In the pain cave

I rode out to a local ball-buster yesterday with the intention of climbing it as part of my round-trip. But as usual, once I had been up to the top and down again I looked over my shoulder and gazed wistfully at the beast I had fought with just minutes before. The pavement winked at me. The memory of fading endorphins left a nostalgic vacuum in the core of my body. Just once more?

Within two hundred yards I was regretting my decision. I had not eaten adequately the day before, and my breakfast – a fried egg sandwich – wasn’t helping at all. A third of the way up the beast I was hurting. It was hot, and my legs were useless. I had no desire to reach the top again. The pain cave beckoned.

Entering the pain cave is something all cyclists do from time to time. It is cozy in there. The walls are ugly and there’s nowhere comfortable to sit, but you feel safe. Inside the cave, you don’t have to think about what’s outside the cave: in this case a seemingly endless, punishing climb. Inside the cave, the legs keep churning away with no relation to the distance being traveled. Inside the cave, the ride recedes into the background, and all that remains is the beating heart, the spinning cranks, the heaving breath.

At some point during my stay in the cave I decided to look outside. Lo and behold, I was almost at the top of a huge bloody hill! The weather was perfect out there. The view was lovely. I stepped out of the cave and was greeted with a wave of nausea, and I leaned over my handlebars to catch my breath. I wheeled around to the other side of the road and began my descent. At the bottom, I looked over my shoulder. The pain cave was a distant memory. The pavement winked at me again. Just once more?

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