Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I have a somewhat obsessive personality. For the last few years, that obsessive lens has been focused on cycling.

If it’s a beautiful day out, I note to myself how much more beautiful it would be if I were out riding in it, wind streaming over my skin, sun soaking me warm. If I’m driving a particularly attractive stretch of road on the way to work, my body starts to feel the sensations it might feel if I were riding that road – the hills, the turns, the rough or smooth surface.

When I don’t have a client at work, and I can’t make myself do any more of the lovely paperwork I’m supposed to be churning out, I’m on-line reading someone’s blog post about Roger de Vlaemink’s tendency to shift with his ring fingers rather than index fingers, and tracing the lineage of mythical lore which that gave birth to over the years.

Mrs. V and I got married almost three years ago, and haven’t yet had our honeymoon, due to other life events getting in the way. We’ve been talking lately about where we’ll go, because we hope to make it happen in 2011. My number one choice is Italy. Yes, I do want to go there for the food, the culture, the beautiful countryside, and the unique people. Probably enough so that it would be on the short list anyway. But the fact that it is the birth place of Coppi, Bartali, Colnago, Campagnolo, and, especially, the Giro… well, that’s enough to edge it up to number one. My wife understands, bless her (and, thankfully, is also interested in Italy).

The obsession before this one had nothing to do with bicycles. For nearly thirty years, off and on, I could think about nothing but music, and especially guitars, and especially [[[my guitar. I listened to and bought and played music compulsively. I could talk about it for hours. I came home from work, had a bite to eat, then disappeared into a room and practiced one lick until midnight. These days, I disappear into my laptop to research whether I should buy 23 or 26 mm tires. But I’m married now, so I do it in the dining room, where, when my sweet wife walks by, I’m reminded that I could be spending time with her, and I generally tend to shut the computer off a little sooner than I would have in the past.

It kind of scares me, this obsession thing. It’s so “all or nothing.” I mean, when it gets to the point where I feel lost if I can’t stick to my training schedule because of a short cold, well, doesn’t that seem like the line where a passion turns into a life-limiting, short-sighted stranglehold? Am I afraid of something? What would happen if I were to back away from this thing a little? Probably what has happened at other times in my life when I’ve been just doing the day-to-day without any particular focus to my passion: A kind of flaccid hollowness to my days that looks eerily like depression.

I know more men who are like me in this regard than women. Women (as I’ve observed them, on a very abstract whole – save the hate-mail, please) seem to derive their life force, their true north, from a variety of places. Work, friends, family, house. If they have a hobby, they often have more than one. Maybe cycling and blogging and cooking and gardening. Take one away, and they lean on the others. That’s called “healthy.”

I’m working on something that hovers comfortably in-between the two poles of obsession and pointless diffusion. I’ve been consciously tinkering with it for a few years now. Like most changes, especially the important ones, it’s acutely uncomfortable, and I mostly learn the hard way.

Any helpful thoughts, or perhaps just empathy, would be appreciated.


GregInChina said...

I got my first road bike in May 2007, when I was between a stint teaching abroad and going to graduate school. I worked for about a year, in a town where there wasn't much to do. So I bought the bike thinking "I need to get in shape, this looks like an interesting way to do it." I started out going 12 miles an hour for 5 mile rides. By May i was doing 60 mile charity rides and riding 150 miles a week. I rode in my first race February 2008, then did a few more races, and did my first MS150 that year, during which I spent most of my time passing people. I would do the local take no prisoner rides that summer, and do the weekly crits in my city. I was riding ~200 miles a week, and it was an obsession.

Then I went to graduate school, and now I'm graduating in May. I'm riding in my 3rd MS150 this weekend, and I haven't ridden more than 100 miles in all of 2010. I'm scared that I won't be able to finish in time (I have a flight to catch on Sunday night). I'll be really ashamed if I have to spend time in the SAG wagon because I'm too slow.

I'm hoping after graduation I have the time and inclination to get back on the bike every day, but right now it's just not there. I was in much better shape before, and i think I was happier. So here's to getting the obsession back.

Velosopher said...

First, welcome Greg, glad to hear from you.

I know first-hand how grad school can change the balance of a life; that's the period in which guitar became unimportant to me for the first time in my life. Two years after graduation, I'm just starting to pick up the guitar once or twice a week, whereas I used to practice every day for at least an hour.

I'm not sure I'd think of your bike habit as obsession, precisely because you were happier when you could fully indulge it. To me, an obsession is something that provides diminishing returns past a certain point. Doesn't sound like you've found that point yet -- and I hope you never do!