Sometimes you’re large and in charge, and sometimes, well, you’re tiny and at the mercy of the universe.
On the cards yesterday morning was a pretty huge ride that didn’t end up happening, but a pretty huge ride ended up happening anyway, just a different one. The weather was perfect, we were on our bikes, and the first 100km’s treated us to the usual stunning scenery around Adelaide. We met up with a few guys en-route that I didn’t know, but of course were quality blokes, and all in all, it was a great morning. A fantastic morning.
As the morning turned into afternoon, we reached a point on the route that had us heading down a reasonably fast descent. I’ve been down there often enough to know the road well, and I’m usually a pretty cautious descender based on the fact that I’m really not that good at it, have feared the worst-case scenario since like forever, and especially so since coming off pretty hard the day before my first 3 Peaks ride a few years ago.
Down the descent we went flying, and I was actually feeling really well-balanced and confident – it was just one of those days when everything feels right. The last corner is really tight and is preceded by quite a fast section of flowing curves. I was set up perfectly and was carving through the apex when out of nowhere, in an instant, the front wheel washes out, and I’m sliding/rolling across the road and into the verge.
Up immediately. I’m angry. I’m hurting. I look at my bike, still in the road, my torn bibs, gloves, and jersey, and that familiar feeling of my right hip having hit the deck. Hard. The fact that I rolled so much more this time (and I wasn’t going as fast) meant that it wasn’t going to be as bad as last time, but it didn’t feel great.
Collecting my bike, the rear wheel is a mess, but everything else seems pretty reasonable. How on earth did that happen? Dry roads, no excessive speeds, no sudden movements. Oil? Sand?
The chap riding behind me walks over with a pebble. 3-4mm around. He picked it off the road at the terminus of a small white line that the pebble had made as my front tyre pushed it along for a few centimeters and then rolled over it. Mid corner, leaned over the bike, I had no chance.
I went from feeling great to angry and in pain in less than a second, but that’s life, isn’t it? I stood there wondering at the incredibly small odds of this happening. One or two millimeters to the left or right, and nothing would have happened. It’s always tempting to think that somehow the universe is against you. That you didn’t deserve this. In a flash, everything I’m wearing is ruined, my rear wheel possibly done for, the bike is scuffed up, and another week of hobbling around and dealing with dressing wounds. Really, I didn’t deserve this, but that’s hardly relevant, isn’t it.
Part of the process of how we deal with problems is that we try to rationalize them, no matter how random they actually are. What did I do to allow this to happen? Do I deserve this? How is this just? It’s not fair. What is the lesson to be learned?
Without a doubt, there are lessons to be learned from everything, good, bad, or anything in between. It doesn’t matter how random the event or how disconnected it is to anything that preceded it. The best thing you can do with these things is think about what you’d like to do with it from here. What kind of person will emerge from the other side.
I know this is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Life has much, much bigger grenades to launch blindly into people’s lives. But, perhaps these smaller situations are the perfect opportunities to practice being who you want to be during and after more significant situations.
Perhaps the lesson for me here is that there is no lesson. This event carries no meaning. It simply happened. No one else was involved and I could have had no foreknowledge of what was to come. To live in such a way that attempts to neutralize all conceivable random events is not only unrealistic and a complete waste of time, but you inevitably miss out on many of the things that gives life its colour and vibrancy and makes life worth living in the first place.
Now I feel like I have to make this into something cycling specific, but of course, it’s not. Not even a little. Cycling isn’t any higher risk an activity than most things people do in their daily lives, and cyclists aren’t privy to life’s mysteries before anyone else. Disaster knows no context. There are a couple of points that I can offer, though.
While life may have put a pebble in my path that caused me some grief, I at least know that I was doing something good, productive, and healthy when it happened. Bad things will happen to everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, but I’d rather be out enjoying the world around me with mates on a beautiful sunny day, getting fit and healthy while clearing my mind if only for a moment, than sitting on a couch waiting for a heart attack or working myself to death (presuming that you don’t enjoy that).
And secondly, that does take some effort. It’s easy to sit on the couch or in the car, and it’s nice when it takes no effort at all to convince yourself to grab the bike and head out for a ride, but sometimes you wish there was an easier way to just be fitter, healthier, and happier. But there isn’t. It comes as a result of that effort. When the situation turns sour, there is also a certain amount of effort required on your part to see yourself through it as best you can. Crashing 40km’s from home and not having a car (or a spouse that drives one) meant that I either had to put someone out in order to come and collect me, take a very expensive cab ride, or just ride my way back home. Nothing was broken, I didn’t feel weird, and so I just rode. And I got there. No big deal.
And finally, of course, that life is random. We can control what we can, but not everything. Sometimes there is nobody to blame, and the events we can’t explain are sometimes the hardest things to accept. You can’t (usually) choose your disasters, but you can choose how to live with them.
So go ride your bike, enjoy what you do, and when disaster strikes, perhaps the best thing to keep in mind is that it’s not personal (unless it is, but that’s different). If life was perfect, there would really only be one way of doing anything, the entire concept of free-will would be in question, and, in effect, that would take all of the beauty and mystery out of life. Of course that’s cold comfort if anything truly bad happens, but… what do you want me to say!?
There’s riding your bike, and there’s crashing. I know I’m not going to stop riding my bike, so I guess that means that I’m going to take my chances with the possibility of crashing. That’s life. Until the next time, then, I’ll try to keep focusing on everything that’s great about riding my bike and worry about life’s random disasters when they happen.
Header image: source, all other images: The Sticky Bidon