Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

I’m writing this a few days before I turn 79 and a few days after my annual birthday bike ride. We started the tradition of cycling my age in miles in 2007, when I turned 70. We continued the tradition of riding my age through age 77 but then modified it to kilometers. That year we rode in Napa, California; a distance of 52 miles, 3,500 feet of total ascent. Riding 78 miles with even more climbing would have been too much.

About six months ago my son suggested we ride in Asheville, North Carolina this year in an organized ride, a total of 62 miles, 5,000 feet of ascent. Almost anything sounds like a good idea when it’s six months or more away. So we signed up, along with a friend from San Francisco as well as a husband and wife friends from Las Vegas.

A few months ago I realized that I needed to do some serious training if I expected to complete the ride. So I started doing longer rides with more hills in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where we live half of the year. A week before the event I completed a ride of 50 miles with 3,200 feet of elevation. I felt fine after, which was a good sign.

When we registered for the ride the woman processing us looked at my birth date and said, with a smile, “You’ll be the oldest rider.” This made me feel good in one way but nervous in another; was I too far out of my comfort zone? There were over 150 total cyclists in the event.

We had a beautiful day for the ride; mid-40s early, warming up to the 60s and bright sunshine by midmorning, with a light wind. The scenery in the Blue Ridge Mountains was terrific, rolling hills as far as the eye could see.

Some of the climbs were hard; even harder than I expected. I made all of them until we got to the toughest one. It started at an eight percent grade and then grew to ten percent, then twelve, topping out at sixteen percent. To put this in perspective, the maximum on any hill that I ride in Bucks County is twelve percent for a much shorter distance.

When my cycle computer showed fourteen percent elevation, and we were clearly a long ways from the top, I did what any intelligent, fit, 79-year-old should do; I got off my bike and walked to the top. I was far from alone.

We finished the ride in a bit over five hours of cycling time. I was far from the first to finish but also far from the last; several cyclists came in over an hour later. We were relaxing with a beer after and the woman who’d processed my registration came over, gave me a big hug, and said, “Congratulations to the 1937 birthday boy.”

Was I out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Am I glad I did it? Of course. I’m looking forward to a challenging ride next year, when I turn 80, in Bucks County. We already have ten cyclists who’ve signed up, including one from England.

My son sent me an email on his way home to San Francisco, saying, “All of us who do these birthday rides will remember them for the rest of our lives.” I will, too, just for a shorter period of time.

Moral of the story: It’s great to get out of your personal comfort zone periodically, but it’s important to do the necessary training to be prepared.

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21 Responses to Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

  1. Donald Sherick says:

    Congratulations Harry!!!

    Since you are a few years (actually four) older than me, I have admired your desire to stay fit and keep on riding, even though I know it’s not easy to continue the “active” life style. So your example is an inspiration, keep pedaling!!!

    • Harry says:

      Thanks, Don. It’s easier to continue the active life style if you do it regularly, not so easy if there are gaps. I try to avoid gaps.

  2. Barb Langenhan says:

    Hi Harry,

    You’re an inspiration to us all!

    Happy Birthday or Happy Belated Birthday………See you in Florida……Hi to Deb and Kip too!

  3. Roger Kelton says:

    Hi Harry:

    Congratulaltions on your birthday and finishing the Ride. Your final comment that is it good to get out of your comfort zone, and to do the proper training before the event is critical to continued success. But I felt you left out an important component: use your brain and don’t push beyond your capabilities (because it will come back and “bite you”.)
    You walked the final part of the 12% hill; a good and proper strategy.

    Roger Kelton

    • Harry says:

      Thanks, Roger. And you’re right, I could handle 12% but 14% and then 16% was too much for my old bones.

  4. Neale Sweet says:

    Happy Birthday and Congratulations! What a motivating story. Setting goals like the ones you set is pretty admirable in and of itself, but following through with real action to achieve them is even more amazing. The coup de grace is having the wisdom to know when to back off before you reach top of the highest point. Proud to know you, man.

    • Harry says:

      Thanks, Neale. I’m glad I did it, keep saying this is the last year for that hard a ride. We’ll see what happens in 2017 when I turn the big 80.

  5. Jan and Bob Seidell says:

    Congratulations, Harry, for your training, completing the ride, and for knowing
    your body, your limits- and were wise enough to listen to your body!
    Bob and I are proud of you! We wish you a Happy Birthday! and health for the
    next year training for number 80!!!! Enjoy your very special day!

  6. Allen Bornstein says:


    Congratulations on you reaching your Birthday goal. I always knew you were a smart and wise man who listened to your body and stayed in your comfort level. Happy, Fun and Healthy Birthday! See you soon on the courts.

    Best wishes,

  7. Basia Randolph says:

    Congratulations Harry on your epic bike trip! Wish I could do even 10 miles. Cowabunga Dude!

  8. Bill Secrest says:

    You are at the highest level for 79…look forward to seeing you in Florida.

  9. Jacqueline Pierce says:

    You are an inspiration to all of us who are trying to stay fit. Congratulations on your great birthday ride and the advice to having a plan B. :-)) You Go Champ!

  10. George T Cino says:

    That’s a wonderful story I have always believed one can do anything providing you pay the price in this case the price is hours days and weeks of training
    Congratulations my friend

  11. Facing both physical and mental challenges like this are exciting and keeps us growing as individuals. I am coming up on my 60th birthday in December and looking forward to the next decade myself by staying physically and mentally active in regards to strength training and personal development.

    Your bike rides sound right up my alley in regards to the type of effort that can be put forth when we have trained our bodies and minds to accomplish it.

    growth is good, stagnation is death.

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