Many of you have been valuable to me these past few days, to say the least. Sorry for annoying the forums with my self pitty. The best advice i've gotten was to go for a ride. A good friend of mine told me the other day that i should write. I didn't have the motivation, until i got on my bike.
Read if you wish...
Empirical studies have shown that healthy individuals are the worst assessors of themselves. In fact, the only people who seem to show some accuracy in rating themselves in various personality traits & abilities are those suffering from depression. This in itself is a bit depressing if you think about it; those who hate themselves are the only ones that really know themselves.
Consciously or not, we tell ourselves that we are things we are not, we convince ourselves that we do things that we do not, that we are smarter then we are, more in touch with people then we are; the list goes on. This sets us up for something pretty ****ty. We put ourselves on the edge of a cliff, and when we slip we fall hard. What we need is a little bit of humility every now and then to bring us back down to earth.
That is where the magic of cycling comes in. There are few things in life that can bring you back to earth like climbing a hill on a bike. Your legs are screaming for you to quit, your heart is about to pop out of your chest, your lungs are burning with each breath, yet you go…you pump and with each pump you advance and for a brief moment in your life there isn’t anything else to think about. It’s you, you’re legs, and the approaching crest of a hill. All you can hear is your breath, your heart, the cranking of the chain and a voice inside telling you to keep going. When you get to the top, you look back and think “that wasn’t bad, I should do it again”. You’re conflicted though, because despite what you tell yourself you’re in a world of hurt. Your bike and a hill has just stripped you down to the core and humiliated the **** out of you. Yet you did it, you overcame, and you ride ahead.
Today I rode up such a hill, it’s not very steep but it’s long and it kills me, every time. Shortly after I was thinking of the recent drama in my life and riding on a flat stretch of road into a slight headwind. At that moment the bike wasn’t allowing me to escape, my head was filled with the real world and as a result my mind was there and not on my bike. I blinked, and looked at the computer on my bike and it told me that I was going 26…on flat road, into a headwind. Not fast for many, but fast to me, absurdly fast for me. Like most healthy individuals, I likely over rate my cycling ability, but even I wouldn’t assert that I could sustain 26mph on flat road into a headwind. I did though, I was doing it, fueled by emotion and distracted from my bike. I had an epiphany. Just before the hill I was pondering the idea of humility and our inability to assess who we really are. Yet here I was doing something I tell myself I can’t do.
What are we to make of this? Greg Lemond (famous American cyclist in the 80’s) was once asked during the prime of his career, and I’m paraphrasing here, “How much easier is it to climb [hills] now then when your career started”. His response was that it never gets easier, you merely go faster. We’re always going to encounter things in life that bring us down, but that humility is good for us. As Greg said, it never gets easy but we get better at dealing with the climb back to the top.
The goal is to not let the hills define you; rather, the definition is found within the climb. Do you stop halfway up and turn around? Do you take a break once you reach the crest? Or do you ride forward?
I’ve recently come to the trough of a hill so tall--so steep--that a part of me wants to go back. I must ride on though. Some of us beat ourselves up over things we can’t control. Some of us bring others down to cope with our own insecurities. Some of us try and medicate ourselves to ease the pain of life. We fear the fall, which is normal but we have to face it.
The funny thing about climbing hills on your bike, after you recover from the hill, you feel stronger. Your legs are warm, your breathing is steady, it can be zen. There is a certain hill in Bull Valley near where I live, Valley Hill road. For Illinois standards, it’s a good climb. 180 feet straight up it seems over the course of .2 miles. For two years I avoided it, last summer I said screw it and took my climb. I thought I was going to die. By the end of the summer I frequently went there to do it 4 or 5 times over and over. I can tell you, it never got easier, but it made me stronger; mentally, physically. What’s more, that hill has never looked so small to me.
I preach a lot but have a hard time practicing. Luckily, I have my bike. I medicate myself with endorphins I suppose. Like I already described about myself, Lance Armstrong rode as often as he could when he was dealing with cancer because the pain was an escape of sorts. It forces you to focus on the task at hand and in the meantime everything else is forgotten (to be sure though, he now says the pain on a bike is nothing compared to the pain of cancer). When I get on my bike, I am free of all the bull****; the family feuds, the stress of school, ex-girlfriends, and general failures. But I have to acknowledge that it doesn’t make them go away and when I’m done climbing hills on my bike, I must go climb the hills of life.
So what’s my point? There are two. First, don’t make fun of my Lycra…you envy it, and you know it. The bigger point is that we need to make ourselves vulnerable every once and a while, we need to be humiliated. I’ve been avoiding it, personally; trying to avoid certain falls, ignoring others…for years. I think it may be because of this that I’ve lost something I loved, maybe something that never existed in the first place…who knows, doesn’t matter. You can’t change the past so there is no sense on dwelling and you can’t avoid hills that crop up along the way. All you can do is to ride on. I’m trying…