My favorite rides have always come as the consequence of making a wrong turn. It’s not necessarily taking a left over a right, but often includes misreading a map (or taking liberty of interpreting what is a road), coming to a fork and taking it randomly, disregarding intuition, or refusing advice (ignoring it or imposing your own meaning on it also counts). Good news! That feeling of terror and panic as you begin to really question your decisions and how you got where you are is great once you pedal through it. And here’s why:
You get a better feel for the shape and folds of your limits. Limits are not a concrete fixture in the mind game that is taking on a physical challenge. They’re shaped by a variety of factors that sometimes compound in exponential ways (at which point you know because it triggers a distinctive “oh shit” feeling). Misgauged your fitness or got a little cocky looking at an altitude map? Getting lost will help reel it in. Or at least in the failure to teach you about who you are in the instant, will give you a expanded purview of what you’re capable and how much further you’re willing to push it. This is all despite having your poor risk assessments thrown in your face.
An expanded feel for your limits gives rise to greater challenges. The farther afield or the faster you ride gives you a taste for something more. Challenge never changes, whether you’re getting started riding the 5km to work every day or racing the Continental Divide. The sensation of fear and excitement at the unpredictable always feels the same. This is why a regular dose of getting absolutely upside-down turned-around helps habituate you to the feeling. You get so cozy with difficulty you start sniffing it out elsewhere and lapping it up.
You start to see it through the lens of exploration. Being unafraid of uncertainty and difficulty gives your curiosity the edge. Sometimes it doesn’t work out as you’d hope, but other times it pays tenfold. To add to this, you remove that niggling feeling of “what if I’d done something different?” It’s sort of like when deciding to go out and eat and you are hit with a sudden and crippling realization that you always go to the same four places, a choice as mundane to make as trying to sort whether you want to make meatloaf or tuna casserole. Getting lost helps facilitate creativity in choosing to try something a little more off the cuff because why the hell not? You’ve come this far.
And that is where you add a little color to life. Riding a bike for fitness or commuting can be boring as fuck. Sure you can fill the hours in the saddle with consolations like “it’s meditative” or “I take the time to listen to podcasts” but with or without others to ride with, spending hours in the saddle can be a numbing, deadening experience. If you’re lost your senses come alive with myriad sensations. It’s exciting in a way that makes a hut by the side of a road unusually interesting. It makes the sky appear bluer. Or “whoa the road turns up ahead!” It transforms your ride from being some goal-oriented grind into a palpable adventure. And these are the memories that stick with you best.
[I should note I’m notorious for my lithe attitude toward planning and decision making, and especially for my on-the-fly, fuck-it-let’s-go-this-way bearing while out on rides. I get it that everyone has different approaches to taking on randomness and unpredictability, and some genuinely love to avoid it at all costs. That’s cool, too. I do however vouch for the power of considering choices that have equally unpredictable outcomes with the single consideration no matter how you hack it, sometimes you have to take a leap. You’ll find yourself in the middle of the results of your decision and wonder all kinds of things about how you made it, but there’s no changing the past and there is the firm reality that you can adapt, move forward and take the result for what it was: something you couldn’t imagine before that worked out anyway.]