Monday, June 9, 2008
Rooted in the complication of Western society, our daily lives lack the now of our ancestors. Days pass into weeks of restrained existence; days spent where our most definitive stroke may be command-S. Tens of thousands of years of descent with modification in our sapient brains tell us this isn’t what life is meant to be. So we go on vacation. And what do we do? We look for the defining moment. Something to restore life to our life.
In interviews with race car drivers, big wave surfers and overweight corporate raiders climbing Mount Everest, one hears a common refrain: that in their moment of greatest difficulty the rest of their lives ceased to matter. And it’s not that they didn’t care about the job, the family, the dog, the bills, it’s that if only for a moment, they could see life stripped of its complications, they could see themselves in an unencumbered way so that they were no more and no less than a person doing.
In the grand scheme, I believe that each time a person takes a timeout to reset their minds and bodies back to now something good is achieved. The more we pile layer and layer of mortgage, car payment, market fluctuations, long commutes, disconnected job roles as well as the awkward negotiation of family roles at home, the more we struggle to keep straight our life’s priorities. And as our priorities and roles abuse our sense of self each day, we struggle to find happiness or even peace. But such vacations can clear the smoke of a day’s stress by rooting us to a moment.
That said, I mistrust the urge to drive ever harder in our off-time, as if the trite, “work hard, play hard” makes anyone a better, more balanced person. What I find more problematic is the need for the Ordinary Joe to climb Mount Everest or undertake any activity that possesses what could be called “a statistically significant rate of death.” There’s something supremely selfish about fathers walking a knife’s edge between success and death.
As cyclists, you are already aware that mortal peril is not a prerequisite to stripping away the demands of the day. Obviously, you don’t need the sales pitch for why cycling is an ideal path to self-discovery. Rather, what encourages and mystifies me are the multitude ways that cycling can strip the day away.
I’ve gone so hard on climbs I couldn’t have told you my name at the top. Most of the greatest descents I’ve undertaken I recall as silent films—sound ceased to exist during those moments. Whole races have gone by where what remains etched is the sound of 100 chains playing over gears. The sound of rubber sliding, spokes breaking and metal gnashing can refocus your eyesight before you are even aware, causing you to look not for the line to follow, but for the hole, the escape route to safety. Any time I see a gap open there is nothing else on my mind other than putting a finger in that dike.
We can find those moments even when there isn’t effort involved. Who can take a leisurely spin at dusk and not be glued to the sunset? That we can strip the complications away so easily (not to mention inexpensively) can keep even the most type-A sort on a more even keel for all four seasons. We needn’t risk life to figure out that our families matter.
For those who manage a morning ride before work, there’s a benefit beyond the camaraderie and effort we show up for. As we spin the small chainring home we compile the day’s priorities: shower, family, work, oh—a few bills. Following a first hour spent rooted in now, the others seem much easier to understand.