The mountain bikers brain is a scientific marvel. Its a cache of bruise-loving insanity wrapped neatly in an eight pound package, capable of turning your body into an agony-driven, gel-sucking, adrenaline-addicted blood-balloon, just waiting to pop. What sadistic, sociopathic, self-destructive tendency could put me on my singlespeed in the middle of a dark storm, leaning into the wind, climbing through the hail to the top of Mt. Olympus, where I would probably be struck by lightning? Aside from the normal sensory stimulation, the brain of a cyclist craves what I call “the suck.”
I used to work at an agency whose company motto was embrace the suck. We had t-shirts and everything. It wasnt a great motivator, but it sure made things easy on the HR department. Here, the suck referred to accounting procedures, record keeping policies, sexual harassment violations, and a man-to-urinal ratio of 200:1. Suck for a cyclist is obviously a different ballgame, and the challenges you overcome while riding are certainly more enjoyable than a thirty minute wait for the bathroom after lunch.
As a cyclist I have thoroughly embraced the suck, so this weekend, while the trails were too wet to ride, the suck-loving mentality put me out on the road in the worst spring storm of the year. It was a windy, 40-degree morning, cold enough to freeze bone marrow, and I was about fifteen miles away from home when the rain began. I was also lost, hungry, tired, and suffering through a serious underwear malfunction. The wind was so strong that Tompkins County had activated the short skirt alert, an emergency initiative meant to discourage peepers in windy weather. The wind was so strong that if you tried to snot-rocket, everyone in a three-hundred foot radius would be a potential target. The wind was so strong that I was struggling to pedal down the hills. Needless to say, every inch of gravelly back road seemed like a soul-swallowing sweat grind into the fifth circle of hell (dedicated to wrath and sullenness).
On the return leg of my ride, I was about ten miles from home when things got out of control. My legs were neon-red and completely numb, tiny pellets of hail were swooping directly into my eyeballs, I was jumping up and down on my pedals, pulling furiously on my handlebars, trying to pierce the ceaseless gale-force headwind all to the tune of a 55-minute remix of Tag Teams Whoomp! (there it is). Suddenly, I began laughing like a madman and wildly screaming into the wind like a lunatic. At that moment, the absurd circumstances of my ride became totally hilarious, and what would have normally been a miserable pain in my ass became fuel to ride harder. In the face of the challenge, every symptom of anguish and punishment became evidence of my brains ability to endure pain, to embrace the suck, and make an otherwise crappy situation enjoyable.
The concept of the suck is well-known to mountain bikers and cyclists in general. We love explaining the stories behind our bruises and scars. We love fondly reminiscing about the details of every crash, the lactic burn of every ascent, and the minutiae surrounding every hair-raising, white-knuckle, bone-jarring trip down the mountain (and sometimes we like to complain about the weather too). We take pleasure in exploring the great majesty of pain that the world has to offer because it puts our cycling experiences in perspective, and makes overcoming challenges more rewarding. People call us crazy, but to hell with them. Were having fun.