Almost the second my front tire turned onto the freeway and I looked ahead at the gaping mouth of Sardine Canyon, I knew I was in trouble.
My dad and I were at the halfway point of the Cache Gran Fondo, a 100-mile bicycle ride that winds its way around the perimeters of Cache Valley, Utah and ends in Logan. We had just reached the ride’s main attraction, an 18-mile stretch through Sardine Canyon which, at its highest point, hits an elevation of 5,914 feet. We’d be cycling up to the summit and then down to the small town of Mantua, where we’d then turn around and climb back out. It was the kind of ride that separated the women from the girls, and I was petrified.
Aside from biking two miles to work and back every day for two months, the most practice I’d put in was a 22-mile ride up Logan Canyon. I was not prepared for extended elevation gain, and I felt it the minute I began climbing Sardine. To make matters more difficult, a 15-20 mph headwind pushed against our bicycles, and the temperature, rather than dropping, remained at a steady 93 degrees. Within fifteen minutes, sweat was pouring down my chest and back, and my legs were on fire. I was in my lowest gear, going about five miles per hour, and I had never felt so much physical pain in my life.
I’d like to say that I took the climb “like a man,” but I was noticeably unprepared. I found myself gasping like a straw in an empty milk carton and screaming through my teeth. Even though I’d known it would be hard, I’d never imagined how hard. Frantic, I began looking for ways out. I had seven or eight more miles before Mantua, and even though I didn’t want to quit, I didn’t know how it was possible for me to finish. I passed older riders who’d put their bikes down in the weeds while they tried to catch their breath. There was one right after the other, it seemed. It was hard to stifle the thought, Well, if they’re stopping, why can’t you? Just quit.
I was staring at the side of the road, consumed by the temptation of turning around when a gentle hand suddenly pushed on the center of my back. My dad, who’d been pacing himself a few feet behind me, had pedaled closer to where I was and wrapped his arm around me. He pushed me as I pedaled. The burden of the climb, which I’d been struggling to carry, immediately felt lighter, and not only just physically. There was something about feeling him there that soothed me mentally and emotionally, too. It erased my panic and concern.
From that point, we worked out an informal system. My dad would push me up the road awhile before dropping back, overcome by his own exhaustion, and then I’d pedal as hard as I could for as long as I could on my own. When I faltered and struggled, he’d zip up to me and push me again. We did this for several miles, and in the middle of it all, I regained my confidence. If my dad was there, I could get through this.
When we topped out at the summit and began riding downhill to Mantua, the fear and pain were replaced by an almost crazy elation. We’d done it. My dad raced ahead of me, and I smiled as I watched him take the curves and corners like someone who’d ridden them a thousand times.
After a long rest, we made the climb out of Sardine Canyon and pushed ourselves hard on the flats, crossing the finish line at just over seven hours. That ride and my dad’s steady example have stuck with me ever since.
When I think about life, I often think of it as a bike ride. It has its flats and downhills, insignificant moments and moments of joy; however, it often has steep hills, some that stretch on for far longer than we anticipated or feel we can handle. It throws us bends in the road, bumps, and dips. It pushes us to our breaking point, leaving us desperate and causing us to cry out, Why is this so hard? Why do I have to do this? It can sometimes make us feel totally unreachable or alone. But we are not. We have a Savior, and as I learned on a hard saddle in blistering heat on the worst hill I’d ever climbed, He is always near us.
Jesus Christ knows every detail of this ride. He’s not only mapped out the route, but He has participated in it for every one of us. Because we signed up for it premortally, knowing what it would cost, Christ will neither finish this ride for us, nor will He remove the hills — to do so would both interfere with our agency and undermine our ability to overcome. But Christ is very much aware of our burdens and very capable of making them lighter for us.
The Savior, in His infinite capacity to rescue, rides ahead of us, rides alongside us, and rides behind us with His hand at our back. He has experienced and agonized over the road to help us traverse it. He’s at our side to encourage us, in good times and bad. He stays behind us to push us along when we are close to breaking. When we know Him and recognize His hand, our capacity to feel our burdens lightened by Him increases. Christ has felt the pain we have felt, He has suffered our sufferings, and He has borne our sins to make the victory of the finish sweet for us if we but endure it well and follow Him. He has made the impossible overcomeable.
Jesus Christ is the ultimate evidence that we can both rise above immeasurable trial and attain infinite victory. What He did for us not only allows our violations and mistakes to be met with mercy, but gives us hope that our darkest days will always be followed by our happiest. With Him, we can fight. With Him, we can finish.
No matter how high or hard the hill, the Savior, like my dad, has His hand at our back, waiting to lighten our burdens. We need only seek Him and keep pedaling.