Positioning of hard things

In April 2012 I biked 110 miles in 29 hours. It was the hardest, longest ride I’ve ever done. As someone who was (and still is) a wimp on hills, the steep hills of southern Indiana were ever more challenging. But this ride has had a benefit I did not expect: every other short ride I’ve ever taken is a piece of cake in comparison.

Like cereals on the grocery store shelves, this ride positioned my mind into realizing every other shorter ride wasn’t that hard. The next time I biked in a little rain or a little wind or snow or a hail storm I never thought, “Ugh, this is awful.” No, the 78 miles I did in 6 hours was awful.

I learned the other day this country once had a “scourge” of “sports mania”. Not the kind of sports-watching team-rooting mania we have today, but of people actually doing exercise.

Advancements in bicycle technology in 1890 put America into a frenzy:

From Harper’s:

It is true that women heretofore, here and there, have been trying the machines in an apologetic, shamefaced sort of way, but in this year they have boldly come to the front as riders, challenging male competition, and making a fashion of that which before was an eccentricity. …Women may ride in tights, but it is certain that men will never adopt the skirt. It is too dangerous. Man has not courage to risk the complications of an overthrow in a skirt. 

And the L.A. Times:

… In most of the States of the Union and in all the great cities, the bicycle vote has become a thing to be reckoned with. In New York it has bowled out the granite ring completely. Time was when a residence block couldn’t be paved with asphalt, even if the property-owners were agreed on footing the bill.

… Everybody knows what the bicycle is doing for the good-roads problem…. The most radical of recent legislation is the new Connecticut law (statutes of 1895), which pledges the State to pay one-third the cost of one mile of road in each town each year, if the county and the town will each pay one-third… A better device could hardly be imagined for encouraging road improvement in the poorer regions.

And this mania led Americans to more fitness, more college sports, and a healthier lifestyle. This, in turn, led to Theodore Roosevelt’s “Strenuous Life” speech:

I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.

I try to remember this when I do hard, challenging things. It’s also helpful to remember when I find myself shirking strenuous things — mental and physical — that I know will be good for me. It’s also why I’ve developed less patience and respect for people who continue to wilt at the notion of doing something difficult.

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