Whatever you ride, however you ride, for the love of everything real, PLEASE: Ride for your own reasons, ride to your own standards, and if you don't know what they are for all the screaming out there about what's important to others, just keep riding and keep thinking, and it will come to you, slowly, in increments.
~ Velophoria, September 25, 2013
I got back into biking with a passion seven-and-a-half years ago, and very quickly started swallowing all sorts of ideas about what kind of rider I should be, from all the media messages around me, like Internet message boards and cycling magazines.
I set out to make myself in the mold of those lean, tough cheetahs in the Big Photos of the Big Races. In the process, especially at the beginning, I literally made myself sick. Long-term knee problems. Exhaustion. Pneumonia. Black moods from having to be off the bike and miss training.
Several time, I saw the light, and set off in search of my own muse, only to find some passionate dude on the other side of the country with a blog set up about exactly that kind of weird riding, with gorgeous photos and eloquent posts. Voilà: another picture in my head.
I've gone back and forth on the idea of formally competing so many times, my patient wife must shudder every time I mention I'm thinking of signing up for my first-ever race.
I'm thankful for those painfully unreachable goals. Their allure has led me to glorious adventures, a boatload of knowledge, and even brief, exhilarating whiffs of fitness approaching the very lowest levels of the cheetahs. Over the years, I've gone from dyed-in-the-wool-jersey roadie to hard-core gravel rider to zealous fat bike convert to baggy-shorts-wearing mountain bike addict.
Even more interesting, something like a tiny reputation has grown up around me. It's far more humble than the one I was aiming for, but I love its quirkiness: I'm known as a guy who can point you to most of the roads and trails worth riding in the area, the dude with the unique bikes, the one connected to the local bike shop that everyone knows and loves.
I spent a fair amount of time angsting over feeling forever trapped in that limbo between recreational rider and fit competitive cyclist. The fact is, I'm neither of those things, or perhaps some third thing that doesn't even come overlap with them at all.
I guess what I really am is both much simpler and more complex: I'm a guy who loves to have new experiences on two wheels.
I like that description, because it allows for the times I feel sprightly and torture myself with the idea of signing up for a race at the last minute, the times I want to meander at a crawl and find a new lane just a few miles away, the times I put together a six-township epic over hill and dale, and the time I want to do that 15-mile gravel hill climb. It allows for whatever new bike experience is over the horizon, or whatever old one is calling to me from the mists of time. It even allows me to get off the bike when my knees hurt, and let them heal.
This is not a young man's lesson. It's something that had to be forced on me by the unquestionable, concrete limits of middle age; less energy, body problems, loss of motivation for things that aren't right for me.
When I befriend both my limitations and strengths in cycling, I can thrive with them fully in the light. And that ripples out to the rest of my life. Beyond the disappointments of youth and middle age lies the freedom from those tyrannical pictures. They're like a coat I borrowed years ago. It doesn't really fit me or even look good on me, and yet I've been wearing it all this time. Now, I can finally sit down and sew my own coat of many colors, and wear it confidently and comfortably.
I like to say to my clients, "If you don't do your thing, who will?" If you go over to the giant bubble where the masses hang out, and act and dress like them, there's a small, crucial hole in the world where the real you--quirky, flawed, strong, flavorful--used to be. That's a pity.
Let's live out to the edges of our true selves, and, when it's time to go, perhaps we'll be able to say good-bye with a sense of resolution instead of regret. Seems like a worthy goal--for riding, and for living.