Last Saturday, I stood in front of a group of young people and we talked about planes, now I’m on one. Since then I’ve travelled literally and metaphorically a long way. A week ago I was lecturing in Gernika, teaching kids about the past so they’ll make a better future. That and trying to keep them awake so they leave their study abroad course with something other than a hangover. We spoke about the failure of the “democratic” powers to help the Spanish Republic, about the fact that you can destroy a town with aeroplanes but you can’t destroy a nation despite decades of oppression. We spoke about the power of a painting and the weakness of a state. I really enjoy opening up the minds of young people to the past, and encouraging them to reconsider their own position and biases. I didn’t realize how much I missed teaching until I sat down with them afterwards and talked about the questions they had, about what street art means, about why we have 3 hour lunch breaks and, predictably enough (thanks google) why on earth I got into a confined space with an angry cow.
Then I got in a crappy “pearlescent” citroen xsara and drove 5 hours, much of it in my “team issue” boxer shorts (hi viz Calvin’s from a market in ho chi minh city) due to an interesting quirk of the car’s wiring which seems to redirect heat into the driver’s seat. This makes toll booths an interesting exercise. Despite looking a little bit (ok a lot) like a member of the village people. I enjoyed the drive. I went across Rioja, Navarre and Catalonia spotting Osborne bulls along the way and rocking out to my 80’s megamix cassettes (yup my car is THAT cool). I arrived in Senan late, but not too late to take a walk and watch some fox cubs fighting in the fields outside the house. On the drive it occurred to me that I’m rarely happier than in a shit car, with a bike in the back and a sofa, floor or sleeping bag somewhere to sleep on. I guess I’m lucky but if you can be happy in your situation, even if it’s not the one you were raised or supposed to desire I truly believe that you can find joy anywhere, and if you can’t you need to change something!
The hext day was a big money crit in Reus, I’d driven back in the hope of landing a small slice of the big pie. Had the race invite included any information on the course, distance or format, I wouldn’t have bothered. Lining up for a 1k course with 2 180 degree turns and the last rider eliminated each lap took more than one coffee. I was nervous and my bloodsugar kept trending down every time I tried to warm up. Nonetheless, on the line I began to feel a bit better, I jokingly held onto a friend’s saddle and passed around a bag of the cola flavoured powerbar chews, only later did I realize that I had been storing these in the leg of my skinsuit and perhaps anyone who had seen where they had come from would appreciate the gift a little less.
We received a benedicition, or something like that and then someone fired a pistol. After confirming that I hadn’t inadvertently regressed back into the 1930s where I spend half of my week I set off in pursuit of the guys who’d started clipped in. pulling up hard on the pedals I proceeded to effect a fantastic pirouette, somehow keeping the bike upright I sprinted back into the group but my left pedal wasn’t having any of it. I was the victim of another second republic phenomenon, the lockout. After some kindly pushes from the crowd and a fair bit of torque from my right leg I managed to survive one elimination, force my foot into the pedal and then yank it out again, getting intimate with my top tube in the process. Game over then.
Later I lined up for a second race and, for the first time I can remember I didn’t really want to be racing my bike, and so I didn’t. I took the keys from my car, grabbed a few honey packets and headed for the hills above the city. Normally I like to test myself on the 17km climb but I just didn’t feel like it. TO be honest, ever since that race on Sunday I have no desire to get on my bike and challenge myself. All week I’ve been riding to coffee shops, looking for motivation and coming back with nothing. I wasn’t experiencing the joy I normally get every time I rip down my street, I wasn’t using the speedbumps as launch ramps, I wasn’t able to enjoy what I was doing in the moment I was doing it and that’s something that is unusual for me.
On Thursday I went for a ride, just because I go for rides. For an hour, I battled the urge to stop at every coffee shop even though I’d given up caffeine to give my adrenals a bit of a break. I was getting that tired and wired feeling that I know is the start of a slippery slope that leads to burnout and I wasn’t loving it. I was getting frustrated, my gears were slipping and rubbing and I couldn’t fix them. I was looking for a shop but I couldn’t find it. I kept finding the way blocked. Eventually I hopped off my bike and over a wall down a side alley. Just like that I popped out, over a bridge and into a meadow and within minutes I was out of the city and rolling along a gravel path, I was on my own and the sun was shining and, after a long time looking I found my mojo again. Riding down that path felt like being a kid and riding my bike after school or home from work, I ripped out a few skid stops and found some singletrack trails and forgot all about training and racing and for however long it was I just enjoyed playing on my bike. After a while I came across the shop, got my gears sorted (the chainguide was rubbing) and a coffee, I bought an orange from a roadside stand on the way home and ate it by the river. I got a puncture as well, if that had happened on Tuesday I’d have flipped out but I didn’t I fixed it and got an upper body workout for free thanks to my lipstick sized pump.
Sitting there with my bike propped against a tree I broke out my gel chews as the pumping had sent me hypo. A group of little kids passed by and looked at me like little kids tend to, without any of the scruples that their elders have. I proffered the cola flavoured chews to the nearest little person and promptly created something approaching a mini riot as half sized people stampeded in my general direction. Feeling a little bit sheepish I hopped back onto the bike and put some distance in between myself and the scowling Catalan nursery teacher. I always think those people must have the patience of saints, but apparently I had exhausted it.
The point of all this is summed up in the poster I saw on my ride home that day, “do what you love and love what you do” it’s easy to get wrapped up in watts and kilograms and uci points and palmares. It’s easy to forget that what I do every day is the same as I did when I was 8, I go outside and play on my bike and sometimes that needs to be the goal. This is all fun and games but often we forget how to play games and forget to make them fun. It’s getting to the middle of the season and if 3x20 doesn’t sound that enticing now might be the time to go exploring and practice some wheelies instead. Don’t stop riding our bike because you feel obliged to race it race it because you love riding it. Do what you love and love what you do.