Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Return to Illinois

It takes on average 30-60 seconds of a conversation for me to tell new people that I am originally from Chicago.  It's a fact I take a great deal of pride in relaying.  There are purist who will remind me that I have never lived within the city limits; but for most, my identification as a Chicagoan, even though I grew up in a suburb, is appropriate.  So when, as in September, I had the chance to return to Chicago for work and bring my bike it was a happy occasion.

Heading north of Peoria through endless fields ready for the
harvest and tall enough to block a little wind
I've never identified myself as from Illinois.  The remainder of the state never laid claim to me, much like the fact that I never even thought of attending the University of Illinois.  Growing up my identification was always with Chicago, its majestic spires, and probably Notre Dame.  The remainder of the state seemed as distant a location as California or the moon.  So on this recent trip when my travels took me away from the strict confines of the city and put me on the open roads hundreds of miles from the towers that dominate the shoreline, I felt like I was discovering a new world.

I get into a rut sometimes.  It's an insistence on doing the same routes, the same workouts and no originality.  You wake up and get ready to face the day; but the eagerness to ride is a bit dulled because it has all become too routine.  The same can be said of a lot of things- from work to personal lives. Molds need breaking and repetition needs changing.
This year's winner of the most passionate Halloween
decorations contest.  I little too passionate for me

Rolling through endless fields of corn and soy and corn and soy I can get lost.  However, given the strict confines of the grid system of roads it's really not that hard to figure your way back to the nearest Hampton Inn.  When I let go of the confines of what I "must do" and where I "can go" in my riding I can find myself in some off the wall places.  These are definitely the places that I am not sure how I get to but I am glad that I have gone to.  For instance, among the farmland north of Peoria is a small town called Princeville.  Within that town, there was one house that was passionate about Halloween.  Ghoulish decorations from property line to property line, many of which were life-sized and quite life-like, some were disturbingly animatronic.

West of Naperville, just shy of redemption
The largeness of these decorations was matched only by the size of the smile on the homeowner's face when he saw me spin around and break out my GoPro to snap a few pictures.  If I thought his decorations were peculiar, I can only imagine what he must have thought about this spandex-clad titan who felt the need to roll by his house half a dozen times.  Then again, joy comes to me just in doing what others don't expect that I will do.  Behaving predictably is quite uninteresting.

Then there was the scene in Gridley north of Normal, which I swear are real places.  It was close to sunset when I spun through the town in the middle of an interval.  I could have blinked and the town would have passed by in-between breaths. I bumped across a railroad spur that linked an old warehouse to the main track line. In a split second I saw a flash of light from the corner of my eye and quickly twisted my head to see what I presume was a senior picture photo shoot with a young brunette.  Living in DC you probably wouldn't dream of the sitting-on-the-tracks-with-the-sunset-and-farmland image as picturesque, much less senior picture worthy or safe. However, growing up in the Midwest the image is highly sought after and undoubtedly is replicated hundreds and thousands of times this year.  

In either case, it's a slice of Americana that I forget about or, even worse, take for granted.  Of course, that's something that I cannot let myself do anymore.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Accountability and Training

It takes a moment of bravery to start anything and putting yourself out for critique requires a degree of ambivalence to consequences. I started this journal years ago without a purpose. Slowly a purpose evolved and then its importance to me faded. The desire to tell my story never vanished; more or less it simply faded into the background of those things that were otherwise deemed important at the time.

Took a big leap of faith and brought a bike with me to
Rio and discovered I could ride with monkeys there.
As I sit here on a cloudy and somewhat damp Fall day in Washington, D.C., I am looking at a forced day or so of training zone zero.  An illness stemming from the reality that one can only survive on adrenaline and espressos from Filter Coffeehouse & Espresso Bar for so long before stress, training fatigue and lack of sleep catch up to you.  Time off does not come easy to most type-A personalities but it hits me particularly hard.  I've been a competitive endurance athlete since I was 6-years old when my parents first tossed me into the deep end of a pool and said go swim.  In the nearly 3 decades since then I have had my share of victory and tasted the bitter pill of defeat.  What has remained constant during those 30 years has been the desire to wake up and attack what drives-- the thrill of competition.  Time off gives you the ability to think about that desire and to find a quiet moment of introspection that is often missing in my otherwise hurried existence.  I, like many others, need to slow down and relax.  I've been told I'll live longer that way.

We care the most about the things six inches in front of our nose.  Those things that were right there in front of me grabbed my attention and over time the desire to write and to record my history just didn't seem important. A short time ago I met a fellow American when we were in Brazil.  He told me of a new company he had started called Before-I, the idea of which resonated with me. While this was not necessarily the message he intended to leave me with; what I took away from our conversation was a renewed sense of self-accountability.

Riding in a legitimate rain forest in Rio.  Something as a
cat 5 in Kansas 10 years ago I never dreamed I would do.
There are an incredibly few people that you will meet in life that will make you be exceptional. In fact, few people in this world will make you strive for mediocrity. The drive for exceptional stems from within. This journal has always been about one aspect of my life- bike racing.  I've endeavored to leave the other parts of my existence free from public view; but that's not fair and frankly it can be rather uninteresting.

One of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever
seen from the heights overlooking Ipanema.
As such, from now on out, my ambition is public, my success is public and so is my failure.  A full accounting of these affairs is what I owe to myself.  There is no motivation quite so powerful as self-accounting.  This is of course quite different from self-doubt which kills motivation and strips the mirth from many a passionate endeavor.  The knowledge that you must be able to face yourself in the mirror and in viewing that image recognize it for all its characteristics-- it's perfections and imperfections.

At times I will rant and at times I will rave; but on these pages I will lay bare this story and not because I crave anything.  Rather because I seek that peace which comes from stopping for a moment and taking a deep breath to take in the occasional sunset or dramatic vista before diving into a harrowing descent or lining up for a twilight criterium.