Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving II

I wouldn't be here if it weren't for cycling. Not that I wouldn't be part of BKW, or that I wouldn't be writing about cycling in general, but I don't think I'd still be on this spinning rock, were it not for cycling.

Each soul has a dark night, or two. Generally, we find our way through. We talk to friends, family, maybe a shrink, make jokes about the course of Prozac, but soon enough a day dawns and we realize that life ain't so bad. At least, that's how it works most of the time.

Not too many years ago I experienced what they call in the parlance some "setbacks." Relationship, career, finances, there wasn't a break to be had. I celebrated a birthday moonlighting as a limo driver. And while I stayed on the bike, I didn't have the will or energy to do hard miles, which is to say, I couldn't express myself; there were no statements to be made.

There came a point when I began to believe that I was taking more than I deserved, giving less than I believed I should. And in the only way I could do the math, I began to think the world would have an easier time without the burden. As much as I knew my solution would hurt others, I began to think it was the lesser of two evils.

But I kept pedaling. Even when there seemed nothing to be gained, I kept going. I began riding more miles just to keep myself from brooding. I rode through sunrises and sunsets. I lost weight, and even though I didn't feel like attacking the hills, I was suffering less.

The simple act of turning the pedals and moving through the world around me kept me rooted to it, ironic as that sounds. Seeing the wonder of the landscape, the changing vistas, the fun of descents, the inexorable reminder of my fragility as I climbed worked better than sunlight itself.

I don't know when I turned the corner. I just recall that with each successive ride through that winter one thought kept returning: I'm glad I'm here; I wouldn't want to miss this. And that was the key; selfishly, I knew I wasn't finished yet.

Since then, of course, everything has changed. Family, friends, career, it all runs as well as freshly installed Dura-Ace. I'm not going to try to wrestle with the mystery of our existence, why we're here or what we're meant to do with it. The answer is different for each of us. What I continue to marvel at is the way a simple device meant for transportation has allowed us to discover so much more, not in going or even arriving, but in the doing. The doing is enough for which to be grateful.


William said...

It's funny that cycists often seem to go through something like this. Is it the personality type that is attracted to the sport or does it just seem that way becuase I have been there myself and spend more time meandering through the minds of cyclists than any other specific group???

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Some good advice I once got when preparing for a team time trial:

There will be moments of chaos, keep pedaling.

@realjanmaaso said...

Great post again. Thank you for sharing something so personal.

Me? Well, just LOOKING at my bike makes me want to stay around (it's a Richard Sachs).


Anonymous said...

This post comes at a great time. All I can say is, "Thanks, I needed that."

Padraig said...

All: Thank you very much.

William: I think cycling attracts a brighter than average bulb and that has to do with the intersection between pedals and existential crises.

Leaddaet: Incredible advice. I love it. I will use it.

Jan: You have my full and complete envy.

Truman: You are very welcome. Thanks for reading.

WheelDancer said...

As I sit in a similar hole gazing up at the rim just beyond which a less ragged life returns, this post is a welcome step stool to that vista painfully just beyond my grasp. Perhaps this black Friday will be spent with tires on pavement for the bright joy that is the ride.

Thanks for a great post!

wheels said...

I'm a runner . . . and a cyclist, but much heavier on the endurance running side. I often tell people that running saved my life, and then am wishy washy about trying to explain it, but I went through what seems to be the exact same process and I kept running and running and one day I made it.

I've never heard it described so well and it is so dear to know that other people went through it too. Had I happened to have a road bike instead of driving an hour to go mountain biking at the time, I'm sure it would have been cycling pulled me through (and I'd be a cyclist who occasionally runs today), and now, years later, life is amazing and entirely different. Thanks for sharing.

William- I think it attracts a certain personality type that you tend to find in outdoor athlete addicts (ultra runners, cyclists, climbers, backcountry snow poachers, etc.) and you just seem to see it more in cyclists than in others because you're there. But your are right it is a personality type and the question is whether the personality is formed because cycling (or whatever) has brought them through that or because they were drawn to it in the first place.

Bandobras said...

The secret to life as in so much of cycling is just to keep on rolling.
Like the GD sang "What a long strange trip it's been".

deprogram said...

Great post!

Cycling is therapy. For me it takes the form of both working on bikes, and then riding them, but it all adds up to the same thing - a machine with which to challenge yourself, to ride yourself better.

Bluenoser said...

Yes, I've been there also. I now think that it was leaving cycling that put me there and it was cycling that has brought me back.



Unknown said...

I'm not going to try to wrestle with the mystery of our existence, why we're here or what we're meant to do with it. The answer is different for each of us. What I continue to marvel at is the way a simple device meant for transportation has allowed us to discover so much more, not in going or even arriving, but in the doing. The doing is enough for which to be grateful.

Best thing I have heard said about the bike in a long time. I have copied and pasted it to my saved quotes on cyling. When I can think of something better to say about the bike I will let you know. Till then I'll keep on pedalling and getting the miles in.

Stompem said...

It has taken me decades to figure that out. Not that I could have avoided earlier addictions and depression altogether, but I do feel like I missed the hole shot. Nothing like a long, hard chase to clear the mind, though.

Serge Cornelus said...

No idea if the ancient Chinese rode bikes, but I guess their proverb 'The journey is the destination' comes pretty close to what you so excellently describe. Anyway: 'glad' to see it happens to even the most eager riders.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading that. Experiencing some of that as we speak and often find such joy in just pedaling.

Thanks, this post probably helps quite a bit of us.



Padraig said...

Everyone: Thanks again for all the feedback and amazing compliments. It honestly never occurred to me that writing this might be of some assistance to anyone. I wrote it because it was true and the whole point of my involvement in BKW was to take the opportunity to write truth without influence. To the degree that this or any other post has served as a lighthouse above a rocky shore, I'm honored to have served. Thanks, as always, for reading.

SkidMark said...

Your blog made a lot more sense than the stuff I paid hundreds of dollars to hear from some smug goatee-wearin’ bespectacled shrink. Still having some of those “dark nights” you refer to - not all is working like “freshly installed D-A” with family, career, or finances. But I don’t think I’d be here either if it weren’t for cycling. My cycling partners are my therapists, the therapy sessions are free, and I come away with new vigor, ready to face the world again.

Heidi Swift said...

"What I continue to marvel at is the way a simple device meant for transportation has allowed us to discover so much more, not in going or even arriving, but in the doing."

Brilliantly put.

jsager said...


kathrynlaw said...

So beautiful, so true. A lighthouse above a rocky shore, absolutely.

Depression has been described as a dark abyss that's always there, but whose edges are invisible. We who suffer from it can't always tell when we're close to slipping back into it. I know when I'm there, but by then it's already tough to climb back on the bike. Your post is inspiration to do exactly that. Climb back on, and keep going. Thank you.

SkidMark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. X said...

As someone who is there right now, what a great thing to know it is not just me. No matter how dark things are, the bike makes me feel better (that and my son a daughter). Thank you

we;shcyclist said...

Thankyou for your post, it has struck a chord with me, cycling means so much to me. Like you, it took me away from a, well I think I'll describe it as a rut, a sense of being lost and out of control, to a place that still, quite frankly doesn't make alot of sense, yet somehow riding my bike has allowed me to look at the problems in my life, from a different perspective. No, it doesn't solve the problems etc., but I can live with them, and target them to be dealt with, without any feelings of hopelessness or inadequacy. Is it just cycling? Probably not, I believe being out there in the fresh air, seeing the wonders of nature on your own doorstep has alot to do with it also.

Georges Rouan said...

Thank you for this post:
I have been struggling with some of the same ennui that every human seems to struggle with at one point or another: career junking out, personal life trashed and tattered self image. These feel like dark times and I can't seem to find my rhythm. I am amidst my own "setbacks" and I can't seem to right myself.

But reading this piece for the 3rd and 4th time since it came out has been a bit of a beacon for me. It reminded me that everyone struggles a little, or alot, at certain points in their life. Between you summing it up so nicely and the comments of others, I know we all struggle and somehow I know I will come out the other end.

This post is as much medicine as the Advil I took this morning for my headache I awoke to.

Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you.

1k2go said...

I know that this was not originally written with cyclists in mind but I feel this way with many of the cyclists I ride with and Padraig it is so with you to my brother:

Ever get the feeling you can't go on
Just remember whose side it is that you're on
You've got friends with you till the end
If you're ever in a tough situation
We'll be there with no hesitation
Brotherhood's our rule we cannot bend

When you're feeling too close to the bottom
You know who it is you can count on
Someone will pick you up again
We can conquer anything together
All of us are bonded forever
If you die i die that's the way it is

From Bros Hymn by Pennywise