Since last Wednesday, the Tour de DioMil has been, quite literally, “up one hill and down”. We’ve come to appreciate the different types of hills — little “rollers”, slight inclines, 8% grades, and of course the climbs that seem to go on and on and on. Yesterday, a few miles outside of Prairie du Chein, on County Road C, the Tour trekked up the longest climb of the entire journey — 2.9 miles. (I know the distance because when we scouted the route by car last June, I was so impressed/challenged by the length of the hill I made sure we measured its distance!)
I’m nowhere near being a champion hill climber. On the east side of Wisconsin there aren’t many opportunities to actually practice this sort of sustained challenge. And, as I continue to remind myself on this journey, I’ve only been seriously riding a bike for a bit over a year. I suspect if this would have been the first hill we faced last Wednesday, I would have been defeated before I even started to pedal up it. But over the past few days, I’ve learned a bit about climbing hills just by virtue of the experience of climbing them.
I’ve learned not to “gear down” too fast or too soon. One has to save the lowest gears for as long as possible so there’s somewhere to “go” when the hill gets steeper and one’s speed gets slower. I’ve learned not to rush up the hill — slow and steady may not win a race, but it does help climb a hill! I’ve learned to go fast enough to make progress, but slowly enough to maintain control of my breathing and heart rate. I’ve learned to stay focused in the moment and to celebrate how far I’ve traveled as opposed to constantly worrying about how far I’ve got to go. Finally, I’ve learned that once the top of the hill is reached, it’s perfectly acceptable to linger a moment or two and engage in a bit of mental celebration about the accomplishment before heading off to find the next hill.
Yesterday, there were plenty of hills between Prairie du Chein and Platteville. We’ve got more hills today between Platteville and Monroe. This morning, my back hurts and my knees are a bit tender. To be honest though, I’ve never felt better. County Road C wasn’t the Rockies or the Alps and the Tour de DioMil certainly isn’t the Tour de France, but I’m learning lots about what it means to have focus, conserve energy and press on toward a goal.
As I cranked along yesterday, huffing and puffing up hills, enjoying the fabulous Wisconsin scenery and the gorgeous weather, I thought of all the places in this world where people are unable to receive even basic healthcare because they live so far away from even a modestly equipped medical facility. These people depend upon healthcare workers coming to their village…and often healthcare workers have to travel great distances on foot to get to them.
One of the charities the Tour is seeking to support through our fundraising efforts is World Bicycle Relief, which provides bicycles to healthcare workers in the two-thirds world. (To find out more about World Bicycle Relief, go to the Tour website, http://www.tourdediomil.weebly.com and follow the link to their website.) Yesterday, even with our slower overall pace of about 8 mph, we covered 56.5 miles in 6 hours — during that same 6 hours, we would have been “speeding” to have covered 20 miles on foot. What a difference a basic bicycle could make in someone’s life — perhaps even saving a life.
In our uphill climb against poverty and disease, we are climbing against all of the forces that conspire to keep the poor of our world out of sight and out of mind. We are climbing against hopelessness and helplessness. We are climbing against apathy and denial. Sometimes progress seems slow or even non-existent. Yet, as people of faith — people who walk (or bike!) the pilgrim way — we have to remember that our race won’t be won by wearing ourselves out too early. We are in this climb for the long haul. We can practice focused patience. We can remember that we aren’t making this climb alone. We have each other and we serve a God who has all the time in this world…and beyond.