December 26, 2011

Identity and reason

After viewing a great many videos and reading texts on cycling long distances, whether it be RAAM or P-B-P, cyclists taking part were asked at some point "why they are doing this".  A great many took pause while trying to come up with an answer.  Many were unable to.  Sometimes we need someone else to tell us.  I, myself, am not sure I could come up with anything at quick notice.  I'm not sure any of us NEED to - but the truth lies somewhere in the notion that long distance cyclists are either riding away from, or towards, something.  Whether any of us figure out what that "something" is in our lifetimes isn't necessarily as important as continuing the search - and remembering to keep it fun.  
Fun is important.  A great many friends over the years have taught me how to look more closely, carefully, when I'd lost my way.  I have learned to laugh in the face of interminable distances.  I have found the simple joy in a hot cup of coffee.  I have learned that there is "tired", and there is "600k tired".  I have shook hands with new friends at the end of seemingly endless torture, and have smiled despite pain, sores, aches, fatigue -- fatigue so deep you find yourself giggling one second, and then for no reason, crying.  I haven't always seen the roadside daisies while on my search, the cool old bridge or building or bird - but I have learned to look, even to stop.  I have learned that what lies at the end of this long string of roads is not as important as what I learn on the way, what I see, what I smile about, what I share with others while they make their search.  While there are receipts and stamps and route cards, it's not about the clock or the miles or the course record.  It's also not about beating the other guy... yet, if you've ridden with me, you know that for some reason I still like a good rabbit.  Sometimes you need the comfort of the group... sometimes you need the silence of solitude between groups.  It's deeper than all that, though.  
I have watched in amazement the exploits of those making it back to Paris before some riders even reach Brest.  I remember hearing of riders making the end of the MS-150 before the lunch stop even opened - and remember letting personal comparison dictate my level of enjoyment.  I have read amazing tales of near-death experiences turned completely around into stories of triumph over odds, and have thought less of myself for giving in to pain too easily.  I'm sure there is happiness there in those tales of remarkable sporting ability, but more often than not I find myself questioning whether or not they're having a good time - watching hurried control mayhem, yelling, people shoving food into their faces, clothing refreshed, creams and lotions applied -- and watching them be shoved back into motion, off the bike for only minutes.  I seldom see a smile.  I have seen the strongest riders stop, dozens of hours in the lead, alone - just stopping, quitting, because there is no competition.  For them, the competition is the "why"... and when that "why" is removed, they no longer know why they are there.  One could call "cop-out" on me, or similar... but, I HAVE to be able to smile... I know that about myself.  Things really do become harder when I'm not having fun.  Everyone measures "fun" in their own way, all have their own facial cues, quirks... but, watching those videos, looking at their eyes... I'm not sure I can see it.

Others have their bodies give out before they find what they seek... and it make my heart heavy to see a strong athlete reduced to tears because their will is still so strong, yet the physical pain is too great.  I have seen others slip into fatigue, and the clock is unkind.  Hours from the next control with only minutes to get there - for some reason, there is still a smile.  Perhaps it hides something, but it is - from my perspective - genuine.  They have, on paper, lost... but, they don't crawl into the van.  They refuse the SAG.  Without any reason greater than "it's a nice day, and it'd be a shame to waste it," they continue pedaling towards Paris.  There will be no prize, there may not even be a single soul applauding them home... but they continue.  If the search consumes you, then whatever you find at the end could be bittersweet, hollow, anti-climactic, or worse... unsatisfying... but for these, I don't think such a fate awaits them at their own "finish".  There is no final stamp, no appearance in the finishers list, no fanfare... but they have still, for themselves, finished.  It's the character of these brave, heroic riders that I aspire to most of all.
After much personal toil, internal arguments, personal monologues - I am finally okay if I never have my name associated with any such amazing feat.  It's not as simple as saying I've somehow suddenly FOUND something and that I no longer need to search... I know that what I'm searching for still doesn't have a name, or association, or direct example "just like so-and-so did"... I don't need to beat that record, best that time, ride a few meters farther than Tom, Dick, or Harry.  I just need to relax, and enjoy the search itself.  If I happen to beat "70-hours", or shave off a few minutes from "last months ride", then great... but confusing those goals with THE goal can sap out the fun.  I still have drive.. drive that keeps me from seconds at the dinner table, drive that keeps me working out these days, drive that helps me squeeze out a little more speed - just to ensure that I'm giving anything I attempt my level-best... but, without keeping in touch with who I am, without having a good time at it ... what's any of it worth, really?  Medals will be stored away, stories written... but at the end, will I be happy with ME?  
Amazing things can still happen when you aren't trying so hard.  That's not the same as giving up.  I'm not giving up on anything.  No sir.  I take my cycling seriously... but this is a reminder to not take it TOO seriously.  I find myself teetering on that edge this time of year, when getting up the motivation to ride is harder than it is in August for example.  I pick my dates, send my emails, but then make the mistake of looking at ridiculously long-term weather forecasts.  They aren't reliable, my logos knows this - yet, I still am compelled to look, and wonder.  What if its cold?  What if it rains?  What if it isn't PERFECT???  I start to talk myself out of rides, weeks before they arrive.  Ultimately, I can't control the weather.  I can't let the weather control me, or my thoughts or mood, in the days leading up to the next ride.  Who am I to second-guess nature's will, or the Creator's for that matter?  What if I don't even realize that I NEED a ride in poor weather?  Maybe it's the BEST thing for me?  Let go... relax...  keep it fun!  After all, the worst weather can make for the best story.
The night before the December 200k, as I checked the alarm clock for the last time, clicked off the bed table lamp, and pulled the covers up to my chin, I asked the wife, "why am I doing this?"  I knew that cold temps awaited, I knew it wouldn't be easy, and I wasn't sure I was ready for personal discovery.  Doubt... anxiety... 
"You're doing this because you love it, remember?"
She's always right, you know.  I slept pretty good after that.
Sure enough a few hours later on a dark, cold road - I managed a smile, through the iced-over beard and all. 
Yep... after all these years, all these miles, I'm still having fun.
The more I remain in touch with that, the farther I can go.

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