RAGBRAI UPDATE: the original distance was changed resulting in a ride of over 500-miles. Scott and I successfully completed the entire ride. We flew into Omaha, NE wearing our biking clothes and rode out of the airport after we reassembled our bikes in the terminal. After a several mile ride, we reached the Missouri River. Then crossing over the river, we reached the starting point, Council Bluffs, IA. After 500-grueling miles and a week of long days of biking, we arrived in Burlington, IA. I was happy for the experience and happier still that I completed it.
The only ill effects that I experienced were a swollen ankle and numbness in my left-hand. The ankle started causing me trouble midweek after biking 125-miles the previous day. Continuing to ride on a bum ankle only made it get worse. By Thursday, it was really hurting and swollen. During that day, I stopped to get some water and a banana to re-hydrate myself and add potassium to my system. While pausing to rest, I spent the time complaining to myself about how painful the ankle was and the tingling in my hand. As I mulled over my misery, I watched the other bikers ride past. I amused myself for a while looking at the wide variety of dress and the equally diverse assortment of bikes that passed by my observation point.
Still complaining under my breath about my ankle looking like an elephant's and feeling like it had stepped on my ankle, I noticed a three-wheel recumbent bike coming my way. As the guy passed, I noticed that he didn't have either of his legs. The bike's pedals were elevated to in front of him so that his hands did all the pedaling. This guy was biking across Iowa without feet. That set me back from complaining about my swollen ankle. At least, I had an ankle about which to complain. My guess would be that he would have gladly traded my swollen ankle for his missing legs.
I remained there resting against my bike trying to digest the banana and to think through the implications to my life of the legless biker when another challenged biker passed. This one was riding a regular bike and had legs. However, he had no arms below his elbows. He had rigged leather holders on the handlebars so that he could rest the end of his arms in them. There I was feeling sorry for the numbness in my left-hand, but he wasn't feeling any numbness in either of his hands. In a matter of 10-minutes, two severely challenged bikers shock me into my senses.
I finished my roadside respite and got back on my bike strangely silent about my complaints of physical discomfort. I wondered about those other two bikers and their determination. What right did I have to complain about anything?
What is true on the back roads of Iowa is true on the interstates of our lives. Each of us has our own versions of numbness in the fingers or swollen ankles. What are your complaints? These laments might be health or marital problems. Or they could be educational or vocational troubles. Regardless of what your complaint might be, remember my biking experience. While I affirm our various forms of suffering, we also need to affirm that if we look around just a little, we will readily find many who suffer much greater problems. While taking a needed break, I learned a lesson about gratitude. My life isn't perfect, but it is pretty perfect. True, my ankle was killing me and my hand was numb, but I was a healthy 57-year old man who could cycle across Iowa. I have friends and family that love me, and I am doing what I want to do in life. What right do I have to complain about my little nuisances when there are so many others who are really suffering?
In addition, when we focus upon what is wrong with our lives, we lose focus on what is going well. When we do this, it changes our lives far more than we can appreciate. If we perceive life as negative, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The converse is equally true. Therefore, concentrate upon what is going well for you in life and more good things will come your way.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 8/26/00.