I’ve signed up to ride the Tour de Aotearoa, an 1800-mile self-supported journey down the spine of New Zealand. The trek takes place next February. I long ago made a vow that I wouldn’t ever reach a point in my life where I would start settling, and this is an extension on that promise. Frankly, there are a lot of factors in play here, among them the length of time it would take and a group of friends who may or may not be available to do the ride. I am a loner and fond of doing things all by myself, but a long bike ride is not among them.
Once upon a time I would have approached my agent about turning the ride into a book. But I think the world has had its fill of middle-aged men and women finding purpose and meaning through contrived adventure. Eat, Pray, Ride this is not. So while I am registered and surprisingly eager, having already broken out my wall map of New Zealand (a vestige of Farther Than Any Man), much needs to happen between now and February to make the trip a reality.
And yet, despite all these denials and conditions, this ride has the feeling of something that needs to happen — or, if not the Tour de Aotearoa, some other great adventure. I was walking through the expo of a Disney Half-Marathon last weekend, and the anticipation of great joy that would soon engulf each runner was palpable. The reason running has become so entrenched in modern society has nothing to do with speed or time (though everyone keeps track of speed and time — even the people who say they aren’t competitors), it’s the feeling that comes when the finish line has been crossed and the goal that seemed impossible becomes a reality. There is something in the human condition that craves a better version of ourselves. We are inspired by the excellence in others and wonder what it would be like to push a new limit. Most of us aren’t cut out to be Olympians, but we can do our own version of citius, altius, fortius and feel pretty damn good when all is said and done. Take a look at the faces of runners finishing any race, anywhere. Despite the pain they have endured, no one frowns. Universally, from first runner to last, each finisher glows.
This isn’t to say there’s not a great deal of throwing up and weak-kneed crawls to the medical tent, but you know what I mean.
Part of my training for New Zealand has been riding my new Peloton trainer. You can live stream spin classes to make the time go faster. My instructor yesterday was George Hincapie, the seventeen-time Tour de France rider. Rather than have us all ride a couple minutes of tempo and a few minutes of climbing, the ride replicated yesterday’s stage at the Giro d’Italia. A six-hour stage was condensed into a 45-minute class. We certainly weren’t in Italy but the imagination filled in the blanks, forcing me to embrace the suffering as Hincapie described the steepness of the climbs and the need to get up out of the saddle and push each imagined switchback. By the time we got to the final sprint I was a dishrag. Covered in sweat, barely able to breathe, on the verge of hurling my lunch, I collapsed onto the handlebars and did my best to recover.
It was the best moment of my day.
I don't know what it is about the human condition that craves adventure, craves a better version of ourselves, and craves that moment we find a new limit. But I know that when I let a busy schedule interfere with that process life is dull.
I thrill at the concoction of a great sentence when I write. I experience the most profound joy when my runners set a personal best. But little else compares to the great uplifting of a physical challenge.
And so, on to New Zealand.