Navigating Adversity

You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Winnie the Pooh

The night’s blackness engulfed me as I pedalled up endless winding hills and down rocky mud encased slopes. The silence was punctuated only by gravel crunching under my tyres as I drew in icy breaths of air. My helmet light illuminated the trail in front of me as I oscillated between climbing and ascending. Suddenly, my adrenalin fueled solitude was abruptly interrupted: my light went out without a flicker of warning. This is not ideal, I thought.

It was about 1am in mid-January, the temperature was floating around freezing, and I was in the middle of the Scottish highlands doing a lap of the Strathpuffer 24-hour mountain bike event. This grueling annual event features 17 hours of darkness; darkness pervades this region during this wintery time of year. I’d thought I’d prepared well for the event, which I was competing in as part of a two person relay team. I was fit, I had ample clothing, food and drink with me, as well bike tools and first aid. Alas I’d forgotten the crucial extra light battery or spare light.

Navigating the darkness. Photo courtesy of Casey Horner.

So there I was, standing in complete darkness in the middle of the 11km course, with (not surprisingly) few other competitors around. As my eyes gradually became accustomed to the dark, I dismounted and pushed my bike down the trail. This was not a good time to panic, as there was nought I could do to improve my situation. I trudged the blackened landscape for a few minutes, somehow comforted by the peaceful stillness of the night. After a time, another rider arrived, who, after a brief exchange of words, agreed to ride with me. This angel of the night proceeded to ride slowly in front of me, allowing me to use his light to navigate around the remainder of the course. The riding was still fairly perilous especially while descending, as it was difficult to see the rocky obstacles in front of me. I had to trust in my bike and continue on. Relieved, I finally made it to the end of the lap in one piece, thanking the anonymous biker angel before he rode off, never to be seen again.

I suspect that many of you are neither mountain bikers or adventure thrill seekers and this story may not immediately appear relevant to your life. Perhaps you think I’ve shared this story to demonstrate my stupidity or bravado about riding my bike in treacherous conditions. Nonetheless, there’s an important lesson for all here, in overcoming adversity and the possibilities that can arise from such situations.

Life hurls challenges at us. Sometimes we create them for ourselves through mistakes or by purposefully seeking challenging situations. Other times, the world blindly trips us up without warning. Regardless of how adversity arrives at our doorstep, it is implicit in the nature of life.

My lights-out mountain bike experience taught me several things:

  1. Always carry a spare light and batteries (duh!)
  2. A little kindness can go a long way to helping others through adversity
  3. We are all brilliant adapters and have remarkable innate coping mechanisms to deal with stressful situations
  4. Opportunity can arise out of adversity. Challenging experiences can help us become more resilient and adept in managing other similar situations.

I share this story as I am conscious of so many around the world who are struggling or feeling overwhelmed with the uncertainty of the future and the demands that living in a pandemic is placing on their lives. What we may not realise, is that through the challenges we are facing, we are evolving, adapting, learning and becoming stronger and more resilient. I hope you may be able to relate my story to some aspect of your life, whether your challenges appear monstrous and unsurmountable or more manageable.

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