Monday, October 6, 2008

23 seconds

twenty-three seconds.
almost a commercial, or the length of time I microwave my coffee to warm it up.
about how long it takes me to comb my hair and pull it into a ponytail.
and what seems like forever when I'm holding a challenging yoga position.

also, the length of time I rode hands free, pedaling, easing into a gradual turn down beacon drive yesterday.

woo hoo!

which leads me to Why We Ride.
two years ago, when I was just getting into cycling, I had a conversation with someone about my life. I was tired, and struggling to make sense of all that was going on in my life and the path (was there a path?) I was moving along. it was a discussion of What Could Give, you know those conversations. I can't keep doing it all, how can I change things, what can give, because I'm at my limit. at that time I remember saying, well, I'm getting up awfully early each morning to ride, I suppose that's something I could give up. the answer from my friend: no! you can't give that up! that's the most important thing right now: it's giving you a sense of competence, of success, of joy. and even more than that, it's one thing that's yours, and yours alone. no one else has done the work for you, you own this experience, no one can take it away, it's yours.
this conversation has stuck with me, and I thank her immensely for pointing out this seemingly obvious point. my cycling is all about me: it's not about a spouse, a partner, or kids, and it's not about what someone else has given to or asked of me. it is fully mine.
the successes, the frustration, the commitment, the focus, the exhaustion, the tight muscles, the increased laundry, the bike maintenance, the exhilaration . . . it is all mine.
and this thought, this morning, led me to extrapolate my experience to other cyclists out there. (and this could be spread out to all other individual sports, as well, all of those millions of people who are out there running, skiing, swimming, kayaking . . . add whatever individual endeavors you would like.) we do it for ourselves, and for a myriad of reasons that combine and make us who we are.
we may do it to escape, to gain physical strength, or to increase mental strength. we may do it as a release, or as a tool to experience joy. it may have started as a sport or a form of exercise, but I don't believe that it stays there for us thinking humans. it can't. there are just too many aspects of it for it to remain solely a physical workout.
on a day when I pass twenty or thirty cyclists on the road, I am passing twenty or thirty different stories.
part of a story I want to share is that of the Fat Cyclist. I don't know enough about him to tell his whole story ~ are any of us truly able to verbalize our whole story? ~ but here is a tiny sketch. this man started a blog in May of 2005, a middle-aged (yep, that's me too) guy (nope) named Elden. biking is his main sport, but he found himself heavier than he wanted to be and it affected his riding. so, he started a blog to provide the incentive for himself to lose that weight, as he shared what his scale told him along the way. and a few stories. well, people started enjoying what he had to say, and now he has a pretty well-read blog which you can visit at
at some point, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. this later metastasized to other parts of her body, and she ~ and thus, Elden and their four kids ~ has been going through an unbelievably difficult and painful struggle.
I envision Elden riding, and I imagine what his mind and body are doing on those rides. I can't know the truth of it all, but I have a pretty good sense of what his cycling is doing for him. a release, an escape, a joy, time for thought, time for thoughtlessness. it is all of these things, and more, to him. and if it weren't cycling, it would have to be something, because we all have limits to how much we can bear. and we all need escapes and releases.
and those little 23-second stretches of pure joy.

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