As the racing year winds down, I reflect as I always do on what I’ve accomplished since January. The answer is generally the same, “Nothing.”
So then I wonder, “What did I do it for?” The answer is always the same. “Because I didn’t know what else to do.”
Finally, I put my all-carbon bike, which is 100% pure carbon and made exclusively of carbon up on the stand, clean it, move the tires around, wax the chain, and admire the “Wanky” sticker on the side. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I ask me.
The short answer is “I don’t know.” But the longer answer (by two words) is “I like the hard way.”
It’s always at that moment that the decisive answer rings true inside my skull. I like the hard way. When I was young I rode hard. When I was middle-aged I rode hard. Now that I’m a grandpa I ride hard.
Not well, perhaps. Not fast, certainly. But hard? Oh, yes-indeedy. I tasted peanut butter puke at Telo on Tuesday. I felt my heart against my ribs on the Flog. I crawled up the hill at the end of last week’s 130-miler, barely able to turn the pedals. No trinkets won, no fucks given, but man, it was hard. For me. Not for you. You could have done it with one leg, blindfolded. But for me.
For me, the hard way is always the easy way, backwards. The easy way starts easy and finishes hard. The hard way starts hard and ends easy. Neither way is better than the other. Do you like chocolate or vanilla? They’re just different.
The hard way, when you think about it, isn’t even that hard. It even makes a handy-dandy List of Hardness.
- You have to get up early … way early. That’s the hardest thing you’ll do all day, in fact.
- Chuck the data and the power meter and the computer and the heartjockstrap monitor, find your discomfort zone, and stay there. If you don’t feel bad, it’s not good.
- You have to get dropped.
- Finally, you have to go to bed no later than ten no matter what else is happening in TV-land, fooball-land, or Internetland. This is crazy hard.
Interspersed with all that hardness, you have to rest, which is even harder than hard riding. Resting is different from sleeping. And it’s certainly different from drinking. Drinking is never resting. It’s fun but it’s not rest.
That’s all there is to it. It won’t win you many races but it will make you appreciate other people. You’d think it would be the opposite: The harder you go, the more contemptuous you are of those who ride pillow soft. But no. The harder you go, the more you respect people because you realize that they’re doing what they can, just like you’re doing what you can.
The harder you go, the better you’ll sleep.
The harder you go, the more you’ll appreciate the days that you don’t.
But most of all, the harder you go, the more quality you’ll wring out of your inherited meatbag. And as you’re able to wring the last mini-watts out of the meatbag, you’ll develop an affinity for other hard avenues in life that are equally and more rewarding.
You’ll go into business for yourself. You’ll dump a shitty relationship. You’ll study a crazy hard language. You’ll quit shooting heroin. You’ll slow down for people who need help (that’s uber hard). You’ll watch the hummingbirds swarm the feeder during spring and fall migration.
You’ll do crazy hard stuff, like no more sugar in your hot cocoa. Do you know how bitter that is? Actually, once you’re used to it, it’s not bitter at all. It’s just hard. Hard and good.
You’ll stop eating jam on your toast. Syrup on your pancakes. Cream in your coffee. (Kidding. No one is hard enough to quit putting cream in their coffee.)
The hard way makes hard choices easy. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. The load lifts. You mash down on the pedals and they give like a fist through butter. Why? Because the hard way is eventually, ultimately, finally the easiest.