I don't know if I can pedal or walk another inch. We may be stranded here for the night. Of course we would probably freeze to death. Naturally when we left the car it was 70 degrees, so I shed all warm layers, leaving them behind. Real smart move there. Maybe I could wrap myself in first aid bandages or start a fire with the lighter. Would that keep the predators away? Are there snakes out here? We literally can see no road, no sign of human life, and have hardly any cell signal out here. Move legs, move!
These were my unspoken thoughts during our latest biking adventure. We had set out for a nice spring ride, hoping to find some new exciting trails. The plan was to ride about 2 hours and then head for the relaxing hot springs of Ouray. Three hours in I bonked because we hadn't eaten lunch. Four hours in I cried because I was so exhausted and defeated. Five hours in my water and all snacks were depleted, I had scrapes from cactus pricks, my arms were jello from pushing my bike uphill, and my legs felt like they had lead in them. This was a challenge like nothing I had faced before.
What started out as a quick bike ride turned in to a lost trek through winding trails in the back country, miles from any other person. When we live and breathe the outdoors we forget just how powerful and dangerous it can be. We run, climb and bike mountains. Heights, long distances, rain and pain do not scare us. And in that same mindset that allows us to endure and accomplish great things we are also betrayed. We fly too close to the sun, think we can always overcome nature. But, this was a humbling reminder that nature is a beast all its own.
Looking back now, I was probably being a little dramatic. However, I found it interesting how our natural instincts and will power kick in when most needed. In my head I was already forming plans of survival just in case we couldn't find our way out and had to spend the night. It probably wouldn't have been that bad. We wouldn't have frozen, and I don't think we would have been attacked by vicious predators. I discovered that the fear I had was actually a good thing. It started preparing me mentally. It also kept me going. (See Doubt and Travel for more on this idea)
When you think about it, our bodies are amazing creations. This adventure took a toll on us physically and mentally. But besides sore muscles we ended up being fine. This was only our second bike trip of the season, and it was the warmest weather we had experienced since last May. We drank more water and faster than prepared for, and didn't pack sufficient food for this long of duration. We misjudged how long we would be riding, and the total time spent in the back country.
Those factors alone gave our muscles a good beating. Then there was the mental side of it. Like I said we couldn't see a main road for the longest time. We would summit a small hill and look towards where a road should be, only to fine a never-ending expanse of tree tops. There was really no telling how far or how long it would be till we were back to our parking lot. Without a sense of duration, it was hard to determine how long our bodies would make it, or how hard we could push them. Really at hour four there wasn't much push left, it was more frustration.
All we could do was keep moving, even if it was at a slow pace. We knew the sun would be going down soon, and then we would have to face the darkness. Our bodies pushed on, and we forced control over our minds. I even repeated, you can do it, a few times as I pushed my tires over boulders and hills. The rocky terrain and uphills seemed to never end. Every time we thought we could hop on and ride, we encountered another steep unrideable hill. If we had been in prime season riding condition, these may not have seemed so impossible, but our legs had nothing left to give. The task of even walking with our bikes became a struggle, hence my cactus scrapes.
To my own surprise my body finally made it out of the hills and found a jeep road. An instant rush of adrenaline came back to my legs, and the feeling of hope and safety to my mind. Until that point neither of us had mentioned any of the negative possibilities. It felt good saying, "Whew, I honestly thought we were going to be lost in the desert all night." The security of the road was a relief, but that relief faded fast as it turned into a four mile uphill slough.
Fortunately we were able to ride the upward road, and even at a slow pedal pace it was still faster than walking. Looking backwards we discovered where we had come from. The trails we found winded through a canyon. We went down one side, crossed the valley floor, up the other side, down the other side, crossed the floor again and back up. No big deal, we just rode the walls of a canyon for five hours. I knew at that point this was going to be a good story, and that's part of why we do this.
Hoping we chose the right direction to the car, we finally were on a descent to the parking lot. After five hours of uphill hiking and biking, the downhill road to the parking lot felt like 20 minutes of heaven. I let go of the brakes and flew as fast as my tires let me. The wind cooled my sunburned face and arms, and my feet bounced with the bumps in the road. I almost felt like smiling, but I resisted until I could see the black tinted windows of my car. There had been too many emotional roller coasters on this ride to release any excitement without solid proof first.
Upon seeing the car, every bad feeling disappeared, and my body relaxed. We were alive, safe, and had just challenged our bodies to one of the best workouts they have every experienced. Limits are a funny thing. Sometimes they remind us that we aren't as strong or great as we thought we were. Sometimes nature proves us wrong.
And even when you think you have reached the end of what you have got to give, your body probably has more. I thought I was exhausted at hour 4, my body thought otherwise. I discovered new limits, and am thankful for the experience.
Have you ever been pushed to your limits or past? Share your story with us in the comments below.