My alarm went off at 4:20 this morning. I got up, got my gear on, loaded up my bike and drove to Whitefish Bay. At 5:15, I usually roll out for a 35ish mile fast ride with a bunch of guys – but this morning the streets were empty. The forecast called for rain, maybe heavy rain, and it looked like no one was in the mood to get wet… except me.
I enjoy riding bikes, always have. There are a million reasons why, but only one that matters: I find my center on a bike. Sure, I like to be fit, I like to challenge myself, I like a lot of stuff about riding, but it is also the one place I do my best thinking. Not always, but often enough that I make it a regular part of my life hoping for that window of clarity on each ride.
For the past few years, my life seems to have been in a bit of a rut. Not necessarily a bad (or good) rut, just a bit like Groundhog Day. Wake up, ride my bike, go to work, come home, run the kids around, take care of homework, relax for 3 minutes, fall asleep, wake up, ride my bike… Sometimes I find it hard to just be in the moment. I’m sure I’m in the majority here, everyone has stress and responsibilities that can make each day much like the one before it, but it’s still a series of choices we all make.
This morning I arrived at the start of the ride, a light mist of rain falling down, and I waited. I waited for someone else to show up. I waited for someone else to follow. I waited for someone else to validate what I was doing here – 20 miles from home at 5:15am in the rain. But no one else came. I’ve heard that true character is measured by what you do when no one else is around. So here was that scenario; do I ride anyway, or just pack it in? What does it matter anyway? But, by thinking about that decision I realized that I was missing the point completely. I didn’t get up at 4:20 and drive across town in the rain for anyone other than myself. I was here because I wanted to be, I needed to be. So I rode. And it was the best ride I’ve had in years.
As I rolled out, my legs were tight. I rode to the Masters 123 race at the Milwaukee Mile from home on Saturday, raced and then rode home. Just shy of 60 miles round-trip, and the last 2 mile lap of the race was a hair under 28 mph. It was a great day and a great race, but I spent the next 2 days doing nothing and this morning I was stiff and sluggish because of it. I was riding my CX rig; a heavy, 1×9 Frankenbike with 28c tires and full fenders, so speed was not a concern. After a couple of miles, my legs started to loosen up and I started to settle in for the ride. As I did, my mind started to loosen up as well, and I felt a sense of relaxation and calm sweep over me. Within 5 miles I was in full-on daydream mode. A fork in the road caught my attention and I looked up only to realize that I had no idea where I was. I’ve ridden this route a hundred times and I didn’t recognize a thing now. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking about – writing a symphony, staring at the ocean, curing cancer – not a clue. It was a bit startling. I circled back and found the missed turn just a few blocks back. I had been floating along in that not-sleeping-but-not-awake state for at least a mile. Dangerous, yes, but this morning the roads were eerily quiet and I hadn’t seen a car since I left. I was completely lost in the moment, and I realized that it had been a long time since I had felt like this.
There are very few things in life, in my life, that can pull me entirely into a single point in time: the moment I looked into my wife’s eyes and said “I do”, the moments my children were born, the death of a loved one, etc. All of these are extraordinary events, and I have found that there are very few other times in life that I find myself NOT thinking about the future. I don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to live my life more like those moments. Instead, I find myself watching my kid’s school performance, but thinking about a report due at work the next day. Watching a funny movie with my wife on a Friday night, thinking about all the yard work we have to do in the morning. Celebrating any victory in life, but simultaneously looking ahead to the next set of obstacles. Life isn’t about tomorrow, life is about living – right now. Life is about being alone in a rain-shower on a cool Tuesday morning and realizing that there’s a house you’ve ridden by 100 times and you’ve never seen it. It’s about realizing that intent and action are 2 separate yet parallel universes. It’s about calling your parents or grandparents and asking them how their day is, even if that call is just a look toward the sky. It’s about loving what you do, or getting off that bus. It’s about being around people who you care about, that care about you, all the time. It’s about not waiting.
I didn’t make any life-changing decisions this morning, I didn’t solve any problems, but I didn’t wait. I got up and took charge of that hour and a half, and I lived within it. Tonight, when I get home I’m going to hug my wife and kids and I’m not going to let go until after they do, and I’ll be right back in that place I was this morning.