June 26, 2012

Three Life Lessons on a Bike Ride from London to Paris. ~ Christine Martin

Everyone loves a challenge, right?

Running that extra kilometer on a morning run or trying rock climbing for the first time, achieving a certain grade in a class, submitting a new idea/proposal to clients, being part of a performance on stage.

Challenges are healthy. They stretch our areas of comfort and often reveal potential, strength and character we never knew existed.

A few years ago, I was itching for one myself and I found it in the form of a registration with Discover Adventure—the London to Paris Challenge. This was a two-fold challenge because I was required to fundraise a substantial amount for a charity of my choosing and ride 471 km in five days.

Now, this may be a small feat to an experienced rider, but I was not one. Not even close.

Sharing roads with cars petrified me—I’d have to will myself to loosen my grip on the handles. Going downhill made me want to cry. And insects, namely bees, caused some knee-jerk swerves that could have sent me into cars a couple of times. Needless to say, the training took a physical and mental toll on both me and my husband, who was helping me train.

The first morning of the ride, I walked across the field of bikes and riders. In their fancy outfits and sleek accessories, I felt like an impostor. My bright orange shirt was a little small on me (I bought it online), my shoes did not clip in, and my bulging gel bike seat said: my tush needs all the padding it can get.

I was extremely nervous, and I began to think I was in over my head. But, I was not turning back. The challenge had started and continued well into the next five days. In that time, I experienced three meaningful lessons:

 1.    Intend: Intentions are powerful tools; don’t use them wisely and they’ll sting you in the head. Literally.

For so long, I was fearful of the bee scenario happening, that it did . . . in the first hour of the ride. I was riding out of the London streets, following others out into the first sign of the countryside, when a wasp (there was no stinger) buzzed right into one of the openings in my helmet. Yep; I freaked. Once I managed to tear the straps and helmet off me and do madwoman swiping at the side of the road, the throbbing set in. I had a massive headache the rest of the day.

Lesson: Intentions are actions in formation.

I brought fear into the ride, convinced something bad was going to happen to me, and it did. What would it have been like if I went into the day with confidence or curiosity or appreciation? 

2.    Believe: Day three, in particular, kicked my butt.

I was sore and tired and it rained hard. I had a flat tire. Twice. My spirits were not at their highest. I wasn’t sure I could finish (There was a sweeping van that collected that stragglers at the end of the day; they could get me, right?). But, a couple of things kept me in the game: will and inspiration.

Knowing I had completed 125 km both days prior was existing proof that I could do it again. My friend, Diane, was the best motivator. Seeing riders nearly three times my age also motivated me to stop the pouting and get to the end.

Lesson: If you believe, you achieve.

When things get hard, the mind rattles off a bunch of messages that make us freeze or recoil. Stopping that chatter and believing in possibility is where it’s at. Use inspirational sources to keep your mind there.

3.    Celebrate: We’re the first to sell ourselves short, highlight our “failures” or compare ourselves to the ground.

During the ride, I was in the last third to make it to our stops for the night. I felt badly for slowing Diane down, who was competitively athletic and could certainly keep up with the first group. It wasn’t until the second day that I started to shake that off. Every person who rode across the day’s finish line was applauded and cheered on. This ride was not just for the people there, but for those who would benefit from the charity donations. There was a reason to celebrate the entire time we were there; celebrate our freedom, our health, our accomplishments.

Lesson: Celebration is acknowledging the good in our lives and our place in it.

Even the smallest accomplishments deserve attention. Taking ourselves out of the comparison game allows us all to be winners.

On the final day of the ride, I remember the thrill of cycling through the Parisian streets, veering around the majestic Arc de Triomphe and down the famed Champs-Elysées to the finish beneath the lofty arches of the Eiffel Tower. It was a glorious moment of achievement I will never forget that arrived with life lessons to pocket for years to come.


Christine Martin has been an international educator for over 10 years. She’s made her home in Colombia, Tunisia & Korea. Her passion is interior design/interior architecture and has recently completed certification in these areas. She enjoys travel, photography, food, yoga. She and her husband are making a huge life shift in October 2012, leaving their careers and moving to Laos where they hope to never wear mittens and coats again. You can find her on twitter, Happy Impermanence (personal blog), or Somebody’s Home (design blog).


Editor: Cassandra Smith

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