Yesterday, it was 28° F. That was an improvement over the 10 days of rain preceding it. A decade ago, I wouldn’t have ridden outside at that temperature. I made that rule in the name of protecting my precious knees. I had so many rules: dry roads, no rain (or ice or snow or sleet or tornados…porcupines), full light, temperature above 50° F. I invoked safety and health at the mere hint of adverse conditions. It was all bull pucky, as my dad would say. The truth was that it was cold or wet and I didn’t want to be either of those. Besides, I had years to ride outside (30 years ago). Why risk it? I could make the sacrifice to workout indoors in the name of health and safety. Again, more bull pucky.
Yesterday, I pulled on two pair of tights, a thermal turtleneck, a shirt, and jacket. I covered my fingers, head, ears, and face. I attached my aircraft landing lights. And, if it weren’t 4:00 am, I would have howled for joy. Oh, it was cold to be sure. It was also soul-lifting, heart-pumping bliss.
And that is when it hit me. I’ve always thought I was practicing acceptance. It turns out I was practicing endurance. Before I go on, a disclaimer—one is not better than the other. Both have served me well. They are different, however, and that difference matters.
Years ago, I signed up for the Daffodil Classic. It was my first organized bike ride. I went alone. It started in a town roughly sixty-five miles from my home. Though I left early in the morning, it was sunny, so I took the top down on my Jeep. Twenty miles into the trip, it got misty. Halfway there, the drops began to fall. I pulled off the highway at the first overpass I saw and put the top up. I still had thirty miles to go but I pressed on. It was at least a decade before my first smartphone, so I had to rely on my PNW intuition for forecasting. I decided the rain would stop. I was wrong. After 20 miles in a torrential downpour, I called it quits. I endured, for a while at least. But I did not accept. Would I have kept riding if I had accepted? Hard to say. Perhaps I would have found a coffee shop and enjoyed a peaceful morning. Perhaps I would have ridden the whole route and grasped whatever joy I could find in being on the road in beautiful country. Perhaps I would have appreciated my grit in trying something new alone. Instead, I missed the joy of the situation entirely. I endured the rain dripping off the back of my helmet into the neck of my jacket, creating a freezing river that flowed to my keister. I endured the foggy glasses, sopping socks, and a running nose. I cursed the weather and whoever planned an early spring ride in a state known for its abundant rainfall.
My ability to endure has served me well. It has allowed me to do some hard things and survive some challenging times. I have rehabbed three spine surgeries and am more active than ever. That is some wicked endurance right there. It is not acceptance, though. In fact, I was fueled by my refusal to accept the life altering changes of my injuries. Similarly, while riding in the rain amongst the daffodils, I refused to accept the monsoon and fueled my ride with the belief that I was tougher than that. I endured because I set out to do something and I was not going to let a little water stop me. I would not allow the rain or my injuries to hold me back. I would endure pain or terrible (probably highly unsafe) conditions and emerge victorious. (Insert Banshee cry here.) By sheer will, I would endure anything to succeed.
That is not acceptance by a long shot. Acceptance is not about struggling to overcome. It is not denial or refusal to experience difficult feelings. It is also not giving up or giving in. It is being at peace with the situation. It is welcoming the discomfort with a knowledge that every situation is fleeting. It is having self-compassion for painful emotions that we have and the memories they evoke.
I met my ride in the rain with a refusal to acknowledge my disappointment and accept the situation. I was determined not to let the rain keep me from riding. It sounds so ridiculous now. “You will not beat me, rain! I have trained for this. I drove sixty-five miles! I will not let a few raindrops keep me from completing my goal. I am tough.” All true. In this case, not helpful. I was miserable. I drove home wet and cold, probably verging on hypothermia. I never signed up for that ride again.
Yesterday, in contrast, I experienced acceptance. I was disappointed that it was cold. Daylight saving is coming, and the earth is tilting toward spring, though. I know it won’t be cold much longer in the mornings. I had choices. I could rail against the weather which is fleeting and which I cannot control. I could ride inside in the warmth of my home. I could bundle up and wring out every ounce of joy I could get from riding outside in the peace of the morning with my best friend. I picked the latter. After the first stroke of the pedal, I didn’t think about the temperature. I did not struggle. I practiced acceptance, and I was grateful for every moment.