By Chris Case
Start by reading Part 1.
After 20 minutes of squishing through the spongy meadow, we earn our reward: A dramatic break in the trees reveals a jarringly ripped tower of rock, surrounded by flowing pastoral grasses.
Eventually, we regrouped at a rustic mountain hut for delicately moist strudel and crisp cappuccino. The view is staggering; our smiles are broad. Our feet are really wet. Our shoes are really brown. But this is the Dolomites.
Cycling journeys like this remind us that the best experiences are earned, not given. Though they may carry us through swamps, such ventures produce memories that never fade. They are best suited to those who can laugh at an absurd twist of fate, for those who aren't perturbed by 20 percent gradients, and for those, no matter the suffering, who wouldn't think twice about turning back.
Some rides may involve traversing a bog. There may be times when you'll cringe at the state of the "road." But sometimes you have to trudge through the swamp to reach the meadow.
Sometimes it’s essential to leave what you know, forgo comfort, take a chance, add some uncertainty, and let go. Get vulnerable; and grow.
Process Makes Progress
“It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey.” You may have heard this mantra quoted by a sports psychologist or life coach. Have you ever stopped to fully consider what it means?
When a journey ends, many of the learning opportunities vanish. However, in the midst of challenges and uncomfortable situations, that’s when there is the opportunity to test one’s self, to evaluate strategies to cope and to modify and change our demeanor, our reaction, and our approach—in the moment.
For maximum benefit, you must choose to partake in transformative discomfort—it should never be forced upon you. It can manifest in various ways, and in this context, it’s easiest to consider an event that you’re not sure you can complete.
Even in the lead up you’re uncomfortable. You know you’ll face problems and hardships you’ve never experienced before, equally demanding for both their physical and psychological rigors. There might be problem-solving, route-finding, and mental hurdles. Resilience will be a factor for success.
Your inner dialogue might sound something like: “Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into? Am I having a midlife crisis? Am I heading for a divorce?”
If the answer is “oh s***” or “maybe” to any of those questions, you’re on the right track.
But, that’s when high-level thinking begins. You form a plan. You get organized. You devise a training regimen, an equipment list, a series of strategies to cope with the unknowns. Whatever it is that you do, there is a process, a procedure, and a plan. Beyond that, you look forward to the unknown, meditative moments out there in the void that can only be created when high challenge meets curiosity and courage.
In the end, the simple task of riding your bike matures into a vehicle for development, a means to becoming a more humble, more skillful, more joyful human being.
And thus was Alter Exploration born. I founded Alter Exploration to help other adventurous cyclists experience the types of transformative journeys I’ve been lucky enough to take my entire life. Alter Exploration's challenging trips create opportunities for physical and mental evolution, in some of the world’s most stunning destinations. Each day, the goal is to be preoccupied as much by the captivating experience as by the satisfaction of exhaustion.
The next thing you know—through the act of chunking, or breaking a giant task into more digestible portions—you start to build confidence. You problem-solve. You turn fear into energy. You turn anxiety into anticipation. And you overcome obstacles.
This can be generally defined as resilience, and it is critical to athletic success. Resilient athletes view change as impermanent—they know that negative (or uncomfortable) moments will pass. Through the act of reframing, resilient athletes see all things as opportunities—even discomfort is a chance for growth.
Let the transformation begin.
About the Author
Chris Case is a writer, explorer, and professional guide. He founded Alter Exploration to help adventurous cyclists experience transformative journeys in some of the world’s most spectacular locations, including the Dolomites, Iceland, the Piedmont Alps, and Colorado. Formerly managing editor at VeloNews magazine, Chris is a lifelong endurance athlete who regularly seeks new challenges, including multiple completions of Unbound Gravel 200, circumnavigating Iceland on gravel roads, and many other at-times-uncomfortable events and excursions.