Over the past year I’ve been on a mission to do things that are scary. Things that are teeth-rattlingly scary.
Perhaps it was thanks to a wine-fueled evening with a friend, but somehow I came to understand that in order to grow I had to do scary stuff—activities that would spur my inner psyche into trepidation, to stall, pause, and make excuses to retreat into the turtle shell of my personality.
So I dove headfirst into the deep end. I skied in the backcountry. I sang at an open mic night. I piped up, expressed my opinion and feigned confidence at work meetings with upper management. I initiated tough conversations in my relationships. I lead climbed outside, and tried to tame “Elvis Leg”—you know, the evidence of fright that occurs when you can reach the next bolt but you just can’t seem to let go of a crimp long enough to clip a draw.
My year of fear has so far culminated in signing up for the Double Triple Bypass, a bike ride that spans 240 miles, two days, and 20,000 feet. If anything could make me nervous, it was spending 10 hours on a bike, and then waking up the next day to do it again.
I had completed the Triple Bypass two consecutive years prior. After 90 miles of biking in 2013, freezing and aching, I erupted into tears, and finished the ride only because my sister Julie convinced the cashier at the Juniper Pass rest stop to give me ibuprofen from her purse. The second year, I was better prepared. Julie and I had trained relentlessly—we prioritized long rides on the weekends. We scheduled rides after workdays, and rode until sunset.
This year, the first day went rather well. I felt strong, and while the finish at Beaver Creek was a welcome one, I felt… OK, or at least that’s what I told myself as I hobbled into the hotel room and peeled off my bike kit and saw that it was laced with a web of salt stains. We ate dinner, drank a celebratory glass of wine, and went to bed around 10 P.M.
But when my alarm rang on the morning of the ride’s second day, I immediately turned it off.
No way am I getting back on that bike.
My sits-bones were tender from relentless riding the day before. The muscles underneath my shoulder blades were acutely sore, two snake bites that flared every time I braked. The back of my neck was stiff from holding the weight of my head. I was plain fatigued, too. And for goodness sake it as 5 A.M. and still dark out—not even the sun was there to coax me out of my hovel of warm down and pillows.
But as I lay in the dark, I felt a nugget of… what? Of grit? Yes, of grit stirring inside me. Little by little, I heard this nugget reason with me. It was The Grit, and it was giving me a hard time.
“What, you thought this was going to be easy, Jenna?”
God, The Grit can be such an asshole.
“Do you really want to be the kind of person that doesn’t even try?”
I tried to ignore Grit’s protests and retreat into the delicious pull of slumber.
In a cruel fit of literary prowess, The Grit recited a portion of Dylan Thomas’ poem. “Do not go gentle into that good night…. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” In this scenario, the night was my warm bed. The night was sleeping in for another five hours. The night was eating brunch, and a day by the pool.
The Grit counted. “One, two, three, yeeeee-haw!” It was time to get up.
I dressed quickly before I could change my mind, grabbed my bike, and rode to the start, ignoring my sore muscles.
The sky was still dawn blue and the other riders were silent with sleepiness and sluggish anticipatory energy. During the first few miles I heard the sound of bike chains sliding into gear and the rouge birdsong and trickle of a nearby stream and my own breath but not the voices of any other rider. No one seemed to want to speak, to break the morning’s cadence.
That day I rode two of the three passes—what was technically a failure to complete the entire ride. But I felt accomplished. The mental battle I had had that morning to get up instead of succumbing was more challenging than any 18-mile climb I had ahead of me.
I want more of that—where I walk on the shimmering edge of reason to either do something hard and scary and gritty… or not.
I'll always choose the latter.