Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change-
The first step on this “journey” of mine, was simply getting to know myself once again.
Before I competed in my first Gravel Worlds, I focused on “building strength” and training for the rigors of a 150+ miles gravel ride. A little over three years ago, I was struggling post surgery to get back into my cycling groove, needless to say I felt rather unprepared and woefully out-of-place. The week leading up to the chilly predawn start just outside Lincoln, Nebraska, I tried to imagine all the possible situations and challenges I could, and would encounter, and the associated mindset(s) I needed to adapt to them. I did not realize during the moment, that in doing so, I inadvertently found myself focusing on my true inner weaknesses – on the things that I need to improve, and on the behaviors that have eluded me for so long, that I pushed aside to compete, that did not come naturally to me … Anymore. Shortly after an early August rain shower, and two punctures, I quickly realized that I can allow myself to feel confident about my ability to deal with what the road had in store for me, for my life. Albeit not the strengths the stereotypical Lycra clad/carbon fiber cyclist, a little smile here and there, and a deeply rooted sense of humor kept two wheels up and spinning along into the evening.
Quiet simply, being yourself, being authentic – Is pretty inspiring!
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as
two or three, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail …
I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.
To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome
and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the
companion that was so companionable as solitude …
If one advances confidently in the direction of his
dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has
imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in
common hour …
A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener.
So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts.
We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and
took advantage of every accident that befell us. Sometimes, in
a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my
sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the
pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and
stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through
the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the
noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was
reminded of the lapse of time.
I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel-
For the past two years in late August, I bike for nearly ten hours, one hundred plus miles, into the picturesque countryside around Omaha, Nebraska.. Out here, I don’t have a laptop, a navigation gadget, or anyone to talk to. It’s just me and my bike, and a few Western Meadowlarks greeting me kindly.
The first twenty miles are the hardest. I’m on an adrenaline high at first, I wake early and start riding East, where the brilliant glow of a sunrise brings a smile to my tired face. The air is clear on these desolate gravel roads, there is no sound of traffic, yet suddenly – I start to feel lonesome. I feel an urge to text a picture of what I am witnessing to someone, and when I realize I can’t, my phone is resting at home in the garage, a feeling of anxiety pours over me. I can’t turn back now as I turn south into a gentle breeze, so I begin to listen to my thoughts; I go over the events of the week, honoring my thoughts makes me feel less stirred up. Something surprising happens mid-ride, I feel a sense of peace. There is no particular switch that is flipped, I recall thinking at the time: I’m alone, and I’m happy.
Rarely do I get lonely riding anymore. I have loved ones and friends in my life whom I deeply cherish and value, yet, I don’t feel the need to be with them constantly. While it’s wonderful to go on a weekly group ride, I also happily wave so long to them when they turn around to head home, and I continue on … My time, this tender moment, is completely my own again.
I don’t partake in these grueling rides to prove anything. I’m out there, because I have fully surrendered to the power of solitude. It has taught me so much about myself. Most importantly, there’s no one to share opinions with, about who I am or what I’m doing. I don’t have a FaceTube status to update, nor do I have a future conversation with someone sloshing between my ears. What hits home the hardest is when I hit the 100+ mile marker, when I’m alone this much on a bike – man and machine, I can’t turn my back and avoid the problems in my life or allow a stray emotion to weigh me down. I can’t distract myself by blogging or surfing the net. What shines through, is the warm glow of my heart.
Time passes differently after 120 miles. I once watched a young doe leap over an eight foot fence from standing; slowing down as she turned to look at me, the sun passed directly overhead during this time, and I didn’t even notice I was heading West. I patiently listen to the wind as I unzip my jersey to cool off as I head home.
The most exhausting part of the ride, is heading home. I have forgotten about the traffic late at night, the stimulation, the nauseating advertisements seemingly everywhere. Sprinklers running, dogs barking, are a jolt to my body … Although friends, the cold shower awaiting me is simply divine.
It’s funny; in this era of e-mail and voice mail and all those things that even I did not grow up with, a plain old paper letter takes on amazing intimacy-
Its amazing what happens when we surrender to our true selves, being present and our breath. Healthy relationships gradually begin to enter our life, and the “things” we have been so diligently working on begin to bear new fruit.
I have been struggling with my breath for quite a while now. I show up to class, go through the motions during my home practice and never truly fall into rhythm during a nice bike ride or the rigors of daily life. Why? My breath has escaped me.
I believe the true cause is largely a matter of personal habit. Our lives, my life, is excessively filled with constant activity and incessant noise and distraction. I have grown accustomed to them, so mush so, that when they come to a halt, I feel uneasy. There’s a startling sense of emptiness, as if I’ve suddenly landed in a deserted corn field after being in the middle of a bustling city.
When I can resist the urge to plunge myself fully into an activity, I soon begin to surrender to solitude, silence and my breath. My agitated mind starts to calm. My thoughts start to slow down, and I feel a sense of re-attuning to myself, I feel a sense of connection – to my own self, and to the world as a whole.
When I listen to my breath, I begin to find a new balance and harmony in my life.
Out for a walk tonight,
the dog is throwing all her weight
against the leash, lunging toward
the fat tomcat
licking his black ankles
with a delicious, solemn attention
at the top of the neighbor’s steps.
Because this is what the dog
was made to do.
Because for some lucky animals
the space between the body
and what it wants
is all there is.
You may plainly perceive the traitor through his mask; he is well-known everywhere in his true colors; his rolling eyes and his honeyed tones impose only on those who do not know him-
Why am I waking up this morning?
The answer is, hopefully, not because I have to or I should, but rather … I have a sense of purpose and direction for this wonderful day.
Being able to adapt well to a myriad of challenges, to be able to bounce back from a period of difficult times, requires me to have a sense of direction in my life and a belief that I am acting in a way that is consistent with my true personal values.