My wristwatch was incessantly beeping, telling me it was time to wake up. I moved only my right arm to stop the noise, then wondered what time it was, knowing pretty quickly since I’d carefully charted my morning routine in order to be out the door and arrive on time for my group cycling voyage. It was seven, meaning I’d been asleep for around four and a half hours. Ugh. The night before I attended a party in honor of my friend Tim’s thirty-fifth birthday. I rode my bicycle over to the house he shares with his wife a little bit after 19:30, the air still warm from a mild day of “winter” weather, which never really reaches the North Carolina, at least not for someone who grew up eleven hundred kilometers north. The next time I looked at my watch it was a half hour before midnight. And the next time, it was almost two in the morning. It was one of those parties where there are so many friends to talk with that you lose track of time; the dancing and excellent beer and wine didn’t help the situation either.

I didn’t really want to get up, but I knew a morning in bed would both prolong the lethargy caused by the night before and result in a high degree of guilt poisoning my day. It was Sunday and on Sunday cyclists go to their own special church, which is usually experienced along kilometers and kilometers of country roads. I rolled onto my back, opening my eyes to see the morning light peeking around the edges of the curtains, feeling the warmth of my fiancee’s legs next to mine. She’d been at the party too, but had left awhile before me to head home to bed. Despite the extra hours in bed, I knew it would be a long time before she awoke. It was just me and the dog and cats, none of whom had been at the party the previous night and thus, were all eager to follow their morning routine of water, feeding, and special treats.

How am I going to ride for four hours, I wondered? My legs felt weak from three hours in the saddle the previous day and instead of my standard fare of evening food, which is typically bread from the local bakery and some lettuce from our backyard, I had eaten barbeque pork, coleslaw, and even a double chocolate cookie. Combined with the beer, my stomach still felt full, but I knew there was no chance of riding well unless I filled up again on calories. While many people find it difficult to stop eating, cyclists often find it challenging to consume enough calories to remain at their desired weight. Riding for hours on end can drain a few kilograms of weight from the body, which is a problem if you ride daily. I set a pot of brown rice on medium heat, put the teakettle on the back burner, and opened the back door to check the thermometer. It was four degrees Celsius, but slated to get up to fifteen before the riding was complete. Preparing for four hours in the saddle can be a challenge calorically, but it can also provide the additional challenging of determining how to dress for such wild fluctuations in temperatures. While a professional cyclist can hand his jacket and gloves to the team car and a sport like soccer offers a sideline on which to toss warm-up pants and tops, an amateur cyclist is like a camel: you must carry everything with you for the duration of the ride.

While turning the pedals itself takes practice, eating and dressing are also an acquired skill of the cyclist. How many calories do I need to eat this morning to fuel me for one hundred and twenty kilometers? And, how many calories do I need to shove into my jersey pockets to keep me going along the way? When in the saddle, food is reduced to its simplest form – calories. After riding for awhile, you learn how many calories your body requires for each hour of riding you put in during any training. Knowing your body is crucial for athletes, especially for endurance athletes who train for hours at time and must carry everything in their pockets. I cooked one cup of brown rice, then mixed four ounces of energy gel, and also grabbed a banana.

Part of the beauty of long-distance training rides for me is the ability to head out from home and cover over a hundred kilometers with nothing but a few things in my jersey pockets and two water bottles on my bike. The time before the ride is like carefully calculating a mission, from calories to liquids (just water, or should I bring electrolyte tablets?) to which bike to ride and what tire pressure to use. In the beginning, the mission might take hours to plan, including a consultation with a fiancée who wonders what the heck you are going on about and why you’d ever eat something that tasted awful, just to put calories in your body. As a wise man one stated, “The less you tell people about your cycling habit, the more they’ll respect your passion.”

One cat wanted to go back outside to continue his rummaging about the yard for insects and voles, while the other cat poked her way past the bedroom door and claimed my abandoned position in the bed next to Caroline. The dog also headed back to bed, curling up on her doggie bed that was right next to the human bed. My head was a bit foggy and my legs felt rubbery simply walking to the bathroom. This is going to be a tough one, I thought. Maybe my riding mates also had a late night, I hoped. If they too were up until just a few hours ago, then the pace should be a modest one, thereby allowing me to pull myself through what would normally be a typical Sunday of cycling. I’d even ridden the proposed route many times before, which gave me the confidence I could pull it off, though it was often undertaken in significantly better-rested and less bbq-laden form.

As I unenthusiastically took my rice in, I still gained confidence from knowing my body and spirit so intimately. Hours alone on a bicycle gives you ample time to think through your training and your ability in a variety of conditions. Each time you ride a bit further, or endure cold temperatures with numb hands, or scorching temperatures with a sweaty brow, you gain additional confidence in your body, in your ability to transcend adverse conditions. While I wasn’t hungry enough to eat, much less to choke down two bowls of rice, I knew that my body would slowly burn through the complex carbohydrates during the ride and provide me with a sustained amount of energy. I also knew how many additional calories I’d need each hour, supplied after one hour by the banana, then at each hourly interval by a gulp of homemade energy gel, a mixture of molasses, agave nectar, and sea salt.

I returned home just before noon, finding the dog and cats and Caroline awake, enjoying their Sunday morning. I had felt better and my both my body and legs were in depleted form, but I had managed to pull off another training ride, another test of my perseverance, skill, and, ability to know my body. While staying out the night before had not been in my best interest, sometimes having fun with friends and partying too late simply happens. Oh well, at least I had a great time, I had thought during my early morning ride home from Tim’s. After a few short hours I had to negotiate with my body to get us through a hundred kilometers of fast-paced cycling. Since we had worked in consonance many times before, and even after similarly late-nights, I knew I could pull it off through careful eating, planning and riding. As an amateur cyclist, and one who likes to lead a full, fun life beyond just riding, I don’t always treat my body so well. But, I’m not paid to ride my bike and sometimes friends and a party get in the way. Yet, the ability to know myself and my potential so well also allows me to pull off some impressive rides even after a crazy night of birthday partying. The beauty of cycling is not the opportunity to defy my limitations, but the ability to synchronize my body and spirit to discover new potential, even after losing track of time.