Personal Growth through Leaning in to Hard Things

The bike trek began on a hot and humid day in the middle of the summer in the rural outskirts of Oregon. Some of the older boys from my scout troop and I had arrived the night before and camped out to be ready for the early next-day departure. The task ahead was daunting — over the course of two days we would journey more than 217 miles on bike, traversing various Oregon landscape, from the rolling rural hills to steep mountain climbs, and back again.

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As a scout troop, we had been preparing for this trip for months, going on progressively longer and longer bike trips (starting with a series of short 10–25 mile day trips, to eventually adventuring out on 50 mile overnight trips. However, despite all of this preparation, the idea of riding 100+ miles two days straight seemed a little overwhelming, and even scary.

That first morning, the first 25 miles or so on the first day went great! The troop stayed together for the most part and we were all keeping a strong pace. At this rate, the day’s ride would be over in no time at all! However, after stopping briefly to load up on carbohydrates and re-hydrate at the 25 mile rest station, my pace quickly began to taper off. Soreness in multiple areas of my body began to set in, and I knew that the rest of the day was going to be a battle. Our troop quickly began to separate, mostly by age, and the older boys all raced off far ahead, while a few of the other 14 and 15 year-olds and I tried to stick together and encourage each other on as much as possible.

As we hit each progressive 25 mile check point and got deeper into the day, the weather became hotter and hotter and took a heavy toll. Body soreness became keener, to the point where it took extensive will-power just to get back up and start off on the last 25 mile leg of the daily trek after the 75 mile rest station. To make matters worse, as we hit the last 5 mile stretch, we realized that we were going to have to perform a steep up-hill climb for the remainder of the leg, just to get up to our mountain campsite.

After hours and hours of grueling biking that first day, I final reached my troop campsite. I cannot overstate how exhausted, dehydrated, and sore I was. It was all I could do to set up my tent and eat some early dinner. I then laid down for a rest, not to wake up again until it was nearly time to leave the next morning, nearly 14 hours later.

Day two of the trek saw scout participation diminish extensively. To wager a rough guesstimate, probably only 50–60% of those who started the first day even began riding on day two. However, after a great night’s sleep, I felt rejuvenated and decided to make it a go on day two. However, after just 5–10 miles, my body began to scream at me as it had the night before. It was at this point that I committed to myself to at least finish the first 25 miles, and then reevaluate my condition at the first rest stop. After arriving and resting at that point, I was very tired, but decided to press forward.

By this point, there were just two of us younger boys from my troop still going, and we stuck together like glue, knowing that the only chance we each had was to push each other on. However, only 5 miles or so into the second leg, my riding companion took a bad spill. In-so-doing, he scraped up his knee pretty badly, as well as banged up his bike a bit. We continued to stick together, but after the wreck, our already slow pace became more of a snail’s crawl.

By the time we hit the 50 mile mark, we were very near the end of the pack, hours behind those in front. My friend had put up a good fight, but he was finished, and I had an important decision to make — would I call it a day (after all, I was just 15 years old and had biked 150 miles in a day and a half — no one would think worse of me if I finished early) or would I keep going to the finish? Most of the adult leaders told me that I was simply too far away and it was already too late in the day for me to expect to finish. Additionally, since I was already towards the end of the pack, and those around me were dropping off like flies, if I were to finish the last 50 miles, it would likely be alone — in complete isolation.

To this day I do not fully understand what got into me, but I decided that I had come too far to give up and started off on the next leg of the trip. True to the leaders’ words, that last 50 miles was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. It was all I could do to simply get my legs to continue peddling, while the rest of me was more or less either completely stiff and/or numb.

Additionally, the level of isolation I felt in those final hours was something that is very difficult to describe. My emotions bordered on desperation, hopelessness, and despair. In those hours of seclusion, all I could do to pass the time was focus on the road in front of me, concentrating on just getting to the next hill or the next milestone — and pray. I prayed fervently to my Heavenly Father for strength of body, mind, and spirit. I knew that I could not finish the journey alone, but trusted that it could be accomplished with His help. Slowly but surely the hours crept on by, as I gradually inched closer and closer to finishing a journey that seemed to have begun ages earlier.

As I approach the final 10 miles, a few things happened. First, my bike (which was a very cheap model) started to have serious issues and I lost most of my lower gears. This meant that I could no longer simply put the bike into low gear and take a slower pace, and due to the extreme fatigue in my legs, this was a big concern. Second, it was getting late. In fact, I was told that I was the very last person still riding (everyone else had already either finished or dropped out hours before). As a result, the leaders who were riding in support vehicles were continuously driving up next to me and trying to convince me to stop, pack it up, and go home.

At just past 6 pm, I coasted the last hundred yards into the camp, more tired than I had ever been in my life. Despite the many disdainful and reproachful looks and comments of some on-lookers, I felt a great surge of joy, pride, and a massive influx of self-esteem resulting from my new accomplishment. Additionally, I felt the gentle approval of my God, who had strengthened and encouraged me along the long path, all of the way to the completion of my arduous journey.

Years later, I look back on this experience as a 15 year-old boy as one of my greatest personal accomplishments. It was through my persevering through the many struggles and adversities of that two-day bike trek that I keenly learned the value of never giving up and finishing what I started, to the point that this experience laid an important foundation for me in shaping how I would respond to future challenges in life. Indeed, this experience was one of the foundational events of my childhood that helped to build a firm foundation for all of my future achievements and successes.

Additionally, I learned that it is both harmful and foolish to listen to those who may say, “You can’t do it,” or “You are not good enough.” I could have believed those words, and I had ample opportunity simply to throw in the towel — no one would have thought any less of me. However, most importantly, I would have thought less of myself. Rather than paying attention to those around us who may tell us we cannot do something, we should always believe in ourselves and our infinite capacity as a child of God, who can help us to accomplish everything and anything our righteous hearts may desire, regardless of our inevitable shortcomings. Consequently, I learned that if I always prepare to the best of my ability, believe in myself, and continually rely on God, anything was within my reach.

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