“You’re in an awkward position,” he said.
“You started off writing about cycling in the South Bay. Racing. Group rides. People striving, achieving, failing, trying again. Doping. Equipment. BWR. Local drama. Now you’ve shifted into something else and you’ve left a lot of folks behind.”
This guy knows me pretty well so I listened carefully. I wondered about all the other things I’d written about over the last decades, like politics, travel, culture, language, literature, all tied to cycling and hardly anchored in the South Bay. “It’s not awkward for me.”
“No. It’s awkward for other people, though.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Change has two phases of awkward. Awkward for the person changing, and then later awkward for those who have to deal with the changes. it’s true I was in an awkward position, but not really for the reasons you said.”
“What was it?”
“I suppose it started when I quit drinking. That was almost six years ago. Alcoholism creates deep neurological pathways that reinforce profound coping mechanisms. In bad words, alcoholics drink to escape their problems. In neutral language, they drink to cope.”
“And once you no longer have that coping mechanism you turn to others. Some are far better than drinking, but some are worse.”
“Yours seem to be better.”
“I think they are. But sobriety set in motion a lot of changes, and the older you are, the more profound those little ripples of change turn out to be.”
“The obvious ones are that you lose your drinking buddies and all of the social things that go along with drinking. You become a lot more alone. But the less obvious ones are the way you start to change as a person. Sometimes it happens quickly but often it’s slow, and usually a lot more painful and hard to do than even the daily recommitment to sobriety.”
“When the alcohol veil drops away you can either look at what’s behind the veil or you can put up another one. I chose to look at what was really there, and it’s taken me years to figure out how I’m going to cope with what I see.”
“Anger, mostly, and the way it infects daily life, and the way it draws me to activities that are quintessentially competitive.”
“What does competition have to do with anger?”
“I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but it seems like when you’re competing you’re trying to beat someone, and it’s impossible to have that mindset without ginning up some anger. Anger at getting shelled, fear of losing, anger at the way the other person is whipping you, or trying to whip you, insecurity about where you’ll stand if the other person wins, about what you’ll be left with. All the standard things that go along with victory and defeat.”
“Dude, we’re talking about group rides populated by old men in spandex.”
“Different people compete for different reasons, I guess. But I was able to zero in on what was making me tick. And I was able to break free of it, at least for now.”
“Just seems like you’re suddenly down on what you used to be such an integral part of.”
“I’m not down on it. Phil Tomlin, who worked at Freewheeling Bicycles in Austin for almost thirty years, always said he couldn’t understand how people who made their living in the bike biz suddenly became vociferous critics when they left it for other lines of work. He thought that if you made a living out of something, whether or not you ultimately left, you owed it to the bike shop to at least acknowledge all that it had done for you. He was right. Biting the hand that fed you? That’s poor form, to put it mildly. But it’s worse form to continue with something that no longer has meaning for you.”
“You might feel different if you ditched those long pants for a couple of hours and did the Donut, for old times’ sake at least.”
“I might. And I might feel different if I ditched the ice water for a pint of Racer 5. But part of change is not waxing over-nostalgic about the past. Do what Phil Tomlin said, which is to acknowledge what the past did for you, and I’d add, acknowledge what it didn’t. Then act accordingly.”
“We’re doing a special ride up the Switchbacks to help people PR the climb. You look like you’re going pretty good right now. It might be a way to give back, sit in the rotation, do a hard effort, help some kid or some grandpa crack a new time barrier. Not for you. For him. Or her.”
He was talking to me.
But I’d already left.
Haven’t subscribed yet? Maybe it’s time! Your $2.99/month keeps the pedals turning, the shutter snapping, and the pedals cranking. Please Go ahead and hit this “subscribe” link. Thank you!