The wind at your back

I decided today was Take Your Bike To Work Day and got a lesson in momentum.

When I watch professional cycling, I am awed by how powerfully they ride their bicycles, especially in the final few miles of a race when. The pace accelerates. The riders stretch out into a long, skinny line. They seem to fly, barely anchored to the Earth by their skinny tires, slipping through the air, power oozing from their legs, pushing faster and faster to the finish.

As an amateur and a working professional, I am not delusional enough to think I could ride like a professional. I've stood on a bike-race sideline as the pros screamed by. I've officiated races on my motorcycle where I've had to rip out all the power my 1300 cc Yamaha could give me to stay ahead of the pros as they fought each other to be first through a decisive corner. I've witnessed pro-cyclist power up close and it's an experience beyond my own abilities. Except for very rare occasions when I am on a ride and feeling good and strong and get a glimpse.

Today was one of those occasions.

I brought my bike to work today and a gap in my schedule allowed me to take off for ninety minutes at noon. A solo lunch ride. From our office in Goodyear, there is a bumpy route that heads south for five miles then loops through a neighborhood.

The cycling gods immediately demanded I pay penance for my recent lack of commitment to cycling by boiling up a nasty headwind. It was a hard start but I persevered; my legs felt good. Still nothing like a pro experience, but manageable. I was but a humble servant of the cycling gods pedaling my route, getting in my miles.

Ten or so miles in, the route loops around a man-made lake then heads back north. As soon as I made that turn for home, the gods paid me back for my loyalty. The wind I'd fought for 40 minutes was now squarely at my back. The gradient was also tilted in my favor; one or two degrees downhill.

The result of these elements aligning was that I flew on my bicycle. My legs spun furiously. I was able to sit in my biggest gear, giving the bike all the power it needed to speed along close to thirty miles per hour. For a long, beautiful stretch, I felt like a pro heading for home, all power and push and speed. All hail the mighty tailwind!

A mile or so from the office (and the end of the ride) I slowed down and contemplated the incredible natural benefit of a tailwind. Were tailwinds just pure luck? Could I take credit for the speed at which I rode that back half of my ride? Did I ride that fast? Or does Mother Nature get the credit (and I an asterisk)? Could I truly be happy it gave me its advantage?

I had just about downplayed my role in the awesomeness of my ride when something clicked; this tailwind gave me the experience of a pro ride because I was ready to take advantage of it. It didn't just blow me home. I had to pedal. My heart had to pump. My lungs, my muscles, my blood, all had to do its work. That 30 miles-per-hour ride wasn't all me, but it wasn't all tailwind either.

In a way, it was a deserving push; a benefit I had to be prepared to take advantage of. I have been riding. I have been eating better. I have planned to take on new cycling challenges and working to prepare myself to be ready by summer. I soared today, not because of the tailwind, but because I and the tailwind came together and the perfect moment in time.

It was a reminder that tailwinds will come, but you can only ride them to the greatest experience on a bike if you're fit and ready to fly when they give you a boost.

What about you? Where are the tailwinds you could encounter in your life? And will you be ready to take advantage of them?


When Opportunity Knocks

Not an ideal way to start a ride.

Opportunity presents itself in many ways.

Today, the opportunity was a flat tire before I even made it to the start of the group ride. The opportunity was to get creative on how to solve this problem without supplies or tools on hand. It was to decide whether to give up before the ride started, or find a way to get my miles in. It was the opportunity to decide that my goal for the week was more powerful than this temporary setback. It was the opportunity to chase the group, no matter how far off in the distance they seemed, taking shortcuts and whatever I needed to connect with my friends.

Opportunity. Where is it in your life right now?


Inside the mind’s of the world’s elite mountaineers

Mark Synott’s The Impossible Climb is a testament to what a human being can achieve if he’s willing to allow his own vision, develop his natural talents and skills, and challenge himself to life-or-death risk. It’s about the small but focused group of people who rock climb the towering, seemingly impossible walls of rock that pepper this beautiful planet of ours. Specifically, the book tells the story of rock climbing as a sport, culminating in the now famous free climb (ropeless and without any mechanical or safety aids of any kind) up the Freerider route of El Capitan in Yosemite by Alex Hannond.

The route, laid down in the past few decades and achievable by only a handful of human beings with safety and climbing aids, had never been free climbed. Immortalized in the film Free Solo, the climb epitomizes the way that some human beings are able to perform extraordinary (almost otherworldly) physical and mental achievements. Unlike the film, Synott’s book is not solely focused on what people in the tight-knit climbing community call the greatest physical achievement of any human being ever - Hannond’s El Capitan free solo. The book instead pulls at multiple threads to help the reader fully understand Hannond’s accomplishment.

Synott, a long-time member of North Face’s elite climbing team and contributor to National Geographic magazine opens the book by bringing us along as he discovers climbing at a young age. He helps us understand some of the technical terms, such as the way a climbs difficulty is measured and rated. He teaches us the difference between top-roping (climbing with the protection of a rope in place), leading (climbing ahead of the rope and placing it into bolts [hooks] drilled into the rock by prior climbers along the way), on-sight climbing (leading a climb successfully without ever having seen it before), and free climbing (climbing with no aid). He shares how some of the pitches (most long climbs are broken into the named section about the length of one climbing rope; Freerider, for example, is thirty-five pitches and takes an average of four days to complete forcing climbers to sleep in hanging bivouacs on the side of the mountain).

Synott also carefully builds our understanding of the history of climbing in Yosemite park, from the early pioneers who mapped the first routes, to the scruffy gangs of climbing maniacs who scoured and scored new paths up every massive wall in the valley in the past five decades.

Synott also does an amazing job of bringing the reader inside the dynamics of the ultra-climbing community. We see competition among styles of climbing (European alpine climbing versus the technical free-climbing typical in the Yosemite-bred clans). We learn of the unwritten rules that climbers operate under (when Hannond is on Freerider, for example, there are numerous anchors and bolts he could have used to make his climb easier and safer, but he eschews them all for the noble pursuit of actually pitting his human self against the natural features of the mountain).

We also learn the risks. The book describes numerous accidents and death; friends and colleagues lost to the sport. The book also takes us inside the risk, reward, safety, and purity arguments climbers have. All this groundwork lays down a foundation of respect and tension for the challenge Hannond took on for himself.

The book is a great read. Peering into the minds of this group of exceptional human beings is a humbling experience for an average person like myself. And even though the ending (Synott’s witness of Hannond’s great climb and Hannond’s ultimate triumph) is no surprise, the journey the book takes you on to fully appreciate what you witness at the end is well worth it.


Get To Know Your Balance Sheet

I stew sometimes in my own stress about money and finances. I grimace at the debt I’ve taken on to fuel a life of comfort when all I’m really doing is being lazy and impatient about waiting for my hard work to pay off. I spend loosely to buy my family’s love and attention when the truth is that I am not responsible for their happiness and their love and affection is not a condition for mine. I carry the heavy burden of being the primary breadwinner in our family and claim sometimes that work steals time away from my being able to achieve personal fulfillment and self-identity when the truth is that work (the application of my time, energy and mental power to tasks and goals that I am actually good at) is the very core of my identity and what makes me most happy.

Woe is me, I say. Woe is me. I volunteer to take on the perceived stress and burden of carrying the money load in our family so I can struggle in full view to those in my line of sight about how hard my life is. It doesn’t take much peeling of the onion to challenge these dumb assignations I’ve taken on.

Money is the easiest perceived hardship to peel back because I view money most of the time through a too-simple and painful lens (I have almost all the classes of debt available to the modern American consumer and as far as I can tell, all of my friends and acquaintances are much, much better off than me).

But, I earn a really good living. The fact that I use it all up as quickly as it comes in is a source of embarrassment to me, but it doesn’t change the fact that I earn well. Meaning, I have a chance to correct things. My situation is not hopelessly upside down. I just need to gain focus on what I want from my relationship to money, both in general and specifically to the money that flows through my hands in everyday life.

When I’m stressed, it’s because I’ve convinced myself that money is a negative thing, that it’s limited, that I am not worthy of it, that I have traded off tomorrow’s income to service debt to satisfy yesterday’s urges. I want money to be a positive thing in my life though. And when I examine that question deeply, I realize that money can just as easily be a means to a positive end as is it a whip and an anvil today. Money can be a way to gain peace of mind, security, and, above all, access to the kind of freedom I want for my daily life (the freedom to choose what I invest my time and energy into, time to serve others, time to pursue creativity, time to explore the amazing world we live in).

The beauty of a balance sheet

Luckily, as a person who runs a small business, I have been exposed to the accounting principles of profit and loss statements and balance sheets. Be re-focusing my personal finances using these business tools, I have been able to put an objective perspective on my personal finances.

The balance sheet is the most beautiful thing in all of accounting. Simply put, a balance sheet is a calculation of your net worth. It is the express value of everything you own, minus everything you own. It makes no regard to how well you manage money, no regard for how big of an earner you are, and no regard for how you look to the outside world. It doesn’t calculate how loved you are or how smart you are. All it does is issue you a score, a beautiful, objective score, that states what you are worth.

When I think about the complex and muddy mess I sometimes make of finances (when I lose perspective), a balance sheet can clear up the picture. Rather than focus on credit-card debts, loan balances, or anemic bank accounts, the balance sheet adds everything up to a neat sum that cannot lie to you. It can’t tell you things are good because you drive a BMW if you owe $50,000 on it and could only sell it $35,000. Conversely, it can’t tell you that you should be suicidal about your debts and obligations if you own a rental property outright and could liquidate to pay off the debt that is a psychological burden to you.

In my case, despite my best effort to wreck myself financially, I actually have a positive net worth. On paper, I could liquidate everything I own, wipe out every debt I have and have a bank balance I could live off for a while. It’s a small positive net worth (so nothing to worked up about), but it creates a new foundation for my relationship with money. It puts me on the good side with money. It sets me up to view my finances positively, like something I want to nurture, feed, and grow. It informs the decisions I make as money flows through me from my ability to earn a decent living to make my balance sheet (and my financial position) safer, more secure, and bigger.

Do yourself a favor. Write out a balance sheet. Google it if you need help, but do it. Know where you stand. So when you’re thinking about your financial position (positively or negatively), you’re using the truth and not some story about money and wealth and your right to it in the terrible and untruthful way you’ve been taught.

52 Days of Paleo, Day 35

I skipped breakfast today, substituting coffee sweetened with raw honey for a proper meal. I made up for it at lunch though with a plate full of scrambled eggs, bacon and sauteed onion, sweet potatoes, spinach, zucchini, and bell pepper. Dinner was leftover taco-seasoned ground turkey and refried beans in corn tortilla shells with shredded cheese, spinach, and Tapatillo sauce. I snuck in some peanut-butter flavored M&Ms and Whoppers as a snack while watching a movie with my wife in the evening. No exercise today (I am just about back from a nasty batch of either food poisoning or intestinal distress that knocked me on my ass for most of the week).


Don’t eat your feelings if you feel bad

Breakfast of Champions.

52 Days of Paleo, Day 24

I never realized how many of the negative traits I'm trying to break in myself were borne purely of habit, or how much those habits were triggered by discomfort, or anxious or fearful thinking until I started to take control of what I ate.

I towed my motorcycle on a trailer behind the RV for our road-trip/vacation last week. I’m a competent motorcycle rider. A motorcycle was one of my first vehicles when I was a teenager and only switched to cars full time when I met and married Keli. I most recently came back to motorcycling five or so years ago. I’ve ridden hundreds of times, including one two-thousand-mile, week-long adventure up the California coast and a trip to the Isle of Mann in the UK (famous site of intense, high-speed motorcycle racing). I say all this qualify what comes next.

We stayed overnight in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Because driving an RV around a town to take in the sights is inconvenient, I unloaded the bike. We went downtown. We ate at an interesting restaurant. Then after, not yet wanting to go back to the RV park and call it a night, I found a state park on the map just a couple of miles out of town and we went for a cruise.

The road was perfect for the motorcycle; it wove back and forth, gained elevation, and removed us from the city in minutes. With Keli on the back and the pleasant sweep of the bike through turns, I was In The Moment, absorbing the scenery, enjoying the open air, feeling the temperature drop, following the long shadows cast by the fading sun.

I spotted a deer off to the side of the road. For a moment, I thought about turning around, but the road called so I kept going. I slowed at the entrance to the state park trailhead, but again the road called (I knew that if I stayed on the road, we could go seven more miles to a ski lodge) so I kept going.

Then, in a flash, I spotted deer again. Not a solo traveler this time, but a family of five or more. They stood just off the road to our right as we passed. Heads turned as we cruised by.

This time, I didn’t hesitate. My thought process: Ease off the throttle. Pull in the clutch. Gently apply the brake. Shift down into second gear. Slowly engage the clutch and feather the throttle to keep the bike moving forward as I gently roll into a turn across the road.

I set my feet and juiced the throttle. I pulled the bars into the turn. But we were on an incline in the road. Maybe I misjudged the turn. Or maybe Keli and I shifted our weight in different ways at exactly the wrong moment. Or maybe my inside foot, the one I used to guide my balance, being further away than I expected because it was on the downhill side, slipped. Because the bike leaned. And grew heavy. I fought it for balance but momentum took over. Then the center of gravity shifted too quickly for my straining muscles and I tumbled off the bike and to the ground. I heard the bike crunch as it hit the asphalt. I felt Keli’s weight as she fell down onto me.


Unfortunately, there are a lot more scratches than this one ;-(

We landed safely away from the bike (it’s a Yamaha FJR1300, quite heavy, but with hard-sided touring panniers that gave Keli leg space to escape from getting pinned underneath when it hit the ground).

We were on our feet only after I took ten seconds to swear at myself). We took inventory of ourselves. Keli had banged her knee. Hard. She immediately knew it was going to hurt. Otherwise, thankfully, she was unharmed. I had a tender ankle and sensed stress and pressure in my wrists and shoulders from my strained attempt to keep the stupid think on its wheels.

The bike discarded its windscreen across the road like a can being shot off a fencepost. And there were (are) scratches all along the left side of the bike. But, with a little help from a passerby, I got the bike up and on its side stand and it started and ran just fine. The oil that leaked was from the fact that it had landed on its side (oil leaked from the cap, not from a crack in anything important). I was able to ride us back to the RV park. I then loaded the bike up on the trailer, where it would sit the rest of the trip.

Rather than physical pain, I felt emotional pain about the accident. It was a dumb mistake. I rushed the turn trying to catch the deer. I didn't wait until I was sure-footed. And even though I always wear a helmet, long pants and a long-sleeve denim shirt (at a minimum), and Keli always wears full protective gear and a full-faced helmet when she’s my passenger, you can’t put safety gear on pride and ego.

I walked to the nearest grocery store to buy an ice pack and a compression bandage to treat Keli’s ankle. On the way back, I stopped into Krispy Kreme Donuts and bought two of her favorite (glazed) and two of mine (Boston creme). We ate them while watching a movie on my laptop. I went straight to my two bad-habit safe spaces (junk food and the thoughtless overconsumption of video content) without even thinking about it. I was stressed and feeling bad and habit did the rest.

Intellectually, I’ve always understood that (for me) there was a connection between emotional discomfort and eating junk nutrition and consuming video content mindlessly. They are knee-jerk distractions from facing whatever makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to live that way. I would rather feel discomfort directly, and challenge myself to face it (and grow from it).

My 52-Day Paleo journey has caused me to look closely at the food I eat and take responsibility for it (and in turn, responsibility for the way I feel). I didn’t expect to see any impact outside my health and fitness, but the Paleo challenge is also opening me up to look closely at every aspect of my life where I live in a way that is not in alignment with my intentions, as this connection to the comfort I get from junk food and junk video.

Breakfast: Black coffee with raw honey, bacon, eggs, sweet potato, and bell peppers.

Lunch: A banana and some Boston Baked beans candy.

Dinner: Broccoli slaw with a boiled egg, half an avocado, and a sliced pear.

Snacks: Half a Base Culture Cashew Butter Blondie.

Exercise: Still not back on the exercise bandwagon. By the end of the week, I will start riding bikes again.