August 21, 2013

The Silence of the Cynic

The August permanent is in the history books, so to speak, and I'll likely carry some fond memories of this one in particular.  A great day out, with great people!
I want to thank Glen, Steve, Gary and Terry for coming out and sharing the miles with me -- I had a terrific time!  Already looking forward to September's edition!
I took a lot of photos along the way, so the ride report is probably going to materialize as a photo-dump with captions, pending free-time for typing... less and less of that these days.  

Not having the free-time, though, might not be a bad thing -- it should afford me an opportunity to rethink and retool some things.  While this blog has received small followings for its literary feel and flowery expositions on the "mystical" world of randonneuring, it's also come to my attention there isn't quite enough talk of equipment, technique, planning, preparation, nutrition and other such tangibles as I'd used to provide - unless one goes way back into the archives.  Still, those archival entries on what to wear, what to bring -- some are approaching a decade in age, and much in my arsenal (mental and physical) has changed, rendering it worthy of a revisit.  At the very least, some "demystification" is in order.

Moreover, this is interesting timing.  Retrospectively, I have been in something of a rebuilding period since early 2010.  There have been extended episodes of burnout, or something resembling it.  There have been senseless acts of breaking that which didn't need fixing.  There have been frustrated rants and tales of "impossibly difficult" permanents.  Amid this confusion and chaos lay the tale of a cyclist now very much aware of the situational irony surrounding his attempts to avoid middle-agedom, juxtaposed against the slow road toward its acceptance.  While cycling has represented the vehicle, what I've been going through has almost nothing at all to do with the bicycle.  Of late, my excuses have been placed aside and old lessons have been re-learned with new eyes and ears... and legs.  While focused on clawing ever so slowly toward being "back", I, instead, hidden between the blurry lines of two years worth of hastily-written ride accounts, find myself poised to move ahead.  This path still has many miles to be walked... but, I'm on the path all the more, and it goes only one direction:  forward.

A few things I will remain cognizant of:

I remain humbled by the notion that anyone reads these posts at ALL, and - ever as always - I remain thankful for your time and for your having read what I've had to say.  
While there are "ups" and "downs" in randonneuring and commuting, much of my writing focuses on the "downs".  My brain tends to catalog and record the negative aspects of life, moreso than the positive.  I'm working on this... have been for years now.  I've been a cynic... a passionate, bitter, cynic.  I'm not saying I enjoyed being that person, but, it is true - and I'm owning it.  One of the most popular posts I've written - by total hits - involves a full-on rant about some local cyclists who had run a stop-sign.  Therein, I completely trashed a specific group of local riders, up one side and down the other, as if I had the right to adjudicate over anyone's behavior other than my own simply because I'd paid a few bucks a year to have my own URL.  Stupid.  Immature.  Regretted.  It's certainly not a representation of how I feel these days - yet, I don't like how those older posts have branded me.  If I was focused on getting hits, I wouldn't care - but, I do care - and I hate that one of my lowest personal moments at the keyboard continues to somehow be popular: but, it surely it may remain representative of an ongoing problem in the cycling community, and when people search for it, my old post shows up - regardless, it's still got my name on it, and I don't like the guy who wrote that piece.  I'm tempted to delete it - because, in many ways, it's no longer relevant, and it does nothing to advance bicycling.  Strongly opinionated and passionate, I chose to criticize people... not just their actions.  Whether this remains a problem in cycling or not, and whether or not my opinions make any difference at all (doubtful), how I voiced things only served to further drive a wedge between groups of riders.  That helps nothing, and while cliquishness may never change among bicyclists, my commentary is just noise and isn't the solution bicycling needs.  I am not apologizing for having an opinion, nor for being passionate - but, instead for how I'd chosen to use both.

"Never apologize for your opinion" .. yeah, yeah.   Ok, if I was being a complete toolbag, I owe everyone an apology.  I was, so I am.  If nice guys finish last, then I am proud to hold the red lantern here.  Sorry, honey... for this same reason, we're never going to be rich, either.  So be it... Jedi... 

While the motivations have been different, I seem to have been doing this same sort of thing to routes, hills, and sometimes whole areas.  From the perspective of new cyclist, or a potential randonnueur, my negative and/or dramatic slants on routes, hills, or nutrition paint a grim picture of someone solely interested in self-torture, not of someone participating in a worthy pasttime and having fun.  At the very least, in the hopes of attracting attention to something, I often create something a bit off-putting - and I forget that people probably don't appreciate things the way I do.  Sometimes when I say a hill is "awful", the subtext truly is "awfully good!"... because in the same breath that I remark about how stupid a hill might be, I can't wait to climb it again.  There is a terrific poem written by Henry Rollins called "The Iron", forwarded to me by a good friend a few years back.  If you read that, and substitute the word "hill" for "iron", you'll see my point.  I freaking LOVE hills.  They never lie, they tell me exactly what I need to hear when I need to hear it, and they give back everything I put in.  There are those dramatics again... but, my subtextual assumptions have given some routes a bad rap.  MY fault, not the route's.

I often can't help it - the dramatic flair comes naturally, and comes from that same passion for cycling, its culture and its history; yet it echoes with a desperation to quantify personal worth by amplifying that which I have overcome, as if riding the distances alone wilts as somehow not-good-enough.  Cycling for me remains, despite all accounts, extremely rewarding.  It's fun, or I wouldn't do it.  It's worth it, or I wouldn't come back, month-after-month.  Cycling makes me a BETTER person, not a worse one.  It can do that for you, as well -- but, it will not turn you into the same kind of blithering fool I've made myself out to be here, nor - I sincerely hope - will it turn you into a bitter cynic.

Let this act, then, as a disclaimer of sorts -- what I say or write, when I say or write it, must be taken with these grains of salt.  The severity of a hill-climb in these pages always has much more to do with my gut, my mood, or my level of fitness than it has to do with the gradient itself, assuming it's not somehow based in the love/hate scenario described above.  What I write about having been so terrible on one day has also passed benignly under my wheels on another.  Hills are not "evil", nor are headwinds, particular routes, nor areas of the region in which I ride.  Everything is what it is.  Some days I can handle it, other days I cannot.  No, riding these distances isn't for everyone... but, it IS possible for everyone.  Time and passion are the only requirements ... not some superhuman ability to overcome mythically-steep hills and bicycle-eating pavement.  It doesn't matter what I'm doing with MY equipment - one doesn't need anything special to perform these rides, and no-one need spend tons of money.  Some of the most talented riders I've shared pavement with have outperformed everyone around them on garage-sale bikes costing less than fifty dollars.  No matter what happens, no matter how poorly I have often painted scenarios in the past, it's never - EVER - the route's fault, the weather's fault, the bike's fault, the organizer's fault, the hill's fault... you get the idea.  

It's all, simply, just ME.  

Perception, however, remains powerful.   Akin to the 'rebuilding' I'd mentioned above, my writings reflect the meandering and sometimes painful process I've gone through over the past few years.  I've had a terrific time getting here, honestly I have... looking back, I'd not trade a single moment, not even the "horrible" ones.  These are, after all, what define me.  What you've witnessed often in these pages are the experiences of a man who has always possessed a wacky, yet, salty and sardonic sense of humor; someone who looks at life sometimes as if he's looking through the eyepiece of a movie camera, or as if he's writing a screenplay.  Despite being the product of an artful background and possessing a boundless creative slant, churned in melodrama and basted with decadent layers of adjective, my words here are - and have always been - true:  but, they are told through MY eyes.  Perception and unbiased truth are not equal.  

It must be emphasized, plainly, that your mileage - indeed - will vary.  

It bears positing, then; if I have somehow, through the course of my dramatics, steered you away from randonneuring - or even away from riding a certain route, or from riding in a certain part of the region - let me invite you to reconsider.  If this has been the case, please, accept my apologies.  Whichever route we might be talking about here, my reality remains apologies.  There are embellishments, amplified perceptions, almost mysticism invoked upon routes, climbs, others' abilities... but, remember:  this is basically dramatic non-fiction.  Truth?  Yes... always; but, any rider, on any given day, will traverse the same terrain with completely different perceptions.  In fact, it's impossible for your experiences to mirror mine, or anyone else's, for that matter.  Forget what you know, and just GO.  You owe it to yourself to ride every ride in the RUSA catalog, and decide for yourself.  To ignore these routes as supposedly "too difficult" is doing yourself a disservice, and does a disservice to those that have put in countless hours of design, pre-riding, and approval to get them on the books.  Ultimately, in either case, I take full responsibility for those disservices if they originated in these pages, and I apologize to all parties if I have swayed, or given even a moment's pause, against either.

To those scratching their heads, attempting to decipher what I'm on about here, it should also be mentioned that none of this may have ever entered your mind, and rightly so.  I still don't think that this blog casts a shadow over ANYone's decision-making process, as it shouldn't - but, the feedback I've heard is legitimate.  That is the only reason I'm writing this - it is certainly not a heady, misguided assumption - and I don't intend for it to come across as a pity-party.  I've ridden a lot, have a lot of experience - but, I'm supposed to be sharing that experience without turning into something which might exceed its face value.  I realize that I'm the one doing the introspection here, the timing of which may prompt said confusion - but, the tipping point happened in Iowa: a ride, to be clear, I remain exceptionally glad to have attended, regardless of the outcome or credit.  Its importance in my journey cannot be underestimated - I get a feeling that the crossroads I reached shortly after that ride is now safely behind me.

To my loyal readers:  ride.  get out there.  ride something new.  If you want to know the "real deal" without the dramatics, email me.  Seriously.  It is never going to be as bad as I've written it.  Hills are hills - you can either climb them, or you walk them.  No big deal, right?  This is how we grow as cyclists and athletes - focus on the fact that you CAN finish, no matter what horrible tale you may have read here or elsewhere.  Ride what you can, walk or detour around what you can't - get back on, and ride again.  Don't worry about speed.  Worry about time.  Just make the controls, and enjoy the day, the road, the view - and the finish.  It shouldn't be as complicated as I've often portrayed it.  It's not -- that kid on the BMX bike, that gal on the TT bike deep in the tuck and hammering, the guy on the fat-bike headed deep into gravel territory, those guys at the Tuesday Night World's, the pair of laden touring bikes marching toward a distant horizon, the hard-worker on the beater-bike headed to the office, that family on the bike trail, the smiles of the Wednesday Night pub-riders, and that randonneur out on that country road with his bags and his camera:  we're all riding a bike for roughly the same reasons.  We love it.  THAT is all bicycling should be.

As I slowly learn to write with encouragement, and not with discouragement and self-loathing, the tone of the posts may take on a different flavor - but that's part of the point here, and it's a positive change.  I have a responsibility - as a RUSA member - to give back to the sport by growing the sport.  I have a responsibility to those who take the time to design routes and to those who officiate their results.  I have a responsibility to myself, ultimately, to try to avoid slipping into cynicism, and letting myself and my attitude slip to the level of that which might frustrate me.  If that means pulling back the adjectives a bit, and focusing more on how I am dealing with things, instead of how "things are dealing with me", it's a change I need to make.  Those energies will instead be focused on route design, to help build the catalog.  Photos, to help give an unbiased view of what long-distance cycling is REALLY about, and what's waiting out there for potential riders.  Challenges and opportunities will arise, but the energy will be directed toward solutions, without spending time on regret and woeful "shouldas."

This, finally, will not change what I do every month.  I will ride.  I hope you do, too.  Open invitation - if you want a RUSA riding partner in the KC area, and you're timid about trying a new route alone, let me know.  If it jives with my schedule, and I need a ride for that month yet, chances are we can put something together.  Riding together is more fun, remember?  Don't worry about who's faster than who, or anything like that.  To you, and - most importantly - to myself:  Less talk, more do.  Just ride.  If you ask me, I'll probably tell you the truth:  it's a great route, and you should do it.  Everything I've ever ridden deserves that very statement, because it's true.  I've been a little too critical, a little too cynical.  

As Clarice Starling once challenged a certain criminal in a famous movie based on a terrific book, "why not turn that hard-edged observation on yourself... or are you afraid?"  

In the film, Starling's question is met with displeasure, and a markedly unnerving threat.  The younger me would have likely responded in a similarly defensive fashion.  
My reaction today?  You know... she's right.  I should.  I have, I am, and it's not for pity.  This very exercise makes me a better person.  Attitude is everything... and, a lot of the time, my attitude has sucked.  Finishing is everything, also... but, I had too often forgotten the importance of the journey.  I'm a work in progress.  I'm not supposed to be perfect.  That isn't what this is about.  I have made huge strides in these areas over the last six months alone, however - and I'm proud of who I am.

Yeah, this seems a bit eulogistic in nature - but, these are things that I needed to get off my chest.  Should there suddenly be a giant chasm between posts, know that all is probably well, and I'm probably out riding somewhere.  If not, I'm busy being a great dad, husband, friend, student, employee and person... the best I know how to be.  I'm not going anywhere.  There is no sunset to ride off toward.  There remains much to be done, on and off the bike, in this life - same as always.  The time for apologies is past.  The difference between then and now?  

I'm not afraid anymore.

Thanks for reading


Monkeywrangler said...

Good Post CD. I would enjoy taking you up sometime in the unknown future of a ride partner if you don't mind tooling along with a slow ol' gal on a recumbent stickbike.

You are correct in that sometimes you seem to focus on the negative/drama/suffering of a ride, but those make the best stories too. I find I am much the same way, mentally.

I plan on riding Octaginta with my ubby this year (we will be visiting Larrytown then). If you are riding Octa, look for us either on a pair of yellow Bacchetta Giro recumbents, or an as-yet unknown recumbent tandem. Either way we will be easy to spot!

Unknown said...

i have enjoyed all of our rides, and i look forward to many more. i learned a lot about riding and myself from your blog but mostly from our conversations (sometimes beer induced). i hope to continue riding with you ( infront or inback) for many more years. how does r-120 soumd???


shutterbug410 said...

Love your posts. This site is what started me biking to work. Keep up the good work. Thanks