I just returned from Quebec from a trip with Discovery Bicycle Tours. This was one of the best cycling experiences of my life, and the story of Cinderlad from my childhood got me up quite a few steep hills. The tour was in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. We started about 15 miles south of the Canada in the town of Montgomery Center, Vermont. A tiny town with just a few buildings, but two hip bicycle shops, telling me we were in the right place to begin. In less than an hour we were in the hills, lakes, vineyards and the maple forests flaming in reds, yellows and oranges of Canada. Threading disarming inns, and luscious wine tasting rooms, were hills and more hills. Even though slow, I am a strong and steady climber, living at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, Arizona. I cycle up 2,000 feet to Snow Bowl a few times a summer. These climbs spice up my longer 35 and 40 mile trips out to Lake Mary where my eyes dance with the Osprey fishing. But it is still a challenge to do miles of hills each day.
I was motivated this year to do the extra loops, sometimes with steep hills. The maple splendor, l’erable spectaculaire, was so awesome that I couldn’t quite grasp it. I relied on my summer training, but also the story of Cinderlad to help me get up the hills. Cinderlad says in this story, “if it doesn’t get much worse, I can manage to stand it.”
Let me explain how this came in handy. Cinderella’s story is woven into Western society’s zeitgeist, but there is a similar Italian fairy tale, with a different slant. In this story there is a farmer with three sons. The youngest sits in the cinders in the evenings, hence the name, and only has rags to wear. He is relentlessly bullied by his two arrogant older brothers, and Cinderlad’s hardworking father who has lost his grip after the death of his wife, doesn’t seem to notice.
Life has a miserable routine for Cinderlad. He labors all day making up for the work his brothers shirk, and is berated each evening by them. He finds protection buried in the cinders of the hearth each night. Things change on St. John the Baptist’s Day, falling on June 24 each year, It is what Joseph Campbell’s deems a “call to adventure.” There is a great horrible sounds in the night, and the next day all the family’s grain has been chomped down to a nub. This creates dire straits for the family, struggling without a crop for year. The next year, the elder, dandy son brags, “I’ll go out on St. John the Baptist’s night and slay whatever creature there is.” But in the middle of the night, he comes screaming home, his hair one end in fright. This repeats the next year, as well, with the next older son.
The family is becoming destitute, and the fourth year, Cinderlad steps up, not bragging, but with quiet determination. His brothers scoff. Undaunted, Cinderlad goes out into the middle of the fields to a small hut. At midnight the noise begins, and the earth shakes. At that point, he says to himself, “if it doesn’t get much worse, I can manage to stand it.” After his words there is a sudden dead, still calm. Cinderlad comes out of the hut, and remarkably standing there is a study horse with a knight’s bronze armor hanging from the saddle. Cinderlad goes back in the hut, and the earth shattering noise begins again. This happens a total of three times that night, and as Cinderlad stays with his post all night, he is rewarded, with a total of three horses, yes three, with three suits of armor, one bronze, one silver, one gold. The grain is saved, and Cinderlad’s life explodes into glory. He wins the hand of kingdom’s princess in a competition with the horses and suits armor, defying expectations and leaving his brothers in the dust.
Cinderlad’s example of steadfastness helped me get up those hills in Quebec. I know some climbing techniques such as paying attention to the breath, inhaling and exhaling, saving the legs by gearing down, rolling down the shoulders, relaxing the upper body, counting a rhythm, “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and.” But really I wanted to be like Cinderlad, I wanted to stay with the moment, a beautiful hill in a startling beautiful place, and I did say Cinderlad’s quote to myself, “If it doesn’t get any worse, I can manage to stand it.” Maybe a cognitive psychologist might minimize this as merely self-talk, or a positive psychologist might judge this as negative and counterproductive. But what I call it is a way to stay present time and a way to steady myself amidst difficulty to keep going for a goal. Being steadfast. I did it, I got to the top of many hills. I felt beauty inside and out.