flat tire of the soul
For a few years I’ve had an identity crisis - a core piece of how I identify myself is no longer true. You see, when I was a young adult, done with school and just beginning real life, I decided to get a bicycle, and I was fortunate enough to fall into a group of folks who encouraged me to keep riding harder, smarter and faster, and eventually they convinced me to try racing.
My very first race was an off-road event on the morning after a raging thunderstorm. It was a sloppy, slippery festival of mud and we pushed and carried our bikes more than we rode them. It was, physically, the hardest thing I had ever done. I felt like I was in over my head and couldn’t wait for it to be over. And when it was over, I loved that I had done it, because for the first time in my life I could call myself an athlete.
Over the years I dabbled in the various cycling disciplines: cross country and time trialing being my favorites. I did the occasional road race, and even tried a criterium or two, but stopped doing those after I caused a wreck that left a guy with 30 stitches in his face. I was never the strongest rider, and podium finishes were very few and far between, but I loved the challenge of doing hard things, and the camaraderie of my teammates gave me something to belong to. Being a racer became a big part of how I identified myself. I kept my legs shaved, I wore spandex in public without shame, and I referred to my daily rides as “training”.
Bicycle racing is a lifestyle as much as a sport. The amount of time and money and effort it takes to be strong can dominate one’s existence. It’s selfish. One’s non-riding partners must be more than tolerant of the obsession.
But time marches on and priorities change. My mountain bike aged into decrepitude and I didn’t feel good about riding it as much. Eventually, I became a homeowner and a husband and those require a different commitment. I chose a new career path which requires Sunday morning work, and that conflicts with much of the racing calendar. In the last ten years I have raced less and less and less and none. That important piece of how I identify myself just isn’t true any more. I’m not a racer. I’m just another guy who rides for fun and fitness, and it is hard to admit that a great chapter in my life might be closed.
Or, might not.
Even if I’m not at the start line on Sunday mornings, my racing history has left me with some great riding habits, and (as I’ve documented in other postings) I still have a competitive streak and like to work hard. I treasure the cycling adventures that I’ve had and the lessons learned from competition. And even though I’m not regular enough to call myself a racer anymore, the secret I have to share is that I am actually registered for two races later this summer, and I get all quivery and tingly when I think about them. I don’t miss the stress and the time commitment it takes to be a racer, but I gotta say, I love the excitement of having a big event or two on my calendar.
I know I’m not the first has-been to wrestle with an identity crisis. Guys like me will usually suffer in silence for a couple of seasons before the irresistible force of our glorious history meets the immovable object of our current reality. Something has to give. In my case, something did. I faced the crisis the way any respectable rider would - I bought a new bike. I’ll tell you about it next week.