December 03, 2023
Tomorrow we ride easy
“It makes absolutely no sense but there is absolutely no way I am not getting on my bike today.”
These were the thoughts that rattled around my mind as I woke up to day break on the edge of Jebel Shams canyon, Oman. Just short of ten degrees Celsius and the beautiful red sky appearing from the backdrop of the mountains. “Have I woken up in heaven” another thought I had.
24 hours prior we were on the start line of a 55km trail race across these amazing mountains which drilled 2,100 meters of elevation into our legs.
A 7 hour work day. Part time almost. My legs genuinely felt fresh. Fresh also was the hot coffee that passed my lips as I sat and watched the day begin from this unique spot.
The plan was simple, to explore and have fun. It rarely changes. It doesn’t need to. It always seems to lead to something unreal.
At 2000m above sea level running or riding a mountain bike is always going to give you a good outcome unless your mindset is dominated with weakness. Rolling gravel paths, some loose rock, loads of dust, climbing, descending. This is a playground that has it all. Today we will live.
The main dilemma is where to cast your gaze as the terrain seems to only be 15%-20% inclines or 15%-20% declines. Both needing your focus to stay upright. But outside the vision of your front wheel lays beauty beyond comprehension. Some reported it to have existed for 70 million years. The roof of Oman is spectacular on every single level and gives endlessly in return for your hard work.
We pass over 2,200m and a few hours into the ride have already accumulated 1,000m of elevation. The downs make the ups so much sweeter. Both are so very different. Both excite me. As we wrap up our morning coffee break it could be a good idea to head back to camp, however it is close to lunch time and there is no lunch there. The lunch is in the town 40km away and a 1,500m descent. I think about the options for a split second but the thought of climbing back up to the camp after lunch feeds me beyond comprehension. I float the idea to Rob and get zero resistance.
“This is the start of the climb.” Rob says. “Yeah mate I think around 23km to the top, I told you we should have brought lights.” We are in one of the most amazing positions of our lives. We absolutely should have rested today after the race yesterday but we are both smiling and want to climb like never before.
It is hard to explain what it feels like. I had a rough idea how long the climb would take as I had done it 5 years ago. I also knew what the climb needed from my legs and my mind. I was confident the latter was ready but of course there was an air of doubt to my legs after their day out yesterday.
Riding a bike for the most part is an equation of keeping the pedals turning, it is simple, there does comes a point on a mountain where the gradient makes that equation less simple. You either have enough power to put through those pedals or you do not. You have the choice but outright fatigue can slowly take that choice from you. The mind must stay even stronger.
The purr of the support vehicle or the snap of Carlin’s camera lets me know I am not alone. Jeff and Carlin are giving Rob and I their time and support to our selfish pursuit. Remarkable and never taken for granted. There are rare humans around, you have to find them. They enable the enjoyment of others and expect nothing in return. Today these two are here to make sure Rob and I arrive at the top safely. They will say little but they will be present. It is their presence in parts that drives me. I do not want to waste their time.
I want to put my Garmin away as it displays 4 kmph and 19% gradient. I feel like I am slower and the road is steeper. I feel so many things but also nothing. The feelings they come, the feelings they go. One minute I am strong, the next minute I am beat. One minute I can smile, the next even a grimace is painful. I rarely think about people outside of my close circle when I need to focus, but today I think a lot about the title of Steve Magness book “Do Hard Things” It makes me smile, it gives me power.
There are a lot of weak people in the world. People that give up because carrying on is hard in many ways. This is not just physically. It could be emotionally too. Call me old school I don’t give a shit but the reality is we are becoming a weaker race and we are somehow happy about it. Maybe it is the way things are supposed to play out and whilst for the most part I do not want to fight the flow I have little interest in being clumped in with the ever growing population of people that just love to bathe in weakness. For an instance those people drive me and I am actually grateful for them. Oh such conflict.
Halfway up the tarmac runs out and we hit the gravel. I need more water and I have to eat. The support car is on hand. I sit at the side of the road. Rob soon arrives, as always with a comment that makes me laugh but also brings a stark reality to the situation. More rest does not make the remaining work any easier or harder. The work is the work and our physical conditions are what they are and nothing is about to change. The only thing that fluctuates here is the mindset. Rob hops back on his bike after a few minutes and we charge on to the top.
Mother nature is giving us the show of a lifetime. To the right the sun is setting over an epic mountain range and to the left the moon is rising over the mountains and through clouds. “What the f**k is going on?” I think to myself. I check if I am hallucinating almost hitting the panic button. I look at my Garmin and we have only been out 9 hours. I can not be that tired. “This is real!” I let out a huge cry and fully send it past the support car, my heart pounding through my chest. It is wild. I wish you were there. I wish I had the words to describe it properly.
Dust, more incline, light that becomes dark, warm air that becomes cold. We keep the pedals turning as we edge closer to the top. For us right here today this is our Everest. In the grand scheme of things it’s nothing. To us it’s everything. Right now it needs everything.
Here we are in a strange kind of paradise. I want the pain to end but I want the feelings to last forever. I know both will pass. I stay present and savor them concurrently.
5km to go. I need my lights. I need my mate too. I get both and in silence we eat up the remaining road in front of us. “I feel like I need a cry” are the words that come from Rob’s mouth as he gets off his bike. I have never heard him say something like that. It is too dark to see his face and know if he meant it. It’s irrelevant if he did or not. Part of me hopes he did cry a bit, be it inside or outside. Emotions should not be fought in situations like this. He sits down, then lays down. We are both cooked.
“Tomorrow we ride easy” I tell him. He silently seems to agree.
(Thanks to my friend Carlin for the images)