Eventually, perhaps inevitably, comes that moment.
I realize that hard as my legs are pedaling, the bicycle is simply not moving. Another 100 kmph gust of wind slams into me accompanied by a sheet of icy rain. My shoes are heavy with water, squishing between my toes as I labour against the pedals. 100 kilometers in 8 hours. A jeep roars by throwing up a mist of muddy spray. I mumble a few expletives in Italian, because it sounds better (English is reserved for the trucks), wipe the mud from my face and tuck my glasses into my pocket. They’re useless at this point. I think about the people in that jeep, windows rolled up, heating and radio on, oblivious to the elements. I would give my last chocolate peanut butter bar to be in that car. I am so cold I can no longer think about anything except the cold. So cold all thought is impossible. My body is shaking, my hands and feet completely numb. This is cyclist agony. The part nobody ever talks about. There is nothing redeeming in this kind of torment. This is the moment when I wonder why. Why I am cycling the world. Why I force my legs to continue pumping up and down, up and down, endlessly, 12 hours a day.
Pain, misery, struggle. They all teach you a lot about yourself, of who you are and what you are capable of under extreme conditions. I try to take my mind outside of my physical surroundings, outside of the immediate discomfort of the present. What comes to me then are a series of perfect moments along the way. A stunning sunset. The peak of a mountain. A warm swim in the Mediterranean. A glass of spiced rum. A kiss. In the moments of complete agony, physical and mental, these moments of perfection stand out like beacons in a stormy sea, heightened more perhaps because of the contrast.
Is the struggle simply to experience a more extreme pleasure from the perfect moments? Is that all life is? A fight against and triumph over adversity to more greatly savour the brief in-betweens of complete and rare happiness and abandon; where everything, taste, sense, colour, smell, are so much more enhanced because to know their opposite is to appreciate their ultimate reality?
In that moment I know that there’s no other place I’d rather be. Because that gnawing hunger which grows with every passing mile means the next food I eat will be the most delicious in the world. That the cold and wet make the dry and warm a pleasure surpassing all others. That the fatigue in every limb means I will sleep deep and dreamless and wake refreshed to another day with an unknown destination, new sights, endless possibilities and perfect moments.