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It's cool. I'm good.

“You should probably try a little harder.”

This is what I said to myself twice yesterday. Justin and I decided to do the Oregon Gravel Grinder out in The Dalles. We woke early, watched the sun come up, had breakfast with Dave and Peyton, and arrived at the grippingly cold start line. Justin, a ball of anxious energy was vibrating at a newfound hyper frequency--eyeing the field, asking questions about swapping out wheels during the race (he watches too many youtube racing videos), and trying to figure out what the day was going to be like. Me, eying the beautiful blue sky, the sunlight hitting the historic buildings, and the choppy waters of the Columbia River.

Justin has never ridden in a group like this nor more than 30 miles. He could barely contain himself as the start buzzer sounded. I tried to give him some quick advice: don’t weave, be consistent so that riders behind you know what you’re doing, etc. In other words, don’t be an ass. But before I knew it, he was off, weaving ahead as I chugged up a hill behind a slower group being mindful to preserve energy. Heck, it was going to 40 miles of wind, steep gravel roads...why be cruel to myself so early on?!

I never caught up to him. Instead, I took in the incredible landscape--stark rolling hills, prehistoric rock formations jutting out, cows grazing, and views of Mount Hood in the distance. At one point, I realized that at 20 mph I still had room to increase speed. With a little effort I began to pass folks. And that’s when that first, “You should probably try a little harder” thought planted a seed. I could compete. So for the briefest of interludes I increased my cadence. That is until a huge gust of wind hit me again knocking me sideways. I slowed and again I could hear the frogs croaking in the stream and the birds overhead. My smile returned and I continued to the first pit stop where I managed to snap pictures and eat five cinnamon rolls and countless scones plus polished off the sandwich in my jersey pocket (thanks Dave!), and then took more photos. Eventually, I got back on the bike and finished the course of grueling climbs and more wind. Oh my goodness. The WIND. Which is where, the second, “you should probably try a little harder” thought came again--but this time it wasn’t about my cadence or position on the bike. Instead, it was “you should probably try a little harder” to look up at the beautiful mountains and breathe.

Justin beat me to the finish line by a good 35 minutes. In fact he came in first in his age group. He quickly rushed up to me to apologize for splitting up and then proceeded to tell me about the awesome riders on his journey who helped him along, providing coverage from the wind and camaraderie. He didn’t know to stop at the pit stop for snacks and water. Later a farmer hooked him up, topping off his sole bottle. A wonderful woman named, Kaya, encouraged him on, riding with him for the latter half. An older man even drafted off of little Justin, inspired by his energy in the pounding wind.

And I was so inspired by his fearlessness. He did not have to try a little harder. He simply gave it his best from start to finish. There was never a question of giving up or that it was too difficult. So often in everyday life we try hard at the things that don’t truly provide any benefit. We do this for a variety of reasons--I’ve spent a career of it. It is an extraordinary feeling to try hard at what sparks your internal engine and to realize that it can and should change over time. Motivation varies from person to person and experience to experience. It’s glorious when we’re honest about it, settling in to see where it leads.

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