Today was kind of my farewell talk in my ward before leaving for the big city. Having just finished the Cache Valley Century yesterday, I had a lot to say about bicycles. Like, A LOT. In pre-mission style, I’m posting that talk here with a few post-talk edits. Enjoy!
Back in June or so, my sister Kori, our friend Zayn, and I decided that we were going to do something insane and ride in a Century, which is a 100 mile bike ride. It was something we’d never done before, but we registered so we’d be committed when the big day came.
Well, the summer went by in a hurry, and before we knew it, we were waking up early yesterday morning with a long ride ahead of us. When we got to the starting line, we were given a map that outlined the entire route. It would take us from Richmond up to Franklin, through Preston, over to Dayton, down through Cornish, and then go up through Clarkston, Newton, Mendon, Benson, Amalga, Trenton, and finally, end back at Richmond. As you can see, it was no small ride, and a lot of it was uphill.
Everything started off pretty great. The weather was beautiful and the roads were clear for the most part. But then things started getting unexpectedly hard. There were problems with bike gears, two flat tires, and right as we were crawling over the east hill getting into Newton, it began to rain. From Clarkston pretty much until the end of the ride we biked against strong wind, through gravel, up gradual and painful hills, thunderstorms, torrential rain (which feels like hail when you’re riding your bike) and then real hail, which felt a lot like being pelted with darts. In total, subtracting time at the pit stops, we spent a good 8 and ½ hours on our bicycles. It was the most physically challenging thing I have ever done in my life, but it taught me a lot of really good lessons.
Similar to running, in order to have an effective and efficient ride, you’ve got to maintain a good pace. That can be pretty difficult when your bike’s breaking down or when you’re being soaked to the bone and beaten around by the wind. Living in the world today is a lot like riding in that Century. It’s often demoralizing and uncomfortable, and maintaining our standards can be challenging. Elder Neil A. Anderson, in the most recent General Conference, referred to the world and the temptations in this life as spiritual whirlwinds that we have to face, and oftentimes, we face them alone. The challenge is to be a steadfast example and hang on to what we believe and know through it all.
Similar to riding in a Century, there are a lot of things we can do to maintain our standards and our spiritual pace in the world today. I’ve come up with five (there are lots, but I’ll just stick with this five).
1) Consume the right things.
When you embark on a bike ride or any physical workout this large, you want to start by eating lots of healthy foods and constantly drinking water. As you bike, you lose electrolytes, which help keep your muscles working, so you need to drink lots of Gatorade or intake foods that can help replace the electrolytes you lose. This is how you equalize your body with the conditions surrounding it.
As we go through life, we need to replace our spiritual electrolytes just as frequently as our physical electrolytes so that we can be prepared to live in such a spiritually damaging world. We cannot fill ourselves with destructive media, excessive and unproductive Internet use, or vulgar music and still maintain our standards. It has the same effect as eating a box full of chocolate cake donuts and drinking a liter of soda right before going on a 100 mile bike ride. In the case of your spirit, your ability to be in tune to the Holy Ghost and what is right and wrong completely shuts down when you consume the wrong things. Most of the time, it’s our own agency that leads us to do so.
Equally damaging is when you don’t consume bad things or good things. At the end of the Century, my stomach was tossing. It hadn’t had much food or liquids and I felt miserable, but I had no desire to drink or eat. That only made things worse. How often, though, do we go through spiritual droughts that are our own making? How often do we avoid reading our scriptures or listening to Conference talks or attending Institute when those are exactly the things we need to keep us strong? Our standards depend upon not only doing good things, but inputting good things. The only way we can really maintain our standards in the world is if we fill our minds and spirits with good things that encourage us rather than breaking us down.
2) Listen to the right voices.
When preparing for this bike ride, there were a lot of things going through my head. At the beginning of the ride, I was optimistic, saying, “Oh yeah, I’ve got this.” Hills and turns were exciting to me, and I knew I could finish. By the end of the ride, however, that voice was pessimistic and angry, saying, “Why are you doing this, Ari? This is just stupid. You’re no athlete, you don’t do stuff like this. It’s hard and it’s uncomfortable. You could quit right now and no one would blame you.” That latter voice made the hills steeper, the weather colder, and as a result, I felt myself slowing down significantly.
I think one of the worst things we can do to ourselves spiritually is to listen to the wrong voices. Sometimes these voices come from the world, telling us that we’re weird and wrong and bigoted for believing what we do, and we should just get with the program. Spencer W. Kimball, speaking in a 1971 General Conference, said that “many voices, loud and harsh, come from among educators, business and professional men, sociologists, psychologists, authors, movie actors, legislators, judges, and others, even some of the clergy, who, because they have learned a little about something, seem to think they know all about everything…” Sometimes, especially lately, these voices come from our friends, friends who have been strong in the Gospel most of their lives but who have begun to let their doubts slip into anger and contention towards the church and in extension us. Other times, these voices come from inside us: “Why are you doing this? It’s hard and it’s uncomfortable to be good all of the time. Why don’t you just take a break?”
We must not listen to these voices! Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, “From among the chorus of voices we hear in mortality, we must recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd, who calls us to follow him toward our heavenly home.” Our Savior’s voice is the voice that we must listen to, not the voice of popular opinion or even our friends in some cases. Sometimes it’s hard to get away from the clamor of the world, but we can do so by attending the temple, making our homes a safe haven, and, again, filling our minds with positive and uplifting things.
3) Be willing to stand alone.
Yesterday, right after the hailstorm and as the ride was feeling longer, we began to see less and less riders. For me, it was discouraging. Even with our small group, I felt weirdly alone, like we were the only ones on that road, facing those storms. We’d find out at one of the last pit stops that we were some of the only ones left, as many had dropped out and quit when the storms blew in, including seasoned cyclists.
I think one of our greatest tests in mortality is having to feel that sense of aloneness, and as the world becomes more and more degenerate, we may have to go through times when we feel more and more lonely. One example of this is school. As a college student, I quickly learned that I was a minority in my field of choice. Nobody wants to hear about how the Gospel changes your life in a creative writing class, or how you can be both LDS and happy. They want to hear about how you left it, how you’re different and miserable, how you broke free of responsibility, self-control, or religion. Those are the essays that we’d study in class and the professors would use as good examples of how to write an essay. I’ve had professors who have work published in professional magazines about how the church is ridiculous and no one within it can think for themselves. If you don’t think their personal biases found a way into our classrooms, you’re wrong. I remember one class I attended where every single day I felt alone. I knew how the professor felt about my beliefs and assumed that her opinion of me was just as low. At least 45% of the students in that class wrote about leaving the church and how that empowered them. Imagine how weird it was to tell the class that I was writing my final essay on feeling like a minority for what I believe.
As a cyclist and a student, you have to focus on yourself a lot. How are you doing, where are you going, and who do you want to be at the end of the day? Are you being a good influence or a not so good influence? Are you going to stand up or sit down quietly? It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks about you. It matters what the Lord thinks about you, and, with Him in mind, what the divine part of you thinks about you. Even if you are the only cyclist on the road or the only Mormon in a class, you have a ride to finish, an example to set, and the road is always marked, even if no one else seems to be going the same way. Stand up for what you believe and keep believing it, even if you are alone.
4) Realize that you have a network of people supporting you and seek them out.
The great thing about this ride is that, no matter how alone I felt, I wasn’t alone. In spite of all of our bike problems, we had Bishop and his wife come help us with new tires and a new bike. Halfway through the ride, my dad and Zayn’s brother Zakk joined us. That was the greatest blessing, because I felt like I couldn’t have finished without their encouragement and help. At the hills, my dad gave me tips on how to navigate so I could get over them. At the end of the ride, Zakk slipped in front of me and took most of the wind so that I didn’t have to fight as hard to finish. Even throughout the ride, it was nice to see other riders and talk with them and help point them in the right direction, buoy them up through the storms. They did the same for us. (Editor’s Note: Excluding the guy across the street who told Zakk and I: “You’re riding into the jaws of hell!” right before the hailstorm).
No matter how alone you feel, you have people around you who can mentor you and help you along. I probably wouldn’t have thought to wear two pairs of biking pants and bring along ibuprofen, for example, if I hadn’t talked to President Traveller (stake president) earlier this week. I’m in a lot less pain this morning than I would have been had I not asked for his help. The Lord doesn’t ever leave us entirely alone. He is always there, and He has sent other children here to help guide us as well.
To add to that point, I’ll mention an experience I had awhile ago. I had the amazing opportunity to talk with Elder Christofferson back in February. I asked him how one person could have any influence in the world today. His answer at the time was kind of surprising. Rather than telling me the power of one person, he told me to search out good people wherever I go, get together, and unite as Christians. You see, it is that network that helps us maintain our standards, and we always have it. We may feel alone, yes, and be asked to stand alone, but we’re never truly alone.
5) Keep the end in sight.
The last thing we need to do to maintain our standards is to keep the end in sight. You know what was the best part about that Century? The finish. The finish is always the best part. The last five miles was grueling and exhausting, and I felt like I couldn’t make it. But thinking about that finish line and what it would mean to get there kept me going.
We know what the finish will be like if we live strong and endure to the end. It will be glorious, especially if we do our best to be like our Savior. We must always be thinking about that end point, wherever we go in the world. It is worth all of the trials of today because it exceeds and remedies them.
Riding 100 miles on a bicycle is probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. It was new, it was physically taxing, and it was surprisingly mentally challenging. But that’s how life is, and especially today. In order to maintain our pace and our standards, we need to put a lot of work in and resist the storms that life throws at us. But the finish is worth it. No matter what Satan and the world sends our way, we can maintain a strong spiritual pace and finish the race, as Paul said, by diligently preparing. The Lord won’t let us fight this fight alone, and He will be there to meet us in the end.