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!
|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)|
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.earth, VeloViewer, 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.
Hope to see you out there, and - as ever - thanks for reading!