Lessons learned through 1300 km bike ride to Paris: I felt alive and privileged
This July, I embarked on the bicycle journey from Denmark to Paris. The reason I did that is, that I am goal-oriented, and always looking for ways to challenge myself, defeat my limitations, do something I think I can´t, and just try new things to feel fully alive.
So at the beginning of the year, I joined Team Rynkeby Denmark, which is a foundation for kids suffering from critical illnesses. The participants collect funds by bicycling to Paris. If you want to read about the initiative, then visit their page here: Team Rynkeby.
So I joined and thought, well this will be physically hard like I need to have strong legs and then all will be fine. I attended all scheduled classes, and did all the 2500 km of preparation, so I was ready physically, but oh boy how grateful I am for my mental training. This is what got me through it all…
Your legs can do it. Believe me, if you train and attend all classes, your legs can take you to Paris. Your mind is the biggest obstacle. Like in many other situations in life.
So I cycled all kilometers, some were easier than others, but I did it. I also made it all the way up to Huy wall in Belgium. If you are a cyclist you probably have heard about it. And for me, it was the easy part!
It took me 8 days to cycle to Paris from Denmark and so I will share 8 lessons from the trip. Some surprised me, some not.
8 lessons learned on the bike ride to Paris:
- Save the energy where you can save it.
So the first 3 days were really easy for me. I felt energetic after each ride and even did yoga, and posture exercises after each ride. And then on day 4, I was exhausted… So next time if I will ride for many days, I will not do more than needed on the first days. I would skip all the other not necessary activities and save my energy for bicycling. I would also do more research on what to eat, drink, how much and when, and of course how to cycle in the heat. We did not train in hot weather and that was a mistake… But well, hard to train in Denmark, when summer is something you have only if you are lucky.
2. It is okay to say “I am tired”.
Not even during one training, I had with the team, did I say we need to slow down, or I am tired, or I do not want to lead the team. I always took the difficult position when it was needed: save someone from the wind, ride in front so someone does not have to, etc. It was fine as I had the power, but I never tried riding 8 days in a row. And for me, as stubborn as I am, it is not easy to say okay, enough, I am tired, but better this than not finishing the trip. So one day when I was in front of the team I said I want to change positions because I am tired. And everyone understands it, everyone. So learn to be okay with not being able to do the hard stuff all the time. Being in the middle is fine, that’s why we are the team. When one is tired, another one can take over.
3. Your mind is equally important as your legs.
I was in great physical condition, but then the sun came out and it was shining on us at 31 degrees celsius for the whole 208 km and I cannot take the heat. The last 40 km was hell… I was thinking I won´t be able to finish. My heart was raising, I lacked air, I was so hot and felt dizzy. I could not see how I will finish it… My legs could continue, but my heart was pounding too hard, I lacked air and my mind started playing tricks on me. Of course, it wants me to survive. So I took 10 min break with the team, got some ice on my body, and drank a can of Coca-Cola. Thanks for that drink, it literally saved me through the whole trip.
So that day I completed the last 40 km, but in the morning, I got a panic attack… I rarely get those, the last time I got it was around 4 years ago and I had a few when I was a child. It was so bad that I felt sick in my stomach, dizzy, like fainting. But I knew, that it is all in my head, I was scared of the sun and the heat, and felt like yesterday, so my mind tried to stop me from getting back on that bike and taking a chance of hurting myself. I had to talk myself out of my panic because it was not real, it was imagined, it was in my head. I am so grateful for my coaching practice and the hours spent on understanding the mind. I won over my fear, I got back on the bike and nailed it that day.
4. We are stronger together than on our own.
If I was alone after the attack, I am not sure if I would have made it. The team support meant everything to me. They gave me hugs, they let me cry for no reason, they were there for me when I said I am just afraid… They believed in me when I did not believe in myself. They talked to me through the first 20 km saying I will do it, it is all fine, and they support me. One person told me after the race, that he never doubted my ability to cycle all the way and that he would love to be as strong-willed as I am (I was crying at that point in time…). Sometimes we just need someone to believe in us, when we doubt ourselves. Someone to be there for us, just to tell some encouraging words.
I feel in debt to my teammates who helped me get through that hard hard day.
5. We value something more when it is harder to get it or harder to get through it.
If my trip was all smooth, I would not have had so many memories, and so many different emotions and it would not have felt so special. Now the most impressive day of the whole trip was when despite the panic attack I finished the whole day and even made it up the biggest hill. The other days are not so imprinted in my memory as this really hard day. Because we remember emotions the best… And with other life situations, like growing up in a financially poor environment, I value everything I have no ten folded…
6. Difficult situations help people bond and become better, and more compassionate towards each other.
We also had a crash… Unfortunately, these things happen when you ride in a team and fast and close to each other… Two team members ended up with broken bones and could not continue… During the accident and following days, we stood for each other and supported each other. Stronger people hugged weaker ones, and we all supported the ones that needed the most support. We gave the shoulder to cry, shared our own fears and insecurities, and made each other feel not alone. We reached the next level of being a TEAM through the tough moments.
7. If you have a strong WHY, you will find any HOW.
During the hard moments of the trip, I remembered why I started it at all, why I signed up, for whom I am doing this, and why my participation matters. My WHY was so strong that I found a way to continue… Find your WHY in every project you take up and make it so relevant to you that giving up is not an option.
8. It is about the journey, not the end result.
As cliche as it might be, it was never more true than during this trip. The end result was nice, arriving in Paris was nice. But it was not the highlight of the whole trip. The highlight was my dedication, my willingness to continue, my willpower, and my strength of mind. The highlights were the discipline I mastered, the commitment to the goal, the strength of my character, and the passion I have for becoming better every day. The highlights were every hug I got from the team, and every support word I received and gave to others. The highlight was a human connection…
I cried and I laughed. I felt alive and I felt defeated. I felt strong and I felt weak. I felt proud and I felt empowered. I felt I am a part of something bigger than myself. I felt that I am living to the fullest, that I am not wasting that one precious life.
I’m 35 and I have been given the privilege to be alive, while at the same time my cousins of 33 and 35 are not here anymore because they lost the battle with cancer… So in the hard moments, I remember them and all the people who would give anything to feel the wind on their faces while riding a bike through French villages…
I´m thinking about a new adventure to feel alive and keep living to the fullest. Any ideas?