32 Miles, 0.3 Miles at a Time

Yesterday Andrew, a couple of our friends, and I participated in the French Creek Iron Tour. They had a variety of course lengths to choose from; Andrew picked the 50 mile route and the three of us took the 32 mile route. He started his route at 8:00 a.m. and we started our route at 9:00 a.m. It worked out that we hit the last rest stop at the same time (meaning with one extra hour he managed to bike an extra 18 miles) and we got to finish the ride together.

Andrew gave me a funny look when we were talking about the bike ride on Friday. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Nothing, just...I'm a little worried about you." I knew what he meant - worried that I wouldn't be able to make it through the full 32 miles. I'm not overly enthusiastic about biking - he had to twist my arm to get me to buy a bike four years ago, and I'm pretty sure I complained bitterly on all the bike rides that first year. I've warmed to biking a little more each year and don't complain nearly as much, but I'm still not all rah-rah about going on bike rides.

This ride turned out to be different. I loved this ride! It was the most fun I've had biking since I was a little kid, riding bikes with my neighbor Aaron. The key to the ride was something I nearly didn't bring, the cue sheet.

I carried the cue sheet, sealed up in a plastic bag. Even though the route was well-marked with little spray-painted orange arrows, and even though there were always people in front of me leading the way, I constantly referred to the sheet. It was exactly what I've been missing all these years!

The step-by-step directions broke the ride into a series of 43 steps, the shortest being 0.1 mile and the longest being 2.4 miles. I can't bike 32 miles, but I sure can bike 2.4 miles. That I can accomplish. The second fabulous part of the cue sheet is that it gave a running total of the miles. No need to guess how far I'd gone, the sheet told me.

Breaking a large project into its constituent tasks is the cornerstone of most productivity programs and it seems obvious to think about a bike ride this way. "Well, I've gone about 10 miles, so I'm nearly halfway," but a detailed cue sheet elevates this thinking to GTD levels. Maybe it's a little bit obsessive, but when I'm trying to master new tasks, especially physical tasks, the more I can break down my work into little chunks, the better. Back in high school when I worked in the grocery store, I would break my eight hour shift into 32nds. I counted and celebrated the passing of each quarter-hour as one more 32nd of the shift over. I have a kitchen timer that sits on my desk at home, so that when I need to clean I can set it for 15 minute increments. When I'm ready to quit nine minutes into the task, the time tells me, "Just six more minutes. You can do six more minutes." That cue sheet filled a deeply seated need.

I had so much fun on this bike ride that now I'm ready to try something even longer! You can be sure I'll be carrying a cue sheet.