Sunday, August 30, 2009

I don't know. If I knew why, I'd tell you.

After reading my last blog my wife asked, "Why do people in your family feel the need to say what they are thinking?" I don't know. If I knew why, I'd tell you.

First of all, I'm aware that not many people will ever read what I've written. (When Abraham Lincoln said, "people will little note nor long remember what we say here" he was definitely wrong. But I don't believe that I am.) And of those who will read this, no one will really care. I only write words, and people are surrounded by words, too many to take in or care about. It's only words. Who cares.

I do.

I write because I have something I want to say. After I've said it, I can move on to the next thing. But until I've said it, I'm stuck with it running around in my soul, like the tag line from a 1970's disco hit. (Staying alive, staying alive. Ah ah ah ah staying alive.) You know.

There is the minuscule chance that someone might read this, and after reading say, "Yeah! Me too! That says what I've been thinking." And then there would be a cosmic meeting of the minds. And maybe he would leave a comment. Or perhaps someone would read this and think, "Wow, I've never considered that before. I can see how that might be true." Then there would be a seed planted that might blossom into an idea or even a policy later on.

Either way, my long-suffering wife would be right in saying that I feel the need to say what I'm thinking. Just like I feel the need to ride my bicycle (which she doesn't understand either). Both are two of the things which fully express who I am on this planet. Another is the music I play. Perhaps another might be the books I choose to read (and in some cases collect). Or the pictures I take and post online. All of these and more are the ways that I say, "I AM HERE!".

You might be much more mature than me and do not need these things. Perhaps you are content to live and die in near silence. Good. There will be one less voice competing with mine in the universe. And if you are happiest at home, then there will be one less vehicle competing with me for space on the roadways. (You see, we all CAN get along if we try.)

As for why I am like I am? I don't know. If I knew why, I'd tell you.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Alone again - Naturally.

This will sound like a whine - that's probably because it is one - but since not many people read this, it won't define me to the world.

I'm really tired of being alone.
One of the aspects of cycling is the alone time. Riding with others, as with any "with other" part of life, requires compromises. And the compromises required usually are made to some other person and their agenda. You have to ride WHEN they want to ride - or you ride alone. You have to ride WHERE they want to ride - or you ride alone. You have to ride at THEIR pace - or you ride alone. And so forth.

Certainly, as a freeborn adult, I am privileged to set my own agenda. And theoretically, if it were a compelling agenda, some would follow me. Apparently it is not a compelling agenda. The aspiration of the crowd is a medium aspiration. Nothing is ever accomplished. We all ride around in a big circle, at a pace anyone could keep, and high-five each other when we are done. "Yea! We've done our 45 miles! Look at us!"

So what? Most of us are overweight, because this ride accounts for 75% or more of all of our riding this week. We ride one "big" ride a year - and subscribe to 1 or 2 cycling magazines. WE ARE CYCLISTS! Nothing. Emptiness. Uselessness. So What?

I have always aspired to "put my money where my mouth is". It's not that I'm "bike crazy", it's just that I will not call myself a cyclist, then not really be one. I want to use my bike for daily transportation if my schedule allows. I want to train to be faster or stronger on a bike if my genetics allow. I want to increase my endurance for distance if my time allows.While there are limitations, and I have to know and respect them, I won't call my self a rider if I don't ride.

Even with my most recent "big adventure"

I was not fully satisfied - you know - "now I can die happy, I've ridden over 200 miles". So what? That distance is accomplished on a regular basis by girls in some places. It is an accomplishment, to be sure, but only a small one. There are other hills to be climbed. And THOSE hills are the ones which draw me. Williams Hill should be a regular training climb, not a twice a year adventure.

But that thinking, places me in the minority - actually, statistically speaking, it places me alone. Again. Naturally.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's hard to see the forest for the sand dunes.

Achievement in any sphere of life takes the following steps: 1. Imagine the result you desire. 2. Draw up a plan to get from where you are to the result you desire. 3. Work the plan. 4. Adjust the plan as necessary to stay on track. 5. Work the plan. 6. Avoid distractions. 7. Work the plan.

This past week I attended a meeting of our cycling club. I didn't hear anything that I haven't said before (of course when someone other than me says it, it becomes new and exciting. I am, you already know, a tyrant). It discouraged me to note that the ones who began the club were not in attendance and probably didn't even know it was being held. I had dreamed big dreams for the cycling club and could not find a way to achieve any of them. Probably I was not the right person for the task. Now I was hearing those same dreams come from other people, but I was not hearing any plan of reaching the goal. Just dreams.

I came away discouraged. And that discouragement fed into every other aspect of my thinking. I found myself doubting whether or not any of the effort I've put into cycling had a meaning. It has been said, "never doubt in the dark what you've believed in the light". But how do you know that what you've believed in the light was real or just a mirage? How is it possible to know whether or not that oasis you see in the distance is the real thing? What if you get there only to find that you've used up precious resources in traveling to a mirage?

What if nothing really has any value after all? What if we are all like Mayflies? They leave the pupae stage to become adults with no mouths and a digestive system full of air. The only purpose they have now is to mate and die. And they'll do both within the next 48 hours.

Since I'm not a Mayfly, but a cyclist, I'll have to pursue some cycling goals. Typically for me they will all be extreme. Icarus should be my patron saint.

Over the next 50 years I will cycle with a purpose and the discipline to achieve those cycling goals. I will use copious amounts of time and money for this. And after they pour my ashes into the battery compartment of my bicycle headlight, those left behind can decide whether or not the gold I sought was fool's gold or the real thing.

As for the cycling club - I'm a little conflicted. If they don't succeed, then my dreams fail with them. If they do succeed, without me, it only confirms my uselessness. Unfortunately I don't have a plan B. So either way, I'll be cycling the second half alone.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Note to self: All numbered roads are gravel!

Yesterday was my wife's birthday. I should have been home baking her cake, or maybe rubbing her feet, or possibly even having birthday sex. Instead I was on my bike, doing my best Thomas Stevens imitation. (You'll remember he's the cyclist who first cycled around the world in 1884.)

I had no plans to cycle around the world, I wasn't even going to cycle around Southern Illinois. My goal was to merely cycle 125 miles or so. I planned to ride from Marion to McLeansboro, to Norris City; over to Raleigh then back home. Using a computer mapping site, I planned a route which would keep me off of the main roads. I had never ridden any of the roads northeast of Thompsonville, so I made a careful cue sheet of the directions and turns.

Most of the roads had numbers instead of names. There was 1000N, and 625E, and 1212W. That sort of thing. But with a good cue sheet, I felt confident in my ability to find my way. How bad could it be?

I left about 4:15 in the morning. Although there was a full moon, I had my cycling lights mounted and shining brightly as I rode off on my next adventure. I cycled in the dark almost all the way to Thompsonville (about 25 miles). With the exception of one jerk who insisted on blowing his horn when he passed me to express his anger at having to move over a little on a two lane road with no on coming traffic, there were no real problems. (I did have the usual jitters about being grabbed by the Southern Illinois Back Roads Boogie Man. Gratefully, I never saw him).

After Thompsonville, the real exploring started. As I turned off onto 1000N, I was pleasantly surprised that the road was the usual back road surface for Southern Illinois, chip and seal. It's not a great surface for Indy Car racing, but for cycling, it is acceptable. However, after a mile or so, the road turned to gravel. At this place, my optimistic nature got me into difficulty.

I felt that "surely, this is only temporary" and that the road would again become the "hard road" I was expecting. Soon, my optimism paid off. The road was again chip and seal - for about 100 yards. Then it turned to gravel again. Once more I needed to make a decision: turn around and retrace my steps? or keep moving forward hoping for the best? I told you I was an optimist. Three miles later, I came to a stop sign with a "hard road" crossing my gravel one.

Although taking this new one meant throwing away my cue sheet and using dead reckoning, I was really sick of gravel. I turned. Unfortunately for me the road was 625E. Yep. After a mile or so, it turned to gravel. And so forth, and so on. Rinse and Repeat. Etc. Etc. Etc.

All the way to McLeansboro I struggled with gravel roads. Not fine crushed gravel, but the really big stuff you use to stop erosion on hillsides. Finally a little past McLeansboro, I gave up the plan to use only back roads, and I also gave up on going to Norris City. Being a truck driver, I knew that State Route 142 was paved and would take me all the way to Eldorado, where I could turn west on the Raleigh road. It is a good truck route, so I prepared my mind for the difficult "road sharing" I was in for.

After only a few miles of sharing the road with coal trucks, I stopped and looked at my Illinois Bicycle Map. The road to my left was Murray Hill Road. It was paved. It was not Route 142. It had a name. It headed towards Raleigh. I should have paid attention to the numbers above the name on the street sign. 1212N. That should have been a clue. I should have stayed with the coal trucks. About a mile in, the road turned to gravel. And so forth and so on. Rinse and Repeat. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I finally made it to Raleigh and headed for the house. Now I decided that I would take all main roads back home. In fact if Interstate 57 had run through that part of the country, I would have ignored the legal and safety ramifications and ridden down the middle of the fast lane! I was really sick of gravel.

I arrived home 9 hours later and made a note to myself: Next time remember - all numbered roads are gravel! (But then, you know how optimistic I can be...maybe it will turn out better the next time!)

Monday, August 3, 2009

When You Can't Change The Facts, Change The Focus

The next time that you watch a television commercial, try not to watch the foreground, but look into the background and see what is there. You will be surprised at the things you are missing. The background is necessary to fill in the blank spaces of the advertisement, but the details are muted so that you will not focus on them. You are supposed to only pay attention to the main features of the advertisement. It is this way with all of our lives, including our cycling lives.

It is so easy to focus on the large, loud, colorful aspects of life that we often completely wind up looking at all the wrong things, and we lose a great deal in the process. Today, as I was driving, I was feeling a little blue about my employment conditions and lack of progress in our capitalistic society. I was especially feeling blue about my diminishing prospects of "making it" before they put my ashes in the battery compartment of my bike light and bury it.

Upon reflection (eight hours of driving allows for plenty of reflection) I decided to change my focus.

I'm probably never going to be rich. So I will be grateful instead. Let me say at the outset, this is not "settling" nor is it mind games. It is really and truly changing the focus. There are plenty of people around me who earn or have much more money than I do, or ever will. They have better bikes, better homes, better cars, better, better, better. You might be tempted to say, "Miles, you could have had that if you had made better choices!" Maybe, maybe not. We all have a created destiny; our lot in life is chosen for us. If you don't believe that your lot in life was chosen for you, and that you are a self-made man or woman, then your pride is showing. Consider this for starters: you didn't choose your parents, or other ancestry, and you didn't choose the place nor time of your birth. If those factors alone had been changed, you wouldn't be doing what you are doing now. Your life would be different. Maybe better, maybe worse - but different. You are not self-made.

Being grateful includes understanding that my circumstances are partly a result of my choices, but the range of choices allowed to me was decreed by God, and God is good. Therefore, my range of possible choices, though limited, was an expression of his grace and mercy to me. Being grateful also includes improving my choices as He enables me. Remember - we have nothing except it was given to us, even the ability to improve our choices. I may not achieve wealth, but I will be grateful.

I may never be popular. So I will be authentic instead. All of us are to some extent influenced by others. Without an overt effort, we copy the style or mannerisms of those whom we admire. There is nothing at all wrong with that. But imitation taken to extremes will only result in a caricature of the person we admire; and will not clone their success for our benefit. You are a unique person, created by God. So am I. There is no one like you, and your personality, your ideas, and your style are gifts from God to you. Mine too. Therefore I will not copy God's gifts to you, rather I will be me, and discover my God-given gifts.

Being authentic includes being willing to listen to the truth when you hear it, and being willing to speak the truth when you know it. False humility and vain pride are twin sisters. They both have as their object the concern of how others see them. Truly authentic persons are only concerned about the truth, and the truth never needs a majority. Those who aspire to be authentic will be willing to follow, willing to lead, and willing to ride alone when necessary. I may never be popular, but I will be authentic.

Finally, I may never be the greatest. So I will be consistent instead. There can only be one "number one" at any one time. There might be three places on the podium, but the two lower places are the first losers, not the greatest. There will only be one record holder at a time, and the pool of potential record breakers is small enough to leave out most of us most of the time. I refuse to fool myself by swimming in a children's pool while pretending to be crossing the English channel. If I do swim across a child's pool, I will swim with my best stroke, and I will pat myself on the back on the other side.

Being consistent involves being disciplined to follow the path you have chosen whether or not your feelings are willing to come along for the ride. Every day, happens every 24 hours, and the larger units of time, including millenniums are built upon that daily foundation. Faithfully choosing to climb up a ladder, the same one, every day is the heart of consistency. That ladder may not take you up the slopes of Everest, or the skyscrapers of Wall Street. Consistency is not a Trojan horse to take you to greatness before you know it. Remember, greatness is a destiny, and it may not be yours. Or mine. I may never be the greatest, but I will be consistent.

I may not be able to change the facts, but I can change the focus.