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Physical Limits

Almost anyone alive knows of the severe heat waves that seem to be increasing every summer. There are numerous reports in the media about how to stay cool, by staying inside and avoiding physical activity. It may sound like a death wish, but I managed to ride my bike over 50 miles last weekend in it, from central Connecticut to Massachusetts and back. The temperature was in the upper 90’s, and humidity close to the 70 percent range, resulting in a heat index as high as 115 degrees. I drank over 3  liters of water on the ride, and this was after hydrating for hours before I left. I also consumed a fair amount of electrolytes. When it was all said and done, this was one of the most challenging athletic efforts I’ve ever completed, even though I planned it out, was very cautious taking it easy, and going very slow the last several miles.


It was however not the most dangerous venture I’ve done, and a few previous posts on mountaineering give a hint to that. I have also been more exhausted, and faced greater heat intensity in my life, though when you get to an extreme, especially of physical exertion in the elements, it’s difficult to measure. It’s like gauging distance from memory.

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What on earth would possess me to attempt such a potentially dangerous thing? First, I liken it to swimming in the cold Pacific Ocean in Oregon as a kid growing up. People from Southern California, any of the Eastern, or Southern US will barley put a foot in the Pacific in Oregon because it’s so cold. But as a kid, we’d actually swim in it, some. Why? Because if that’s the only ocean you have, that’s the ocean you swim in.  Part of my pneuma is a deep desire to ride my bike, no matter what. I will accept most any opportunity to do so. I wanted to ride, and made the best of it by preparing as much as I could before the effort, and during it. I was very attentive to my senses, and very aware of any potential signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion Though I was completely wiped when done, after fully re-hydrating after the ride, in a few hours my weight was close to normal, and I was fine.


But there’s another reason I went, one that’s a bit more introspective.


This quote isn’t to imply it takes guts to nearly kill yourself. We are all aware of stories of foolish people who have perished in daredevil stunts they were ill prepared for. As I mentioned, I was prepared, and kept acutely aware of what was happening with my body. However, we also live in a very judgmental society, one where in many cases adults won’t seek to attain achievements at or near their perceived limit, or often fail in attempts, for no other reason than out of shame. The fear of being judged, and ridiculed for failing, keeps so many of us from even trying.


It order to gain the courage to do something, you have to attempt it. It may seem philosophically backwards, and we talk about getting our courage up to do something, but it’s really the process, the action of taking on what we fear, how we actually gain the courage. If you can do that within a controlled amount of safety, like what I did this past weekend, and did in the past in mountaineering, you will grow as a human being. You will learn more about yourself, your mental limits, your physical limits.  

A sage man once stated that you learn the most when you go to extremes. By challenging yourself in almost any way, be that physically, mentally, socially, pushing yourself well beyond your comfort zone, you’re going to attain the most amount of knowledge.  It also takes a certain amount of courage to do that.


There is one more reason I did this grueling bike ride, and that stems from an affliction that affects the vast majority of people as they hit middle age and beyond. So many of us have life pass us by so very quickly, we end up with a lot more memories, than dreams. As children we had our whole lives ahead of us, life was so limitless. We had forever, and thus lived like we had forever, even though we didn’t. The only reasons we don’t live with this mindset as we age isn’t nearly as much because of a biological clock, as much as adults setting limitations within our own mind. Walls we put up stopping our imagination. Counter-Zen limits we place on ourselves mentally, and physically. So as I age, I seek out ways that remind me that I’m still very much alive, still capable of pushing myself physically. Still growing, still learning. There is a life to be lived ahead of me, not only behind me in memories of achievements I once did.

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