I'm not sure I would agree with Krabbé's assessment of the lack of corruptive influences, but I can't imagine my life without cycling—or maybe I can. So empty. So meaningless. So much more disposable income.
At times, cycling is a microcosm of life, but simpler and with more snack breaks. Conversely, it can imitate the human experience at its absolute worst. Regardless, there are plenty of analogies that can be drawn between the sport of cycling and this thing we call life.
There is always someone.1 of 9
Back in high school, there was that girl—the girl every other girl wanted to be and every boy wanted to date. Everything about her was impossibly beautiful, from her bouncy Barbie hair to her gymnast body to her perfectly manicured toes. And, just in case you thought you could hate her with every fiber of your pimple-ridden soul, she had the audacity to be really nice. I knew a girl like that in school. Two, in fact. They were identical twins.
Needless to say, being friends with them was hard because every boy we encountered found me, by comparison, as interesting as a piece of drywall. Engulfed in self-pity, it was easy to forget the kids who had it even worse, huddled in the corners of the cafeteria with their turtlenecks, braces and pleated jeans, waiting for the next barrage of wedgies from the senior boys volleyball team. (Before you feel too sorry for them, though, keep in mind those kids are all millionaires now and the volley-bros wash their cars.)
In life, there is always someone smarter, better-looking, younger or richer. In cycling, there is always someone faster, fitter and with more expensive gear. Feel free to hate them, but you can also take some satisfaction in the fact that there is always someone slower, less fit and with crappier equipment who hates you just as much.
More is more. Until you barf.2 of 9
Glass half full? No thanks, I'll take the full glass and a healthy refill while you're at it. With the obvious exception of Keith Richards, none of us are going to live forever, so go ahead and have that cake, climb that mountain and carpe the hell out of every diem.
However, with that philosophy in mind, we must also remember the risks associated with unbridled excess, both in life and in cycling. Down a full bottle of fifty-year-old scotch or spend a weekend snowed in with your extended family, and you'll understand that too much of a good thing can turn ugly really fast. Likewise, if you overtrain or go out too hard in the first laps of a race, you'll experience that same shift from pain to misery. Excess can be too dangerous, and moderation can be too boring. But excess in moderation could feel just right.
Stuff Happens.3 of 9
In spite of our best efforts, unexpected and unpleasant things will—either literally or figuratively—stop us dead in our tracks. They may come in the form of "corporate restructuring-don't-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out," or perhaps the "cleverly-hidden-pothole-the-size-of-a-kiddy-pool." Either way, when things go sideways, all you can do is pick yourself up off the pavement with some gratifyingly filthy expletives and steal the office stapler on the way out.
You get in what you put out.4 of 9
In life, it's easy to chalk up success to luck or fortune. Without any particular effort on their part, some people are born into wealthy families, blessed with godlike good looks or possess a freakish ability to solve complex algebraic problems. For the rest of us, we trundle along, thankful for the invention of Instagram filters and calculators. We work hard, because if we don't, things would go to straight to hell. We learn early on that if we don't study for exams, we will probably fail. If we don't clean the house, rodents the size of house cats will do it for us.
Similarly, unless you are among the extraordinarily gifted, if you didn't spend time in the saddle training and suffering, the outrage you feel after getting dropped and coming in dead last is probably misplaced. Both in cycling and in life, when you work hard and pay your dues, you will generally reap the rewards. (Those Instagram filters will still come in handy, though.)
Watch where you're going, not where you've been.5 of 9
If we're going to be figurative about it, there is always value in looking back to learn from our mistakes. But in general, both in cycling and in life, it is far better to forget that nonsense and simply pay attention to the road ahead.
Spend too much time dwelling on the past, and you'll find yourself lying awake at night reliving the time you demonstrated your twerking prowess at the office holiday party. It may also be tempting from time to time to take a look backwards while riding. It's a risky move that could have consequences far worse than that unfortunate Facebook video making the rounds.
Sometimes you need to stop and smell the roses.6 of 9
There is no denying the rush of going through life at full throttle, putting the pedal to the metal like Steve McQueen and outrunning mediocrity like a bad habit. At some point, however, you may find yourself careening out of control and overcooking turns or forgetting your wedding anniversary. Again.
In other words, not every ride should be about snagging Strava segments or improving your VO2 max. Turn off the computer once in a while, and just ride for the joy of it. Go for that relaxed group ride, and talk to the person next to you, even if they're sweaty and have snot on their face. Trust me—you'll have plenty of other opportunities to crank things up to 11.
Comfort zones are coffins.7 of 9
Five years ago, I had the fortune to win a trip to Italy that most road cyclists would sell a non-essential organ to take. Included in this Extravaganza Italiano were seven days of guided riding in northern Italy, climaxing in a private tour of the Campagnolo factory in Vicenza. My excitement was equaled only by the burning hatred of my insanely jealous riding buddies at home.
However, my elation quickly turned to panic when I saw the itinerary. Each day consisted of at least a hundred miles, with about a million feet more climbing than this prairie girl sees in a year. I almost bailed. Was the trip of a lifetime worth dying for? Of course, the answer was yes. It was an experience that, to this day, defies description. On this rollercoaster we call life, it's the terrifying-yet-defining moments that create the stories we will bore our friends with for the rest of our days.
There will be ups. There will be downs. Neither will last.8 of 9
It was the start of one of my first endurance races. I was fidgeting and fussing with my equipment and second-guessing every decision I'd made about training, gear, nutrition, hydration and anything else that could make the day a marathon of self-inflicted misery. One of the more experienced racers, noticing my anxiety, turned to me and gave this advice: "During the race, whether you are feeling great or terrible, don't worry. It won't last."
He was right, of course. Midway through the race, around the time I started having the "this is stupid, I'm done" conversation with myself, I remembered what he said and grudgingly stuck it out. Sure enough, a few minutes later the course turned, and I was sailing along with the wind at my back and a chipper ABBA song in my head.
If that isn't a metaphor for life, I don't know what is.