Tuesday, May 13, 2014

We Are the 99% of the Talent Pool

If you're a bike nut (and you must be some kind of nut if you're reading this) you can't go online these days without being bombarded by five or ten links a day to mind-blowing extreme biking videos. Guys riding skinny racing tires down the railing of a staircase, riding down an actual mountain goat trail in Italy that no one in their right mind would even hike up, guys riding the Iditarod trail on fat bikes in sub-zero weather, some dude in Wisconsin pulling an overnighter in a two-foot hammock on the top of a flagpole he rode up. (Don't go Googling that one, kids, I made it up -- but I made you think, didn't I.)

I was chatting with my physical therapist the other day while she manipulated my kneecap (which feels much better than it sounds). She, like me, is a middle-aged parent, a professional, and is passionately active. We were talking about growing older, learning our limits, and staying within ourselves--how hard it is to do and yet how important for long-term health and fun. We can't afford a month of poor sleep due to a stupidity-induced injury, there's too much at stake.

Sounds like she's had more luck dialing it back than I have, though. I mean, here I just turned 50, and I'm learning to mountain bike. Prudence was never a strength. My point today is, though, that there's more to it than just imprudence.

Every time I open Facebook or my feed-reader and find one of those links, I think, "Ooo, pretty pictures of bikes," and my finger reflexively clicks, like I'm the proverbial lab rat.

Suddenly, I'm immersed in the quest of some scraggly dude I never heard of as he pedals across Mongolia eating only native plants--because some other scraggly dude crossed Mongolia last year with a cache of Clif Bars, and, like, carrying food is so 20th century. There's a long shot of him crawling over a dirt road that stretches over the gorgeously barren steppes, straight to the horizon. The frigid sun glints off the camera lens. Sparse guitar licks echo with aching loneliness. The guy must be some kind of monk or insane asylum escapee. What a hero! What an iconoclast! No compromises! Extreme privation! YES!

Suddenly I feel small.

I start wondering if I could close my practice for a couple months, beg off from family duties with pleas of "sanity time," stuff some home-grown vegetables and a flagon of well-water into my handlebar bag, and ride to Hudson Bay. That's not outrageous, right? I mean, cyclists tour all the time!

Maybe I could stay a couple months up there, out of radio contact, just long enough to see the Northern Lights, just me. Yeah, that sounds perfect. Well -- I'd take my solar iPhone charger, of course. I mean, I gotta make a vid, dude, the sponsors ain't gonna pay me to dive head first off the grid, and besides, I have to show off my new 30-gram tripod and iOS 7 editing suite, and seriously? I'll need something to do on those 14-hour summer nights.

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Last Sunday--the only day of the week I could string together more than 30 minutes for a ride--I climbed on my road bike and did a 33-mile ride--not much, but enough. The elevation wouldn't even register on the local gazelles' Strava lists. I meandered, took a few "wrong" turns, and stopped at an undiscovered diner for an omelette, becasue it was past lunch time and I hadn't wanted to waste ride time by making sandwiches before rolling out.

I rode geriatrically for the first hour, babying the joints, and then began to pick up a little steam as the morning warmed up and the pollen count went down. My knees ached for much of the ride, but not enough to be considered a red flag, so I pressed on.

For all intents and purposes, I was another middle-aged weekend warrior, out there trying to have a little fun before life pressed in again.

Now, here's the thing I'm getting at: These extreme dudes, God bless 'em, I like watching their vids, because, actually, they're sick (as my nine-year-old would have it). But really and truly folks: we the people have got to find a way to celebrate and motivate the average rider. We are the 99 per cent! I know a lot of fast riders. Not one of them has ever ridden down a railing. And the folks I ride with sometimes struggle to finish the middling distances we attempt.

Yet what I say is, we are the heroes. No -- seriously! I appreciate the ridiculous amounts of time and talent that go into one of those videos. But we're the folks who force ourselves to focus on finishing the dishes/getting Junior to and from the soccer game/completing that work assignment, so we can leave for our (now shortened) ride unburdened by nagging guilt. We are the ones who ride through pain or weather, not because we're paid to, but because it matters so crazy much to us!

If anyone has any ideas how we can create a cultural shift to celebrate the rest of us, chime in. It's time that the folks who keep the bike industry rolling become the norm, not the low-self-esteem exception, in the biking public's mind.

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Mamatwogirls said...

I'm loving what I have seen on your blog. Found your spot from semi-rad. My husband, two daughters (ages 6 and 9) and I are leaving in 5 days to go on a 7 week bike tour. We backpack, hike, cycle....we dont climb, bike race, or do any extreme sports, and it sometimes feels like what we do is so mediocre compared to what others out there are doing. However, we are a family that loves being together, outside and we truly enjoy each other.

Do you listen to the Brave Monkeys Speak podcast? I think you would like it. Lots of how to live the life we "HAVE" to live while still doing the things we enjoy. "Become a Man" podcast is another good one.

Life is too short to not get out there doing what we like!

If you want to follow us on our bike trip my blog is www.raisingcatandbug.blogspot.com

Have a great summer!!

Velosopher said...

Jenny, I very much appreciate your appreciation. I often feel like the more philosophical posts on here go ignored in favor of the latest product review. I'll definitely check out those podcasts and your blog. Tons of good on you and your fam for making it happen in the fashion that works for you -- it's inspiring!

Emmy said...

Well in some sense we're doing it already - making riding to work seem like the norm. In our conservation grad work we learned that what we see our in-group do may be the biggest influence.

Other than that, I'd say make the roads safer. One of the reasons I no longer ride my bike to work (although I gave up my car, use the bus now) is that Rte 5 has decided to call their breakdown lane the "bike lane". Yeah that'll work, when everyone's trying to pass the left-turning car by swerving into the "bike lane" - while texting.

If it were more convenient, if we gave people the tools, more people would ride their bike. Would help if people could shower at work too. Who wants to arrive at work smelling like they just wrestled in 90 degree weather? ;)

Well I so appreciate you bringing up this topic. But whatever you do, don't try this:


Velosopher said...

Emmy, have to agree with all your points about making commuting easier. Would be a wonderful boon to cycling culture. Could we find a way to make bike commuting "beautiful," cool, something to get excited about in the media, the culture -- in addition to making it logistically easier?

Emmy said...

Could we find a way to make bike commuting "beautiful," cool, something to get excited about in the media, the culture -- in addition to making it logistically easier?

I totally agree, the media could do great things with this idea. As an invention, the bicycle is second in beauty only to its cousin, the wheel.

But would it change anything? I doubt it. You'd be better off using embarrassment and peer pressure. Have you seen the study from the researcher who gave little happy or sad faces to neighborhood residents based on their energy usage? That study convinced me.

For example; I tried to get my boyfriend to remember our reusable bags when he went to River Valley or Atkins. Years of this fell on deaf ears; until one day shopping he realized he was the ONLY person in the store who had to be given disposable bags. He was mortified. He claims he was surrounded by dirty looks and to this day he begs me to help him remember those cloth bags in the car at all times.

Compare that to when I bring in my travel mug. Everyone has their cute little change purses ready to pay, I have this unwieldy mug. Hi.....can you put my coffee in....this? Just fill it to here, you can charge me for a large, or a small? I guess. The baristas look at me like I just handed them an alien and people in line look like I'm taking too long. That does not encourage me to keep bringing it in. There is a learning curve to all this, and the businesses are not keeping up. It would be nice if they retrained their staff on how to deal with these new ideas and products so many of us are trying to use every day.

(On a lighter note, it is amusing to watch how everyone deals with our new world of eco-friendly products. I'm actually making a series of indie films about a similar topic).

If the average worker walked in and found he was the ONLY guy who was bringing his ugly, gas guzzling car into work and everyone else came in on their bike, you'd better believe that guy is going to gradually change. Add to that a bike path extension near his home and you have a winning combination.

I have some funny links to this effect but I forget how wonky eblogger is about html. Maybe I can get you the name of that study.

Emmy said...

For the sake of etiquette I should add that I realize you weren't referring to bike commuting in your original post. The answer about celebrating the average (non commuting) rider? I don't know, I'd rather have the non-extreme rider experience to remain a subculture. I get plenty of encouragement from fellow riders without being recognized on a larger scale. Can you just imagine the Pantene ads that would result from this becoming a celebrated trend?