. Meena kept on saying nice things while I silently thought about giving up: I could go home, take a hot shower, and eat cookies in bed.
A biker saw me huddled up inside my friend’s car, and offered a tip, “If you’re looking for warmth, the bathrooms are heated.” I laughed, licked the peanut butter off my fingers, and layered up–a jacket on top of my jacket, plastic bags on top of my socks, and a pair of snow gloves thicker than the cold itself. READY, I smiled.
So, we hit the rode again, and I vowed to cycle until time’s up. The additional layers kept the cold away, and the encouragement from friends and strangers changed my mind from one of despair to hope. My lips stayed in something like a runner’s smile for the next few hours.
I had no idea how far I would go, although I knew that I would keep on going. When time ended, my Garmin reported 64 miles–practically four decades short of the 100 goal.
Although I did not make my goal, a metric century is the farthest I’ve ever gone; and now I feel that I can make the imperial century the next time I try.
I celebrated with Meena that night. We made fun of my face at mile 20, which apparently suggested an end to our friendship. Of course, instead, it made us tighter. There is something powerful about overcoming struggles together. Recapping the day, we forgot the pain, celebrated the miles, and asked each other, “What’s next?”
Here is my list:
I am thinking about the San Fransisco New Year’s One Day. Right now, it’s just a thought.