Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. It is a holiday that is set aside for remembering our fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is also the unofficial start to summer, providing a three day weekend for many and a great excuse to everyone to cook outside on the grill and have a party. There are also a ton of sales at the stores with the day off providing many people the chance to shop for big ticket items like appliances or new cars. Unfortunately this also detracts from the whole point of the day, which is to say thank you to all who served and sacrificed so we would be able to be free.
Along those lines I am going to run a repost of one of my favorite blogs from the past and take a little extra time off today. It is one that I have had some good feedback on in the past and it is also one of my personal favorites. I wrote it when I was unemployed and while that has changed, it still perfectly describes why I jump out of bed on the weekends and ride my bike as the world wakes up. I’m re-running it because I too am taking the day off to spend with my family. We are going to have some fun, but I will also set aside some time to explain a little of the meaning of the day to my 4 year old son. Then we will hang a flag on our porch as a way to say thank you to any veteran that drives by the house today.
Have a great Memorial Day today, but take a minute to remember why we have the holiday and say thanks to a vet you know. I’ll start it off by thanking my dad and cousins as well as some great friends for serving.
Why I ride:
Up. Wash face. Skip shaving. Think about cost of Electric Shave. Wonder why I do this. Think about still not having a job. Pull on chamois. Hope they hold up for a few more months. Think about the cost of replacing them. Wonder why I haven’t found a job. Eat. Think about cost of bagels. Grab protein bar for later. Think about learning how to make my own. Out to the garage. Pull on my shoes. Look at the straps as I pull them tight. Think about how long they will last. Check the bike. Tires look a little worn. Think about the cost of replacing tires. Add air and check the rest of my gear. Helmet is okay, but felt bits are falling out. Stick them back in. Don’t think about the cost of replacing helmet. Wonder why company that seemed like a perfect fit hasn’t called. Worry about mortgage payment. Worry about stress of unemployment on marriage. Worry about forgetting water. Back inside for water and remember wallet for ID and iPod. Back to garage and repack bag with forgotten supplies. Open the garage door quietly so I don’t wake my son. Worry about him and how to pay for his school. Worry about attempting a career change. Worry about not being able to be a writer. Worry about how to make writing a paying passion. Worry about not being good enough.
Quietly close the garage door. Worry about not making it home in time to help my wife. Worry about how little I have been able to help her while unemployed. Think about how supportive she had been in the drought. Mount up and head down my street. Think about which loop to take. Decide to push myself. Worry that I won’t lose enough weight to ride my new bike when it arrives this spring. Worry about paying for the bike. Wish I didn’t put the bike on order being too fat and broke to make it work. Pump harder as the street rises up to the first hill. Time my approach to the first light so I ride through on green to avoid losing my momentum up the hill. Finally see the start of the sunrise through the light fog. Laugh as my breath clouds my glasses. Feel the burn in my legs on the first hill. Wonder why I manage to start the ride on the hill. Remember that there is a bike in my future that demands better of me. Smile in appreciation of an up-tempo song on the iPod. Better to match my cadence to it for the rest of the hill. Quickly take a drink, feeling the cold water hit my throat and make it contract a little. One of the joys and tortures of an early morning fall ride, the air keeps the water cold enough to almost hurt as you drink. Think about capturing the moment later to share with readers. Start to sweat as the miles begin to pass. Worry that they seem to be going so slow as my legs seem to protest the trail that I have turned onto. Eight more miles of hill before the trail levels off. I bargain with myself, it is only a slight grade; the converted rail bed doesn’t climb that sharply. If hundreds of others can do it, I can too. I may still be fat and slow, but I am ahead of my pace one month ago, six months ago, and a year ago. A year and a half ago I would never even ride, let alone think that 35 miles is a great way to start a Saturday. Three years ago I weighed 50 pounds more and smoked three packs a day. I feel happy that my son will know I smoked one day, but he will grow up knowing a father that is trying to be fit and pass that on to him.
Check the cycle computer and see a larger number than I expect. Realize my time is good for this part of the ride and push the next two miles into the rest stop. Eat a protein bar and drink deeply. Look at the new bridge and trees and thank myself for levering my butt out of bed early enough to see the sun climb through the trees. Start to bargain with myself to push the ride a little longer and head out of the rest area. Feel the miles fly under the bike, quietly singing under my breath along with the songs on the iPod, only one ear bud in to hear faster riders approaching. Smile when I realize that I am passing more people than are passing me. I think about a year ago when EVERYONE passed me. I could only ride 8 miles at a time. I gasped for breath all the time. I thought I was going to die. Everyone encouraged me, my family, friends, especially strangers in the bicycling community. Happy I embraced the change, hopeful about changing careers and writing. Hopeful that others may see value in my communicating what I see and hopeful that I can do it well. Gliding into the turnaround I see that my time is good and I take a shorter rest, choosing to eat the protein bar on the go. Seventeen miles down, seventeen to go. I can do this.
Finish the last small hill and begin to feel less effort as the trail dips down to begin the eight miles of downhill terrain to my house. Remember that this is why I start with the large hill. Laugh as the speed picks up. Shift into the big ring for the rest of the ride. Enjoy the sun dappled trail bed as I search for treacherous sand and soft spots. Start to worry about what a crash would mean, then stop. There is too much joy in the decent, too much joy in being a fat man flying down the trail. Feeling all the benefits of lugging that extra weight up the hill, it pulls me down the trail faster and faster. I don’t think until the trail ends and I am back on the road, gasping for air and laughing like I was twenty years younger and my biggest worry was getting home for supper. I ride onto the road and smile with anticipation of the road bike and new adventures. I am still losing weight, I will make this happen. I will be able to afford it and everything else. My son is calling to me from the porch, breakfast is ready and the day will be a good one.
I open the door and can hear the dog barking and running back and forth anticipating my arrival. I can hear my wife talking to my son. I take off my helmet and earphones, stowing them away for the next ride. I feel the post ride stiffness in my legs that lets me know that I pushed just hard enough. Enough to hurt, but not enough to cause any injury. I feel the endorphin rush subsiding, but not the positive feelings it brought. There must be some way to accurately describe the post ride feelings I have, but the closest I can come to is in terms of Zen-like calm. After experiencing a version of the “no mind” I feel as if I still have problems, but they are surmountable. Things will work out. A company will offer me a job soon. Someone will read what I write, and it will connect. I have accomplished some of my goals, I can accomplish more of them. It just takes time, energy, and the willingness to keep pushing even when I feel discouraged. It is working on the bike; it will work in life as well.
That is why I ride.