Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sine Qua Non


Without which there cannot be. It’s a Latin legal term for what is indispensable, essential— the body that denotes the crime. More recently it has come to stand, in a broader social context, for the thing that gives meaning to life.

That we think of cycling as sine qua non is no surprise. Anything that adds meaning to life with each rising sun cannot be otherwise. For us, cycling is a beloved part of any meaningful day.

This spring a friend had a crash—his second this year—which left him sore for weeks. It was enough to shake his faith in cycling. He admitted some weeks later that he considered getting off the bike.

His statement got me to thinking about the cyclists I’ve known over the years who have given up the sport. Some drifted away, appearing on group rides less and less over a succession of months until one day someone asks, “Hey, whatever happened to…?” Others seem to vanish, disappearing as suddenly as if they had moved to another city. And then others moved on to the next fad when Lance retired. Ten years ago they were into fly fishing, and now it’s golf or something. No matter which way, I’m always mystified by their turn away from the sport. How someone can log hundreds of miles per week for years at a time and then suddenly turn it off like a light switch at bedtime is a bigger mystery than the fall of Rome.

Notwithstanding the incredible demands that family and career can place on our lives, some cyclists simply move away from the sport. That anyone can decide, “I’ve had enough of this,” has caused me to wonder just what it is so many of us find so requisite. We may think cycling’s draw is to obvious what Michael Jackson is to freak show, but we also know we’re in the minority on this. Frankly, it’s easier to understand those who never come to appreciate cycling’s draw than it is to comprehend those who wander from the light.

Cycling’s place in the lives of the lifers isn’t at the pinnacle; it only seems so. It’s easy to think that because cycling is often the most enjoyable thing we do in a day, it must be the best part of our lives, but you’d never say such words aloud. The truth is, cycling can be the glue that holds the fragile bits of our lives together. It’s the release that makes paying the bills, taking out the trash and the unfinished action item possible.

Back in the good ole days when Greg LeMond was wearing the yellow jersey, he made a statement that gets at the heart of the matter. Alluding to his family he said (and I paraphrase), ‘Without them none of this would have been possible. I’d never have won the Tour; I wouldn’t be in yellow now.’

And maybe that’s the secret. Cycling gives us the ability to achieve more than we could without it. Our relationship to cycling is a sort of marriage. But it’s married to more than us—we’ve wedded it to our lives. When it works, it can teach us not the value of sticking with something, but how walking away from anything robs us of more than the thing itself.

16 comments:

byron said...

good post. breath and depth at BKW.

craoto

erikv said...

Say someone rides just for the numbers. Every ride is a training ride. They don't think "where should I ride today," but "how many watts do I ride at today." Every day, every ride, looking at the numbers and not the road. That would get old quick, especially if it didn't yield any results. I could see it happening to someone like that.

If you're not a PRO, you gotta have fun with it. Otherwise, what's the point? That is why some walk away, in my opinion.

Soul_Rider said...

great stuff. I'm reading this at 5:48 AM Texas time as I prepare to leave pre-dwan to "ride to the ride" on what for the rest of the world is a day off. I feel like I am robbing those who are still in bed of one of the most beautiful things in the world, riding silently through the streets in the dark until I meet with a coupe of friends, whispering in their driveway before we head out into the sunrise.

LP said...

This is supposed to be an off day to recover from some recent hard training. Now I must go out this morning. Thanks BKW, training plan be damned!

Anonymous said...

As someone who raced from age 15 to 23 and then walked away totally for almost 15 years, only to rediscover my love for cycling again, I can see both sides of this argument. My departure from the rigors of training and racing (classic burn-out)was a welcome relief,and the amount of time in-between felt "just right." I'll never race again, but have certainly re-discovered my passion for fast group riders.

Garnet said...

Fantastic stuff as always, Padraig.

Weird that you would mention fly fishing. I've managed to maintain a devotion to both fly fishing and cycling for the past few years, without unfair partiality to either. I hope it stays that way. Maybe soon I'll bike the hundred miles up to the Flatbrook River with a fly rod on my back and jersey pockets full of flies. The extra weight would be a workout, eh?

There's something about cycling that I can't get away from. It just brings me so much peace and satisfaction, I don't know how I could live without it. I don't care so much about watts. If I ride hard, I do it for more than the sake of numbers. What's better than riding alone for miles alongside a river on a warm afternoon, or seeing the sunrise over acres of farmland with a few cherished friends? Cycling is my Zen center, a zone of pure contentment. Those who don't know better say that 70 some miles of hard riding and hills is insane; I say that that's the only thing keeping me sane from day to day.

Chole said...

Thanks for the post- I hope that your friend has recovered well.

I too have had a number of bad accidents this year- left collarbone broken in January, right collarbone broken two places and a concussion in April...

But the whole time I couldn't think of anything but getting back up into the saddle.

And I think I love it more now, every inch I put in is special.

bikesgonewild said...

...july 4th, 6 years ago, i lay in an emergency room, dazed, light headed, shaken, literally unsure of my own identity or where in this world i was...

...i had collapsed, unconscious, while out on an easy ride...the fact that it happened w/ in yards of a para-med station speaks of an angel in my jersey pocket as it was later determined that i had a genetic heart problem requiring surgery...

...i remember thinking as i lay on the gurney "if i feel this bad & i'm in a place like this, then perhaps i'm going to die & i guess that's ok because i don't know who i am anyway"...

...in my abstract displacement, i felt people moving my feet around & i overheard something like "well, just cut the buckles"...a little light dawned in me..."ya, ya, i think i'm a cyclist & they must be talking about my shoes (older SIDI actions w/ three buckles) & they can't figure 'em out so they're gonna cut them off my feet...no, noooo!!!"...

...that little adrenaline rush, that dose of 'sine qua non' reality was the start of me putting the puzzle pieces back together...

...like another angel in my pocket, an old cycling buddy (thank you, ross p....like forever) was working in the ER on a patient next to me...a para-med must have id'd me & suddenly a voice behind a curtain said "i know that name" & i thought "i know that voice, & he's a cyclist & i AM a cyclist ...& in a slow flood of emotions, the memory of who i was came back to me...

...a true & for me, emotional story, padraig & i guess for some of us, it's not only "sine qua non" but 'it's in the blood'...i've identified strongly w/ cycling since i was a kid & when i needed it, it pulled me back from a dark abyss...

bikesgonewild said...

...post script: if that's not peter johnson wearing the bianchi jersey, in that foto, i'll be a surprised man...

...just got the look...

Anonymous said...

20 years of racing on two continents, not getting paid when promised, broken bones, broken relationships, 10 years of coaching juniors and finally, after time away I learn how much I love simply riding a bike.

Major Taylot said...

Your point of your post is why I the pros that don't use Watt meters or heart-rate monitors, nor tries to rack up a certain umber of miles or hours, but rather trains by feel. Not many of them around these days, but one is a good one-day classics guy and former World Champ from Spain named Oscar.

Nikolai said...

I've started in cycling when I was 12 and at the age of 30, having just finished the first race of a new season, while sitting in car changing, I've decided it was time to go. Living off the prize money and some bonuses from sponsors wasn't exactly fun, not anymore.

That was the last day I was on a road bike until few months ago, after 12 years, I got back just to get fit a little. Next thing I know I'm racing again (in Masters of course) and just won my 1st race.

Cycling is a drug :-)

Anonymous said...

Colnago exploded diagram

Anonymous said...

wool jerseys with helmets? well, okay.

Absolute Goose said...

Interesting post. I can easily see how some move away from the sport, we do it with so many things in our lives. I resonate with the thoughts of how cycling is the thread that keeps life together. Like you have suggested I can speak first hand on how cycling has taught me that I can do more than I thought I could, especially if I keep going. Someday will be my last ride, I hope that I am only at the begining of my time on the bike.

Anonymous said...

Padraig, BG dubs nailed it with "it's in the blood."

The cycling virus may go dormant from several days up to several decades, but once a patient is infected he will never be free and clear. The virus can - and will - return with a vengeance, eventually. Generally stronger with each relapse. You can never be cured. And there is no innoculation.

Understanding this makes the brief respites - both voluntary, and involuntary - more tolerable.