December 28, 2022

Confidence and Passion: Like Fine Wine? (A 2022 Wrap-Up Post)

As 2022 draws to a close, it seemed like - once again - a good time to draft a post to wrap up some thoughts on the year... and some random spouting on the completion of a 5-year journey through adult education that just wrapped up, as well.

The excuses are beginning to fall by the wayside ... yes, yes, my educational journey is now complete, and - as promised, both to you (if you're still here) and myself - that means a steady return to recreational writing.  Balanced against a bit of academic PTSD, perhaps.  The sprawling, 30,000-word epic posts are likely a thing of the past.  I'm not sure my wrists can take it, and in this early-21st Century culture of short attention spans and social media snippets, I'll save those longer stories for a future published book, perhaps.

So, as many might wonder, after a long educational journey, what have I learned?  It's a fair question.  I'm sure I know a little more than I used to.  I definitely know a lot more about myself than I expected to learn.  For now, I am simply happy to have finished.  Honestly, I'm content to avoid thinking about anything I might have learned for a while.

If life is like a wine cellar, we must treat our myriad bottles of personal knowledge and experience like bottles of good wine. There's a bottle for this hobby and that, and one for each chapter of life; that old relationship, those times with good friends forgotten, and all those miles on the road.

The main purpose of storing wine bottles on their sides is to prevent the drying out of the cork; yet another benefit involves the even distribution of sediment across a broader surface.  Wine enthusiasts and scientists still debate this; maybe horizontal storage simply maximizes available space; maybe dry corks are a myth.  Maybe it solved the issue of accidentally toppling upright bottles while fumbling about in dark cellars 150 years ago.  Regardless, as we put some of our experiences on the shelf (if only temporarily), horizontal storage prevents the best of our experiences from being packed too tightly, buried at the bottom of the bottle.  When the time comes to revisit them, only gentle agitation is required to bring them back into suspension.

Having given my bottle of mental fortitude a good shake, it is important to let things settle.  It is all in there.  Some lessons float to the top occasionally, but most will inevitably settle - which reinforces the importance for each of us to occasionally give ourselves a gentle turn once in a while.  Use it or lose it, others might succinctly say.  Fans of brevity and tidy analogies should shop elsewhere.

According to a few sources, only 10% of the wine produced today is meant to be stored and aged: most is meant for immediate consumption.  No matter what I've learned, experienced, or chosen to store - upright or otherwise - the point is to open it and enjoy it.  There is little as sad in this world as a bottle left undrunk, acrid, and past its prime.  

I could say the same for my bicycling experience since the pandemic took hold, now coming on three years ago.  What I had taken for granted has settled to the bottom of that particular bottle.  The last few years have seen fits and starts of various diets (all failed), panicked returns to training (most short-lived), brief returns to long distances, and the frustration associated with having left the bottle upright for too long.  Frustrated shaking has yet to unstick what daily commuting to and from work used to do for me, mentally and otherwise.

Yet, even as my own worst critic, that particular vintage still tastes perfect.  No matter how many times I decant it, despite the many hard lessons, missteps, and missed opportunities, I keep coming back.  The bright notes carry it well, and it tends to pair well with everything.

I've come to terms with the psychology of it all, at least today.  Cycling, for many, becomes an identity - especially when one struggles to confidently define themselves otherwise.  It is something that I do, yes, but it often takes too much of me when I let it.  Self-inflicted pressure tends to squeeze the joy out of most otherwise-terrific pastimes.  Surely as the title of this blog suggests, commuting to work became not just something I did - I had manufactured a responsibility for myself to do it, write about it, talk about it endlessly, obsess about it, and leverage it as the sole training base for my randonneuring endeavors.  Once it was gone, I felt a bit hollow ... but only because of what I had allowed it to become in my own mind.  But, in my own mind, what good was I without it?

So, what have I learned?  Balance.  Self-awareness.  Emotional intelligence.  A better understanding of the world.  Perhaps some confidence, too.  Pursuing education as an adult yielded a degree, yes, and righted a long-held personal belief that I had somehow done something wrong by not taking a more traditional path when I was younger.  The truth is, I took the journey I did from a lack of confidence.  Back then, I didn't think I could, so I didn't try very hard.  I barely showed up.  Instead, I took an arguably more difficult path, slowly gaining the confidence to endure what life threw my way.  I still survived, thrived... which should have told me I had what it took all along.  Own worst critic, indeed.  My only regret now is that I wasted far too much time being angry, anxious, and hesitant for no good reason.

For each of us, we get where we are - and appreciate where we are best - by valuing the lessons provided through the journey, not begrudging it through useless comparisons to misguided definitions of normalcy.  I rode back and forth to work on a bicycle because I enjoyed it - and it certainly does not follow societal norms in this area of the world.  The relative hardships of it were never a deterrent.  Even the harshest weather was looked at as a challenge.  Life should be no different: when there is passion and confidence, you simply get dressed and go.  

All told, my way is the only right way for me, yours only right for you.  Education or hard knocks... it doesn't matter.  While each can impact the fabric of our character, neither are all-defining.  Confidence and passion share a place in the bottle, each enhancing the other.  When both exist, we can be unstoppable if we'd only believe it.

I wish that simplistic view could translate and provide some hope for everyone.

Now, perhaps some cycling content?

I've managed to keep enough confidence and passion stirred up to get close to 5,000 miles logged for the year, which I'm pleased with.  Without the previously-normal back-n-forth jaunts to the office, many of these miles have been daily lunchtime rides, interspersed with longer weekend rides, and - yes - some "fake miles" on Zwift.  Say what you will, but for me, struggling with my weight, fitness, and consistency, indoor training with a smart trainer has been money well spent.  Granted, it is not doing anything for my recent timidity regarding the cold weather, but it is helping with every other aspect.  If I can get myself outdoors once in a while, that will be good for what I'm sure will be some chilly brevet starts in the coming Spring.

Miles aside, 2022 has found me finally showing up for a few things I'd never done before, like the terrific "Cranksgiving" event here in Kansas City.  I was invited to participate with a great team of friends, and with home-built and beefy modified bike trailers, we managed to haul in around 4,900 lbs. of food for a local food pantry, and had a great time doing it.  Afterwards there was chili, beer, and live music, and hey... the cold temps didn't "kill" me.  I'm already looking forward to next year!

Paul T., Captain of Team Big Grin with a monster haul at the 2022 K.C. Cranksgiving!  I mentioned "cold", and yes... case in point, Paul is indeed wearing shorts here.  I, on the other hand, looked like I just came off the night shift of an Alaska region brevet.  The average temperature during the event was 26ºF, and it was quite windy... which clearly means different things to different people!

Team Big Grin, 2022 Winners of the Heaviest Team Haul!
Yeah, that's me on the left... apparently, I can't ride a bike without a reflective vest anymore, and I'm always freezing.  Haha!

Long-distance riding?  Absolutely!  With school work still dominating my free time for much of 2022, I still managed to get in a few randonneuring events, including a terrific 300km event that included 177 miles of new-to-me roads up in Nebraska.  It was a day filled with long stretches of awesome open road, scorching heat under cloudless skies, severe thunderstorms chasing us across the plains, and some really good group riding in the last 100km as a few of us regrouped after dark.  I'm immensely glad I made it out for this event, and I got a cool, limited, 100th Anniversary BRM 300km medal to remember it by.

June 11th, 2022, 300km event:  Randonneurs heading out of St. Joseph into a great day.

Fixed gear is the way... at least for these two intrepid riders!  The route heads west across the vast Missouri River Valley, approaching Rulo, NE.  (John S. on the left, and Spencer K., Audax KC and Nebraska Sandhills Randonneurs RBA, on the right)

Supercell thunderstorm about 20 miles behind us and closing.  While the shelf cloud mercifully provided some much-needed shade from the sun, the storm ultimately produced a tornado and baseball-sized hail around Marysville, KS. and other rural communities on 6/11/22.  As we cyclists rode along in the open, we were lucky the storm turned south and missed us.  Later that night, we were treated to quite a lightning display and only experienced a few errant sprinkles of rain. 

The June 11th 300km event went well enough that I began to think about establishing another streak of monthly rides to capture the personally-elusive 6th R-12 award - something I've started and stopped at least four separate times now.

This year was hot, to say the least.  The randonneuring events I rode over the summer months (five in total, four finishes) averaged 87 degrees Fahrenheit over their duration, with heat indexes exceeding 100 in almost every case.  When temperatures finally broke in the Fall, I had become so acclimatized to things that 70 degrees felt chilly enough for arm warmers.  It was ridiculous... and amid the pressures of various paper deadlines, homework, and family obligations, the streak ended yet again.  To say that I'm already eyeing 2023 as the year to get R-12 number six done might be an understatement... but there are other plans in the hopper, too.  

As far as new roads go, I did quite a bit of exploring in 2022, covering over 400 miles of never-before-ridden roads.  The previously mentioned 300km in Nebraska took care of much of that number, the rest being on local neighborhood roads that I've been trying to fill in on my wandrer.earthVeloViewer, Squadrats, and statshunters maps.  Pick your favorite, but any of these terrific sites that integrate with your Strava activities can reinvigorate your cycling experience, and introduce you to challenges you might not have considered trying:  many in your own backyard, which is great to keep with wheels turning in the winter months when you'd perhaps not fancy being dozens of miles from home in the cold and wind.

Also notable in 2022 was the culmination of a lot of planning in the form of attempts to visit each of my kids at their respective colleges via bicycle.  In each case, the round trip will end up being at least 400km... double that for one of the trips.  After getting the routes, stops, and hotels all perfectly planned, it never really occurred to me that I ought to perhaps train for the cycling itself.  While I thought I was prepared, I made several classic bikepacking (eh, more like loaded touring in my case) mistakes: I packed too much, under-estimated my abilities, and under-estimated the impact of a fully-loaded bicycle on average speed expectations and daily mileage plans... and, critically, I under-estimated the psychological impact of not meeting those expectations.  In my mind, I had it decided that this would be "just like a brevet" and I'd be cruising along with a 14-mph overall average, "no problem."  Instead, the sudden cold snap and 30 MPH headwind on day one had me barely averaging 10 MPH on the very hilly gravel route I'd chosen.  The attempted "leg one" of the journey ended up being a bust.  Like most cycling challenges, everything fell apart between my ears ... had I readjusted my expectations in the moment, I very well could have made it to the hotel - just later than planned - rested up for Day 2, and given it a good try once committed to the reality of my location the next morning.  Instead, I folded at the halfway mark and turned around for home, and having not ridden sensibly, I was too tired to enjoy the tailwind.  Training?  Check... it was still a solid 100-mile day with a full load, and I learned a lot.  I have since regained some fire in my belly around personal dietary concerns, some focused training over the winter, and some important mental reflection, with my eyes set on completing the goal before May this year... basically, my last chance to do it since they'll be graduating.

Cycling is often 80% mental, and 20% legs and logistics.  In early October, surprised by a cold front and strong headwind, I got things the wrong way around.  Sometimes we have to re-learn these sorts of lessons.  Here, 50 miles from both home and the planned hotel, I would argue silently with myself for 30 minutes before cashing it in and heading back home.  I still ended up having two really great weekends with each kid - I just got there "the easy way" instead.  2023...stay tuned.

All told, 2022 was a great year on the bike, and apparently I still have a good amount of passion for the sport.  Hopefully, you've all had a terrific 2022 on the bike!  I'm looking forward to a great season of Spring brevets, since it is once again a P-B-P year (the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200km Grand Randonnee), which means there will be a lot of attention on qualifying, which generally equates to more riders!  Even if P-B-P is not in your sights, randonneuring is still a great way to spend time on a bicycle.  Come join us, eh?  If you have the passion, stretching your legs out to 100, 200, 300, 400, and even 600km is a really good test and a great way to build some confidence incrementally.  You'll be amazed at what you can do! 

Check out to find out more about randonneuring in the U.S., search for rides near you and try something new for 2023!  

Hope to see you out there, and - as ever - thanks for reading!