This month's Outside Magazine features an interesting article on ultra-cyclist Juliana Buhring. Raised in a cult called the Children of God (which disbanded after Buhring wrote a book outing the practices which included child abuse), and suffering the tragic loss of her boyfriend (who it is worth mentioning was eaten by a crocodile), she turned her focus to long distance bike riding. Boy did she ever. In almost no time she set the Guinness World Record for fastest woman ever to cycle around the world. She did it in 152 days, 144 of them on the bike (the rest travelling over water).
Buhring is a strong cyclist and has finished at or near the top of numerous ultra events, often vying with male riders for the top prize. Last June she raced the first Transamerica, a 4,233-mile "gruntfest" from Astoria, Oregon, down the Rockies, then east to Yorktown, Virginia. Despite cracking her ribs and badly bruising her leg, she finished fourth overall in a time of just under 21 days, outdistancing her closest female competitor by 16 days. To accomplish this, Burhing rode the last 36 hours without sleep, covering 500 miles at a go. Sleep-deprived and fatigued beyond exhaustion, she started seeing wild animals and people leaping out from behind trees, hallucinations both, before falling asleep while riding and awakening to the sound of a blaring big rig's horn. Talk about dedication and determination!
Luhring has goals on the horizon. She hopes to set a record for bisecting the widest part of Italy in 24 hours; in September she will participate in the Race Across the Dolomites (400 nonstop miles with 52,000 feet of climbing).
"I get bored if I'm anywhere too long," she tells journalist Harry Borden. "I need to feel like I'm accomplishing something." She reports always having this feeling of urgency, like time is not on her side, and she always needs to catch up. This feeling of restlessness and racing against the clock, so common to high-performers, has become infectious so that it is for many of us "mere mortals" the normal state. Beseiged by distractions. Always on the go. With lists of things to do. We aren't capable of sitting still for very long, unless it is required by a desk job, and then we can't refrain from checking email or facebook ten times a minute. In the words of the author, it is "as if she's trying to evade some dogged unhappiness that can only gain ground when she's completely at rest."
How many feel this way? This emptiness, which we try to fill up with passions, pursuits, habits and vices, all in an effort to run from or cover up ourselves? Ultra-runner Anton Krupicka - who routinely logs upwards of 200 miles per week on trails and through snow - once said that the only time he was fine about resting was when he was injured, and nature forced him to stop.
Athletes talk about being in the zone, where everything flows. This often happens in the course of an event, where one experiences a separate reality, a quasi-religious state, an out of body experience with the body seemingly on auto-pilot while the brain enters a meditative trance. And it can be addictive, this flow. For Buhring like many, this constant motion, whether physical or mental, "suspends the listlessness" that we might otherwise experience in ordinary life.
But at what price? Even healthy addictions, if we need them to be satisfied with ourselves, are a source of dependence and therefore vicious in themselves. If passions and pursuits get you to the bliss state, they have served a purpose. Like drugs, which open the corridors of the mind and can expand awareness. But like drugs, all habits can be discarded once the effect has been experienced, because within us lies the potential, the ultimate reality waiting to be experienced, whether pedaling along the road, nursing an injury, dropping acid (I was just informed that LSD is the new biohacking pastime) or anything besides or in between.
You got the power. Just be.