If you're an older cyclist, you'll probably be able to relate to these thoughts. If you're younger, you'll probably brush it off, but some day, a long time from now, it might reverberate in your mind.
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, about cycling, why I do it, why I love it, why I hate it, what it gives, what it takes, what it costs financially, emotionally, and physicaly.
I guess it started back in the summer when one of my heros and a good friend got hurt very badly in a mountain bike race. At first the news was just that he hurt his back and DNF'd. Then it turned into "it's pretty bad, he broke his back and got moved to a different hospital". Then it turned into "It's bad, he needs surgery", finally it became "It's very, very bad. He's lucky not to be paralyzed and he may never ride again". I don't think thats gonna be the case now, 13 weeks out from the accident, but all the emotions went through us at those moments when we heard the news.
There have been lots of bad crashes this year for the old guys. Several have had to be airlifted to hospitals. A lot of people don't think of me as an old guy, myself included because I don't feel old, and I can still go pretty good, but make no mistake about it....I am one of the old guys. I'm a lot closer to 50 than I am to having been 40....and 40 aint exactly young.
I told my friend Matty O "I never felt old, until I hit the ground at Providence". Laying there injured, and not sure if you can get up, your years make themselves known in a hurry. One of my teamates said to me "It couldn't have been that bad, you were going uphill, how fast could you have been going?" I've thought a lot about that and here's the thing. I was going as fast as I could, but it was probably only about 12 or 15 mph. It was a slight uphill into some wooden stairs. I screwed up my footwork at the last possible second to transition into running and just completely lost control of my body. I planted it onto the wooden stairs, face first. I didn't hit my face, but here's the thing, remember when Dale Earnhardt got killed at Daytona in a crash that didn't seem all that bad considering what those guys routinely walk away from? They determined that it was the sudden complete stop of momentum that made the impact so devastating. My crash was like that. I landed on hard wooden stairs with my thigh, rib cage and shoulder, all on the left side. The impact was so shocking, as I hit the ground before I even realized I was in a crash. There was nothing soft to hit at all. There was no slide, no tuck, no roll, no protective clench, just absorbtion.
I didn't know it, but my season ended right there. For the next few weeks I battled the pain and forced myself to train. Breakfast was usually a nice bowl of Advil and work was pure torture at times. My back was already very bad before the crash and the lack of mobility just made it worse. I felt like an 80 year old for days and days, just pathetic. Still I rode, I told myself it was just temporary and that I'd been through much worse, but there was something else wrong out there in the wind. My mind was on all the guys that have been injured lately, how they'd fare in recovery and more importantly in old age. Suddenly it seemed like every car that passed me, missed me by mere inches....and they did. It's brutal being a cyclist in America, at least where I live. People are so mean spirited just because they don't like guys in lycra. They drive 4" from my left leg at 50mph in 3 ton SUVs, with nothing preventing them from giving me a lot more room. How many people have driven by me totally shitfaced? How many were texting and looked up at the last second and swerved around me? When is my number up? Not "if" but "when"? I began to analyze my hobby and I decided that a fair description of what I do on a daily basis is essentially "PLAYING IN TRAFFIC". Thats my hobby...."PLAYING IN TRAFFIC". Does that seem like a good idea to you?
Maybe this is just my moment. I've had them before. But right now I hate it. I hate cycling. I hate that every fucking skinny douchebag racing a bike is on drugs. I hate that that makes our sport as a whole a joke, a laughing stock. I hate that it's something that gets into your soul and takes over your life. I hate that you can be riding along 1 minute enjoying the ride, the wind in your hair, life in general, and in an instant it can all be wiped away. I hate that we feel like we have to keep up with the insanely expensive technology by buying carbon everything, only to see it break 2months later. Who the hell can afford this sport? Not me. Not any more. Despite what some people seem to think, I'm not a rich man, it's not like my future and my retirement are all set. This behavior of spending all on this sport is downright irresponsible, and frankly stupid. At least for me. Some guys don't have to worry because it's a hobby that isn't breaking the bank for them. Good for you, you've worked hard in life to put yourself in that situation and you deserve whatever you want. I'm not jealous at all, I'm envious and also happy for you. So many guys that have achieved financial success are fat slobs that don't appreciate it. Not in this crowd.
The more I think about all these things, the more it makes sense to me. How much is enough? Am I happy with what I've achieved? Is doing the same thing more and more better than doing it just a few times? What am I trying to prove? Wouldn't it be nice to just be normal? Do I like driving all over New England week after week, month after month, year after year? Do I like getting home with 2 muddy bikes on a Sunday night while trying to get ready for the week ahead? Do I wanna spend my vacation dollars on a trip to Madison WI in friggen January? I hear Aruba is nice that time of year. The more I think about this, the more I realize just how retarded all this is.
But....theres always a "but".
What if I can win Natz or win Worlds? That'd be pretty cool. It is pretty cool, I've done both, but you know what....who gives a shit? 15 or 20 people might care about that and I'm not even sure I'm one of them. Being good enough to do really, really well is almost a curse. It's just amateur, master's racing but at the top level you're racing guys that all prepare just like pros. It's a MASSIVE commitment to get to that level, let alone knock them all off on the big day. Last year at cross natz I finished 3rd. The 2 guys in front of me had both previously ridden in the Olympics. At worlds I was focused on beating the defending World Champ, Marc Druyts. I did, and the Belgian National champ too, Mario Lamenns, but still I was 3rd. Marc is dead now. YES DEAD!!! He was riding home from a late summer road race when his heart stopped beating. He was my age. Now he's gone. He had children. Do you think his children think "I wish Pappa could have done a few more races before he died"? Of course not.
I don't know where I'm going with all this, but I keep getting questioned about what I'm doing. The truth of the matter is, I don't know. But it feels good to get this out here. I'm sure people will be dicks and call me a pussy and every other fucking thing. Thats fine, I guess thats what the internet is for huh? Anyway, I don't care. Walk a mile in my shoes some day, some week, then judge me.