The Misery Index: Push mine to eleven please.

Ridiculously difficult climbs… Long and hot stretches between anything… Smog-belching busses missing you by mere inches… Incessant hunger…Leg cramps… Undying headwinds… What’s not to love about all that?

Bloggers and writers don’t often delve into the difficult parts of cycle touring. There are a few hidden facets of bike travel that may leave some folks just slightly shy of ecstatic. A couple of days ago I had an email conversation with Lee, my riding partner through part of Central America, regarding our mutual love affair with difficult and rocky off-road routes. More specifically, our enjoyment of the torment, tedium and sheer difficulty of such riding. Lee is now crawling through some of the most demanding cycling routes in the world—the Peruvian Andes. Sounds wonderful to me. And to him, it is. Although any cycle tourist enjoys a good challenge, a place like that requires a person who gets a certain level of enjoyment out of pain and accomplishment.

Bike touring Costa Rica - Surly Troll
Me pushing across a flooded backroad on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. Photo by Lee

I call this suffering induced bliss The Misery Index. Reaching a level where the ride is beyond difficult and light-years away from comfortable. How about a solid 15% grade climb… into a stiff headwind… on rutted and uneven rocky gravel? That’s pushing it up there. So, what is there to love about this?

Propelling all of your energy directly to the pedals in a seemingly infinite number of rotations places you in a certain state of being where your perception of physical endurance is haunting your mental fortitude and vice versa. In this place, you are neither happy nor sad; you just move. Your mind feels crystalline as your body weakens. Thoughts neither enter nor escape. It could be exactly like meditation, or it could be completely the opposite. The only thing that exists is some strange drive to keep going. To maintain this purity.

Bike touring Panama - Surly Troll
Taking a break after almost getting smacked by a taxi during a rain storm in Panama. Photo by Lee

I crave this state. At some point in my 30s, I realized that pushing myself well beyond my comfort zone was going to be an important part of my life. Whether that means being lost in an unfamiliar place or the wrenching physical-mental aspect that I am exploring in this writing, misery kind of clears my head and pushes the ‘hey, I’m alive’ button. It makes me feel like I am capitalizing on the sixty to eighty year opportunity of which I am somewhere around halfway through.

However, The Misery Index isn’t for everyone. Anybody who travels by bicycle is very much able and willing to endure strenuous and long uphills in order to eventually be rewarded by wonderful experiences and flowing downhills. But, some people aren’t especially fond of going beyond any “reasonable” level of suffering. As we are ramping up for another adventure, I have to keep my love of The Misery Index in check. My drive to conquer the Himalayas, or some other ridiculously cold and steep mountain range, isn’t going to work for my wife, Virginia. That’s pushing it a little and she’s not a raving fan of the The Misery Index. I am still working on her though.

Bike touring Guatemala - Surly Troll
Gin pushing the last bit of a nasty climb in Guatemala.



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