Cycling and the Hero’s Journey: The Internal Battle
One of the interesting things about hero stories is that we can actually relate to many of the characters. While we mostly want to relate to the main hero, for obvious reasons, often we find ourselves connecting with the darker figures, ones grappling with or even immersed in their shadow. They also have their own allure of course, Darth Vader was always just cool. Other times we might relate to the wise teacher speaking through our consciousness, or the trickster.
I had an interesting and unexpected experience of this today. A few days ago I set myself the goal of doing the 3 Peaks Challenge next March, a 235km day ride with 4500 meters of climbing. I wrote about this in my previous post. Well, I think I might have created a little internal freeze when I put the training schedule in my diary. It’s a lot of training but I have till next March and I’m not exactly starting from scratch. Well today I eased myself onto a ride. I mapped out a long one, over 100km and 1700 vertical, but told myself I’d just do one section, one hill at a time. The strategy, which I used a lot in finishing my PhD thesis, really worked. After 4hrs on the bike I’d clocked 117km and climbed just over 2050 metres including PBs on the Kinglake climb and Mt Pleasant, among other sections. In short this was the biggest, not the longest but the toughest ride I’ve ever done solo. The Kinglake climb was a surprise as I’d already ridden 72km when the 7km climb started, so I wasn’t pushing it and I was quite tired. Nearing the top though I said something like, “!%&! you! I CAN do this!“ Saying it out loud felt really good, liberating even.
Who was I talking to? I was talking to that little me, who gets scared away from challenges that I set myself, that aspect of my self that wants to play it safe, to ride within what it thinks my limits are. With this spirit I stood up on the pedals and accelerated for the final section to the end of the climb.
At the same time I thought of that scene in the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when Smeagol temporarily overcomes his internal shadow as he also reclaims his own humanity, telling Gollum “Leave now and never come back!”.
Now I have to say, I’ve never related to this character before, usually if I’m looking for inspiration I’ll think of Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn and others. Gollum is interesting though precisely because of his internal struggle and it’s this that I, and indeed most people have to deal with when we really want to grow. There will be many other days when I’ll need to do this, to confront that part of me that wants to play small, days when the best strategy is to sneak up on overcome ‘little me’ one step at a time.