The Adventure of A Lifetime - Lessons from The Alps

September 22, 2015

When the invitation arrived, it had “Ride of a Lifetime” written on it. It was the title of the email. And even if it wasn’t this was all my eyes could see as I read through the text; Six days. Six-hundred miles. Nine riders (only two women.) Nearly Ninety-Thousand-Feet of elevation gain. One remote week with the goal of riding every mile from Geneva, Switzerland to Nice, France. One incredible adventure.

Would life even be complete if I said no? Or would it just be riddled with regret because surely if I turned down the opportunity, some physical or emotional tragedy would befall me and prevent me from ever going again?! France would disappear into the ocean if I don’t go now, right? Right.

I signed up for the suffer, and all the glory that came with it. I arrived in Geneva on a still-hot summer day to review the course that our friend (and closet cartographer Jered) had spent years researching. Some of the roads would be well-traveled, and likely still covered with graffiti from the tours de France that had flooded them in years past. Others were less traveled, only named on aging paper maps. The rest were practically fables, unmarked, unpaved and unknown. The next morning we jammed a few croissants into our mouths, rolling out before the sun began to blaze. We centered our internal compasses on the Mediterranean Sea and promised we wouldn’t stop pedaling (in our minds,) until we reached it. 

We started each morning in a tiny remote town and kept track of how many inches (and then feet) of baguette we consumed for breakfast. Then it would begin. Climbing through the sunshine, through the rain. Ripping descents in the chilling cold, bursting through the curves on rushes of adrenaline. Exhale. Then repeat. Sometimes six or seven times over multiple mountain passes before making our way to the next little town to eat, rest, and do it again the next day.

Ever present were the satisfied aches in our legs, across our backs, our necks, and deep in our core. These aches subsided with coffee and belly laughs once we got the bikes out on the road, but other aches would reveal around lunch time when we were hungry. Hungrier than we’ve ever been for basically all the things served at whatever cafe that would open its doors to nine sweaty, boisterous riders (who may also want to monopolize the bathroom to dry their sopping wet cycling shorts, thankyouverymuch.)

We ached to reach the top of the climb, for a beer, for a bed so we could just call it quits. The only surefire way to drown these body/mind aches was to feel the heart aches when we would see something - a pristine alpine lake, the light hitting the pastures just so, the sun setting over powerful granite peaks that towered the sky ominously, exquisitely. These scenes were imprinting us for life, stopping us in our tracks with the beauty of it all and the realization because we were sweating, crying, churning, agonizing over each mile we were earning the wind in our faces, the sunset over the mountains. 

On the first morning I woke up back in Colorado, my bones were exhausted. My heart was quiet. My lungs and mind, expanded by the experience but still spinning as I began to comprehend what had just happened out there. I had no regrets. The only emotional and psycological tragedy that could befall me now was being unable to convey what had happened France to everyone back home, being unable to put such a transformational experience to good use. So, I took off on my bike to start telling the story.

I climbed into the mountains to measure my new heart and soul, forged in the Alps, against them. I kept riding, deeper into the pines, legs feeling heavier than ever on roads that I knew well, past others that were primarily unknown, and others still that appeared unpassable, unmeasured. Before long I reached a familiar pristine alpine lake that I’d ridden my bike to a thousand times now. It sits perched beneath purple-grey mountains majesty, scattered with snow fields framed in bluebird skies and green meadows. On this day, scant clouds obscured the suns’ rays, casting heavenly light over the landscape and my heart ached with the beauty of it all, melting right into my shoes and washing out the heft of my legs. I was living this moment in this place, and it was all the more poignant because I had just sweat, cried, churned and agonized on two wheels to get up there.

Heading for home, I couldn’t help but wonder what once-in-a-lifetime-moments were happening every moment while I had been away, chasing an the adventure in the Alps. “What had I missed?” I pedaled back past the dirt roads with no names, the climbs I had never tackled, and I realized adventures of a lifetime were all around me. Perhaps I needed to fly all the way to France to have such an epiphany. But then again, maybe not. 

Not keeping our eyes open to the everyday moments might be the biggest tragedy that could ever befall us. Not being present to soak in the scenery must be the only real regret in life. Because the everyday moments we encounter have all the possibility of being the experiences we’ll never forget. They are The Adventure of a Lifetime.

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