This past All Souls Day, I participated in a tradition wherein a group of pilgrims would bike around the lake and stop and pray at the various grave yards. The goal was two fold - obviously to pray for the faithful departed and secondly, to also ask God's protection on all those who use the lake this year. I've been told that every year that the pilgrims make this trek, no one dies on the lake!
We started at 1pm at St. Hedwig's graveyard. The weather flipped between sleety rain, rain and snow throughout the day, but the roads were not slippery. It was cold, but when you're sweat'n trying to get up a big hill, chilly is just fine.
I had my wife's bike that didn't really fit me, but I didn't think much of it. I'm fairly in shape, how difficult could a bike around the lake be? I made a goal, knowing there were many hills, to not walk my bike once. It was this goal that almost killed me!
We bike a short distance to an old grave yard and Fr. Pawel met us, blessed us and our bikes as we headed out on our journey.
The next stop was Hinterland beach on Kamaniskeg Lake. There was no grave yard, but we prayed. I was doing well up to this point. My legs were a bit tired. We had completed about 25km of the trip. Then things began to get crazy.
The hills became steeper, my lungs began to burn and my thighs ... oh my thighs were on fire continually. No matter how I positioned myself on this bike, my thighs burned. At one point I had geared down to one and one and was yelling at my legs to keep the bike moving. I made it, barely, through the steep, hilly portion of the course, tucked my head and biked slow and steady towards the Holy Canadian Martyr's graveyard across from Madonna House. By this time I was almost at my wits end. My thighs were burning and cramping in the cold and we still 15km to go.
I decided to push it to the end. All of us did. I was last in line biking as car whizzed past me. I focused on pushing the pedal one rotation at time. I prayed the 'Jesus prayer' (Lord Jesus Christ Son of the Living God, Have mercy on me a sinner) over and over again. Finally, we came to the biggest hill on this last stretch. I could gain no speed going up to it and had no clue if I could make it. This was my limit. My legs were screaming in pain!
Anthony, waited for me to catch up and as I pushed one pedal down after another he called me forward and onward as I bellowed out like a moose giving birth. I made it to the top. All the way to the end actually. None of us walked our bikes once. 51.4km. Intense.
It is not often (rather, hardly ever) that I get pushed to edge of my physical limits. This journey was so good for me. Knowing our limits, being able to confront our weakness and push through pain is all part of knowing yourself. Knowing yourself is key to being able to discipline yourself and to gain self-mastery. Self-mastery is what makes you a man.
It was a good day. Great company. Incredible chilli and hot chocolate at the end. And I learned about my ability to endure and persevere.