“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” ― Confucius
As I walked around the quiet streets of Sandpoint, Idaho, I wondered if I had what it took to finish what I had started. My body said, “No!” but my heart and mind said, “There must be a way to finish this.”
A mountain loomed large in front of me but I wasn’t sure, in that moment, if I could actually move it out of the way.
This conversation happened early Sunday morning at the halfway point of our 606 km (376 miles) cycling trip around the “The Selkirk Loop.” The mountain I faced was to finish the trip in light of increased pain in both knees. Quitting wasn’t an easy decision considering I was on our Co-motion tandem bike with my wife – and on this adventure with three other friends.
How did we get here?
The road to this moment of reflection had been long and arduous. My wife and I used to do trips like this on our motorcycle but not now. The last ride we took five years ago ended in a serious accident and saw us airlifted to the trauma hospital to put our broken bodies back together.
My journey of recovery went from bad to worse when a serious infection was discovered in my leg, resulting in the removal of a six-inch section of femur, and the growth of new bone to replace it. When the dust settled, my right leg worked but was 2 1/2 inches shorter and significantly less mobile.
The repair work meant I had to give up running since my knees and right leg were no longer ergonomically suited for it. But I could ride a bike. The unknown was that I didn’t know how far I could ride a bike.
We received an invitation to ride farther than we ever had.
In life, I have tackled mountains that took everything to climb. I completed six marathons. To do that, I had to move a lot of small stones. Endure pain. Jump over barriers. Put up with serious cramping. Break ceilings. Train for hours and prepare hard.
The offer to climb another mountain all started when we got the phone call from my brother-in-law to join them on their annual cycling trip. We said OK. We bought a road tandem bicycle that could do the job and started to train. The training was hard but we pushed through it. Eventually, we felt we were ready.
The day came to drive to Nelson, BC where our journey began. We had the right gear. We had the right preparation. We had the route. We had our accommodation and meals all planned out.
What I didn’t know was – would my knees be able to do this trip?
The first day went great. 108kms that started with a 10km hill but got better as we soaked up the beautiful scenery and enjoyed stimulating conversation. Not too hot, no bears, and minimal pain.
The second day my knees started to complain but I pushed through it. To make traveling more difficult, it did start to rain but it didn’t pour and we knew we’d dry out eventually. What I didn’t know was, would my knees last?
On the third day, things got a lot worse. It rained most of the day but that wasn’t the real problem. My knees felt like they were done and I was starting to sink with discouragement.
Thankfully, we had a rest day planned for day four. Walking was fine but the second I got back on the bike, my knees started to hurt and cause me to wonder if I’d be able to continue because of the pain.
Then I had an epiphany.
On Sunday morning, I went for a walk – to clear my head and process my situation. I didn’t know what to do. I weighed the pros and cons and dug deep for some answers.
As I walked the streets of Sandpoint, I came to a place where I knew what I needed to do. It was an epiphany moment. The thought struck me that I needed to ride hurt. I would not quit but push through the pain.
I endured 10 surgeries. I completed six marathons. I endured emotional setbacks. Each time I faced mountains of pain, I didn’t move the mountain in one shovel full but I moved it by moving one small stone at a time.
I did relent and agree to take Advil and put Aspercreme on my knees to reduce the pain. But the bottom line was – I would not give up. It was time to press through the pain and ride hurt.
I would pedal one revolution at a time and keep my eyes open to the experience I would have while on the journey.
I would be present where I was, not get ahead of myself and make things worse.
There are benefits to carrying away small stones.
When you decide to move a mountain by carrying away one small stone at a time, the impact to your life is significant. I experienced a quarry full of benefits once I realized I could move my mountain if I just broke it down into smaller pieces.
1. You lower the intensity of the problem and make it more bearable.
If I had focused on the 350kms left to ride, I would have been on the next Greyhound Bus back to Canada. Instead, I focused on one pedal stroke at a time and counted off 10-mile markers in anticipation of our next stop. It reduced the stress I had to deal with and made the problem manageable.
2. You increase your capacity to see what’s going on around you.
When you try to remove your problems all at once, they swallow up your attention and keep you from seeing the beauty around you. While carrying one small stone at a time, I could look around and celebrate the friends I rode with, hear the birds singing, and take in the beauty of the lakes and trees.
3. You become a person others are glad to be with.
Taking on too much all at once makes you miserable, discouraged and no fun to be with. People who know how to carry small stones one at a time are easy to be with. They are able to laugh and listen and be a friend.
4. You are capable of living in the present.
Focusing on small achievable milestones lends itself to living in the here and now. After all, the present is all we really have. The past is gone and the future has not yet come. Riding hurt was my way of living in the present and was in contrast to worrying about whether I would make it or not.You open the door to gratitude.
5. You open the door to gratitude.
When I chose to carry small stones and take one revolution at a time, I started to notice the things I was grateful for. I was grateful for my wife who rides with me on our tandem. We’ve been through a lot together and now we cycle on. I was grateful to have a right leg since I almost lost it after the motorcycle accident. I was grateful for the painful mountains I have moved in preparation for this one.
It is crucial to break down the mountain into small pieces.
As has been said, “Pain is inevitable but misery is optional.” My pain was not something I could avoid, but misery was. Carrying one small stone at a time kept me from being miserable.
I need to say that there will be times when you have to cut your losses and take the bus home. I knew that but after evaluating the hurt I did have, I knew deep down I could move this mountain.
The way you break down your mountain into smaller pieces is to shorten the distance you focus on.
When I was recovering from yet another painful surgery, and one day at a time was too much, I’d take it one hour at a time. When one hour was too much, I’d take it one minute at a time. When that was too much, I’d take it one second at a time.
On the sixth day of our journey, after pushing through the pain and deciding to ride hurt, it was the best day of riding the whole trip. Just think, if I would have stayed and stared at the mountain instead of grabbing one small stone at a time and moving it. I would have missed the satisfaction of climbing that mountain and making that trip.
What mountain in your life do you need to move by carrying small stones?