Affirmation, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Cycling, Faithful Living, God, Hardiness, Hope, Life's Storms, Mountains, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Risk Taking, Uncategorized, virtue, wilderness, wisdom

Test Your Mettle

Lately, I have been thinking about the notion of testing one’s mettle.  It’s an old-fashioned way of explaining resiliency, the capacity to soldier on through tough times, and drawn-out challenges. I think the key concept is that we grow in character by stepping out of our comfort zones, and enduring hard experiences. This happens to us as an individual, and to “we” as a community.

We test our own individual mettle to see if we have the courage, tenacity, and inner strength to climb the mountains in our way.

This is jarring, because our world is oriented towards personal comfort, faux strength, and instant gratification. And, because testing oneself is so disorienting, we rarely welcome a chance to see what we’re made of.

First, we don’t want to appear as if we’ve stumbled, splayed out publicly in our weakness, hurt, disbelief, and despair. We often fail to test ourselves because we are too busy acting as if we don’t need to.  Second, such testing is uncomfortable. 

We lay ourselves bare for the blacksmith’s hammering, a tempering that flattens and smashes our beliefs and suppositions on its way to forging strength and stamina.

Third, we are afraid of failing the test, of running the gauntlet only to find ourselves worse off than when we started.  When has your life been at a place of testing?  What was your response?

As a timid kid with little self-confidence, my first tests were all physically-difficult enterprises that pushed my fragile mental and emotional stability to-and beyond- their limits.  Climbing a 13,000 foot mountain while hampered by asthma and anemia was beyond difficult, always served up with a mental side dish of “I can’t do this.” But I did.

Taking a graduate biochemistry course without having the undergraduate requisite of general and organic chem was insanely challenging, my mind constantly gnawed with “I can’t do this.”  But I did.

Biking long distances, when the legs were dead, the seat numb, the fatigue’s lie of “I simply can’t go another mile” an unwelcome inner whine. But I could, and I did.

When we could not have more children, the emotional ache was unbearable. When confronted with “you can’t have kids” I finished my doctorate and taught for 20 years. I had thousands of wonderful kids over time.

Fortitude is an odd virtue. It digs deep, finds strength we didn’t know we had, keeps us moving forward, upward, and outward.  It is gas on the fire when our tank is empty. It is a second wind.  Each time we overcome some unpleasant or challenging circumstance, we carve another notch of confidence in our belt. But, I say fortitude is odd because for people who know and trust God, the real story is not in our own strength and endurance and ability, but in our weakness, our exhaustion, and our inability. All of creation glorifies the Creator.  When we manage to do something we thought impossible, and credit ourselves with fortitude, we take credit for something God did in and through us, trying on God’s glory for size.

We are fallen and always falling. The strength to stand is not our own. Nor is the strength to endure. Those who trust in God know this secret: we don’t have to survive these things alone in our own strength.

God will test your mettle. He will allow some uncomfortable, disorienting, heart-rending chapters to be written in your life. How you respond is up to you. Just know, you don’t have to go it alone.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Adventure Tourism, Biking, Cycling, Perseverence, Uncategorized

A 3-Dutch Granny Day!

Last May, my husband Mark and I joined a small group of aging adventurers and bicycled 290 miles in 8 days around the old Zuider Zee in Holland. We spent 4 months training at home for this ride. I had never biked more than 18 miles in a day. So we started with spinning classes at the local college, and transitioned outdoors when winter abated. Our guide gave us a strict training schedule. By the middle of May we had to ride 90 miles in a week with at least one, preferably two rides of 40+ miles. Lest you stop reading here and call me crazy, I want to testify that the training was remarkably ENJOYABLE! Why?

  • I can’t remember a time when my husband and I spent so much concentrated time working together towards a shared goal
  • My middling February fitness blossomed into a can-do confidence by May-I lost weight, got lots of vitamin D, got stronger and happier with each passing mile
  • I got to buy really cool new raingear (I love a packing list of required gear-time to shop!)
  • Almost every ride went by an ice cream shop (no explanation needed)

In future posts, I will share much more about what a FANTASTIC trip this was for both of us. Many have asked us, “Why the Netherlands?” The answer is easy: low altitude, no hills! I love biking the straightaways, and the bike routes in Holland are atop or beside a dyke at or below sea level (insert smiley face). My kind of riding. (Of course, the wind is a story for another post…Holland should make you think “windmills”.)

One day, it was sunny and hot, and we had 42 miles to pedal. Our route took us through a lovely town called Giethoorn, the “Venice” of the Netherlands. There were many tourists that weekend day, so it took some patience to cycle the narrow paths along the myriad canals.

Now, I should explain that I prefer to bike at the back of any group, so that my casual 10-11 mph pace doesn’t hold anyone back, and so they won’t feel compelled to ride too close…I like my space. My friend Dan often road far behind me to bring up the rear. After leaving Giethoorn, I was hot and tired and thirsty, head down, concentrating on getting this ride DONE. While enjoying a small pity party in my head, Dan shouted forward,

Hey Julie, you are about to be passed by a granny!”

Just then, an elderly Dutch woman in a starched dress and with perfectly coiffed hair, riding stiffly upright and not giving me so much as a glance, went zipping by me. Not out of breath. Certainly not all sweaty like me. Assuredly older than I.

I slowed down a bit to let Dan catch up, and we decided that for every Dutch granny that passed us, we could have one Heineken beer at the end of the day. Only 15 minutes later, and Dan sang out, “Here comes another one!”   Then another one! It was a 3-Dutch granny, 3-Heineken day!

All to say that when an adventure becomes more physically challenging than you think you can handle, a little humor goes a long way to help you power through. And ice cream and beer at the end don’t hurt either.

~J.A.P. Walton

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