Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Backward glances ...
It's been a while. To be honest, I really haven't had a whole lot of motivation to write anything lately. Maybe it was burnout, or maybe I'm really just not as creative or clever as I like to pretend I am.
At any rate, I figured that with the new year and all it was time to get back on the horse and write something. My plan was to just summarize 2012. There certainly was a lot of material over the past year to make for a really long write-up -- there were plenty of goods (finishing 5th at SSAP, the whole SSUSA experience, a couple new bikes, and just all the time spent on two wheels), a few bads (the whole end-of-summer-body-going-to-shit thing comes to mind, as does the horrible Chris King rebuild nightmare) and everything in between. But then I started looking through my old posts for the year and a couple of things occurred to me. For one, since it's all there for the reading anyway, a summary would be just overkill. And the other thing? Well, I love history and almost every time I walk into a bookstore, I make a beeline for the history section. But what I love about history isn't a simple re-telling of facts and events. What I love is the intangible elements of history -- the stuff of interpretation, the motivations and the long term ramifications of those facts and events. In fact, my favorite theme of all history is what I'd call the "unseen outcomes". And there are always unseen outcomes. The echoes of events that reverberate down through time can change the significance of those events, especially when those echoes were completely unexpected. Examples abound through time -- one very obvious one in more or less recent U.S. history would be Prohibition. Intended as a way to stop the perceived immoral impacts of alcohol on the general public, the reality turned out to be something very different - Prohibition instead created an atmosphere that turned organized crime from a parochial problem into a national concern, and created real health dangers by pushing something that could be regulated by law into an underground world where profit was all that mattered.
My point is: unintended outcomes can be found in almost any historical analysis, whether it's on a global scale or on a individual level. Think about your own life for a moment -- when you look back, can you see how certain decisions you made led you to where you are today, and if those decisions were made differently perhaps you'd be somewhere -- or even someone - else now?
I believe those moments happen all the time to all of us. We make decisions and participate in events that lead us down a certain road, the destination of which we probably can't fully perceive. And so, to mix things up a bit, I thought it would be kind of cool to apply that thought process to the last year and see if I can take something more than "I had a good time riding my bike" from 2012. But if I come back to that realization and nothing more, I think I'd still be okay with calling this past year a success.
As I was looking back through earlier posts, I came across one that really stuck in my head. It had to do with the notion of quality of life and how important this sport is for me in advancing my own. And I think that's a great place to start when considering unintended outcomes. To be sure, I am sitting here today convinced that my life is better for the experiences I had in 2012. But what were the real outcomes of this year? As 2013 starts, I'm planning on racing less than I have in several years. I'm planning on trying some other things, even other sports (I started swimming regularly back in September and I'm really enjoying that.) I've told Joanna on multiple occasions that I want to devote more time to some of my other interests, and to discover new ones that the two of us can share. And I'm willing to spend more time off the bike to do so. Now, since these seem to be changes from where my head was year ago (I went into 2012 planning to train and race more than I ever had before), you might call the outcome of my year of riding "unexpected", especially since I've stated how important cycling is to my own perception of quality-of-life. And that's fair. But I don't think that the sport of cycling, and mountainbiking in particular, has diminished for me at all. In fact, it's probably more important than it ever was. I say this because, when I look at it now, I realize that the last year -- with all the races, experiences, people and places that come to mind when I think of riding in 2012 -- made me appreciate all the different things that an interest, hobby, or vocation can represent. But what 2012 brought into sharp relief for me was that when we really enjoy an activity or hobby, it is important to keep perspective on it. There were times this year when I really didn't enjoy the "stuff" that goes with racing -- the prep, the time away from Joanna, the early morning drives to faraway places -- and it felt like I was only going through the motions because I felt like I had to in order to be a "real" cyclist, whatever that means. And when I took the time to sit down and really think about it, what I came away with is that I have no desire to be a "real" cyclist if that means going to every race and not spending time with my wife and constantly making every ride about "training" instead of enjoyment. What I want cycling to be about for me is fun. Stress relief. Long rides that end in empty legs and smiles.
I've mentioned a lot of that before, and I hate to sound redundant so I'll just try to tie this back to the original theme. My retrospective on 2012 leaves me with a major unseen outcome. I set out to become a better rider in 2012, and I think I achieved that because I finished the year with a better perspective on what cycling is for me. Am I faster and stronger on the bike than I was a year ago? Maybe. I'm not really sure (my Garmin broke in August, so I haven't really had access to real data on that for the last five months.) But I'm definitely happier when I'm on my bike now than I was a year ago, and that's an outcome I'll gladly accept any year!
Happy new year, and here's hoping your 2013 brings you all the greatest outcomes, planned or not!