In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave he has Socrates describe a group of people who have been imprisoned in a cave since birth.
These prisoners are chained such that they can only see a wall and the shadows projected onto it by a fire that sits behind them. Unable to move, and having never experienced anything else, these shadows have become reality for the prisoners, even receiving names. Seeking comfort, these prisoners have no desire to leave the cave (or even knowledge that it is possible).
One day, the prisoners chains are broken, and as they climb up out of the cave they come to realize that reality was not as they thought. This is how Socrates describes a philosopher; a prisoner freed from the cave, knowing that the shadows on the wall are a manufactured or perceived reality, and that the true nature of what is real exists outside this realm.
The Cave exists for cyclists as well. In our case, we’re hesitant to enter the cave, or red zone. It’s uncharted territory, the deeper you go, you become less and less sure you’ll be able to return.
Every cyclist has encountered this zone, and the longer you race the most you explore and come the realize the true extent of the cave. Each time you upgrade to a new category, whether your first race in the 5’s or your first Pro/1/2, you go deeper. Where you might once have been the strongest rider, you are now being dragged through the cave by a field of much stronger riders, punching above your limit. It becomes akin to free diving, a sport where divers under their own power try to achieve the deepest dive possible, being sure the have enough for the return journey to the surface. In racing at this level it becomes more of a getting dragged to depths you didn’t think were possible, and attempting to make it back to the surface.
The deeper you go, with your vision narrowing, your eyes going cross. You experience a state you wish you could explain to non athletes. It gives you a glimpse of what other athletes experience, and an appreciation for the heroic efforts seen.
Like any good manufactured reality, as you continue the exploration of the cave, what once was an aversion to it, becomes a yearning. Now as you experience the pain that envelopes your existence, you realize this is what every other rider is experiencing as well. In this transcendental moment you become the hammer. You pour on the hurt, trying to go the deepest you’ve ever gone, knowing that some will try to follow and others will be unable to. You enter uncharted depths and start to get a glimpse of the true nature of reality.