Why go for ultra-long rides?
Sounds tempting, but I could never do something
You must be nuts! Are you doing anything else but
Why this particular challenge?
Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience
- A common pattern seems to be the desire to
gradually discover and somehow live up to the full potential of one’s
personal talents or skills – both genetically given as well as acquired /
learned (nature vs. nurture). If I have the potential to go far, why not
see just how far? The Olympic motto: Stronger, faster, higher.
Records are meant to be broken.
- Another element is the sheer joy of doing
something well, using experience, advanced methods or materials, seeking
out good conditions. Riding fast with a strong tailwind is a thrill that
every rider can relate to.
- Wrong! Most human beings can physically endure
much more hardship or accomplish much more impressive feats of endurance
than is commonly believed. Compared to what’s physically possible, riding
a bike for 24 hours barely tips the scale.
- To me, the most incredible stories are related
to extreme situations like war or other forms of survival (such as “Endurance:
Shakelton’s Incredible Voyage”). My own
personal favorite is “The
Long Walk” by Slavomir Rawicz:
A true story about prisoners of war who escaped a Russian labor camp and
walked out from Siberia several thousand miles to freedom in India. The
trip took several months, including crossing the Gobi desert and the Himalayas. Slavomir’s
ability to cope with suffering, including the ordeal of being deported to Siberia in the first place is just unbelievable. The
will to survive and the longing for freedom bring out an almost
- In the absence of such vital, powerful motivators,
endurance sport is mostly a question of motivation. Perhaps desire and
enjoyment take this place. Like one super-sonic land speed record holder
once stated: At some point, what you need is not more talent but more
Bottom line: If you enjoy it and you really desire it, you can do it!
- Well I always used to think of people that
accomplished extreme sports or endurance feats as stereotype "whackos" who don't have anything else going on in
their life than just to do that sport or whatever it is they excel at. I'd
like to think of myself as a more balanced - if not average - person than
that stereotype "whacko" image I've always had.
- I mean, yeah, it is a bit crazy to start a
ride at midnight rather than to go to bed and sleep like most every normal
person does (and certainly I myself do most nights). But then it's not
something you need anything special to do either. Everybody could do
something like this if they only put their mind and hearts to it. Every bike
rider can slap a battery light on their bike and ride at night. And
everybody can wait for an exceptionally windy day, ride a bus upwind the
day before and then just hammer downwind all day if they like.
- So my point is that there is really nothing
unique about me doing it that anyone else couldn't do. I just have been
enjoying these rides a lot and as a result I have consistently
experimented with bolder ideas, explored new directions and done
successively longer rides.
- It is much less important which particular
challenge you pursue than the fact that you have some form of challenge.
Of course everybody has different motivations and interests. To me,
geographic challenges such as longest distance or circling around a
mountain, lake, country or perhaps the globe have always had a powerful
- I have done similar exploits with several
friends in the 90's in the European Alps in the sport of hang gliding,
with similar results of progressively longer distance flights. In
cross-country hang gliding, like in biking, there is also this challenge
of "How far can I go in a single day?" There are flavors like
open distance, distance to goal, out-&-return, or triangle courses.
But ultimately nobody has to dictate the rules of your personal challenge but
- Both sports are environmental friendly and
keep you in shape as a nice side-effect. You get to see an awful lot of
scenery, both from the bike and even more so from the hang glider. You
have to pick a route and factor in weather and some logistic constraints,
mostly around transportation, supplies and safety. And there is no
apparent limit - all of which contributes to my fascination with
long-distance riding / hang gliding.
- The best description of my philosophy around
why I do this can be found in the book: “Flow
– The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.
Simply put, this book describes “flow” as a state of mind that comes from
engaging in an activity or task in a disciplined way, with clear goals,
rules and boundaries, where you get immediate feedback and exercise a
sense of control over your actions. Typically you immerse yourself to a
point that removes your worries and frustrations of everyday life, alters
your sense of duration and removes your concern for the self. After experiencing
flow you emerge with a rewarding feel and a stronger sense of the self.
Extensive studies have found that happiness correlates with flow (whereas
happiness does not correlate with other things typically associated such
as wealth or material possessions). One interesting thought is that
(active) enjoyment comes from increased complexity and leads to growth,
while (passive) pleasure relates to simplicity and leads to decay.
Often when I am on a long
ride, I am in flow. I enjoy it. I grow from it. It makes me happy. It’s as
simple as that!