At least school is finally done for the year for Lee. Photo from flickr via KB35

At least school is finally done for the year for Lee. Photo from flickr via KB35

Lee Waldman has talked a lot lately about his off-season motivation issues. It’s been a tough year for him with work, and he’s finally got a few weeks off to reflect on why he still manages to ride his bike.

by Lee Waldman

I’m done teaching for the year, finally! I can’t think of a year when I was more ready to say goodbye to a group of young adults as I was this year. They were truly the most challenging and exhausting group of students that I’ve ever taught.

For me, one of the most beautiful things about riding my bike is that it’s always been a venue for me to leave the rest of my day-to-day existence behind. On the bike, I can forget about what’s gone poorly during the day and recharge. This past school year for the first time in my life as a teacher, the only thing that got me on the bike most days was innate stubbornness, pure and simple. If I wasn’t a Taurus, the bull astrological sign, I would have packed it in a long time ago and possibly taken up drinking. But I didn’t. I persevered even when I was mentally and physically so drained that I questioned my sanity in even trying to ride, let alone race.

But it’s over now, at least for the next 10 weeks. I can look forward to large blocks of time to turn the cranks mindlessly. Slowly, I’ll let go of this past school year and miraculously, about a month from now, I’ll find myself ready for the next. That is another one of the beautiful things about riding for me: the way that its simple, repetitive nature tends to put the rest of the world into its proper perspective. It’s going to take some time this summer. I can feel that already, but I’m putting my trust in the process that’s served me well every summer for the past 16 years, and I know that in August I’ll be ready to go again.

In the meantime, I’ll do some racing – mostly short track and endurance races. I stay away from racing on the road these days. It just isn’t as much fun as it once was. The vibe isn’t the same with the road community as it is with the riders who focus on racing in the dirt. There’s still that bit of insanity attached to the act of taking an expensive piece of machinery and putting it through the torture chamber of sand, mud, gravel, et cetera. It’s that same insanity that prompts us to put our bodies through similar tortures for fun and with smiles on our faces. Well, at least we smile when we cross the finish line.

Because when we’ve finally negotiated all of the obstacles, we can celebrate the fact that we’ve taken a risk, risen to a challenge, and somehow come out the other side as victors. We may not have crossed the finish line first. The winners have most likely cleaned up and changed clothes and put their bikes back on the racks before we even see the finish line, but that really makes no difference. We’ve spent that time exploring that place within us that keeps us going even in the face of adversity. The most beautiful thing about competing on a ’cross bike or a mountain bike is that for most of us, the primary challenge is the individual one. Can I do this? Can I ride this section that scared me to death last month, last week, last year? Can I stay on that wheel that disappeared in front of me regularly last season?

I read a short article the other day about how a group of political prisoners who were prohibited from talking with one another found alternative ways to communicate. They “spoke” with each other through sign language and even by tapping on the sides of their cells in some cases. They found ways, even in the darkest of circumstances, to continue to be human.

None of you who are reading this column right now are in the situation that those men found themselves in. But every time you get on your bike, you find ways not only to explore your physical limits, but your mental limits as well. You are, in essence, celebrating the human spirit. If that last statement sounds a bit like hyperbole, think about it for just a minute. Think about how many people you know who don’t challenge themselves, who never explore their limits, who don’t honor their physical and mental selves the way that you/we do. Are we better than they are? No! We’ve simply made different choices for ourselves. Choices, I hope, that leave us as stronger human beings.

If it doesn’t kill us, it will make us stronger. I remind myself of that almost daily in cycling and in life. And I know that if I can apply that philosophy in one part of my life, I can call upon that reserve of mental toughness to make it through all kinds of obstacles – most of which are higher and more challenging than a 40 centimeter barrier.

I feel like I may be rambling a bit here and if so, indulge me because, as you know, cycling is primarily a metaphor for how we live our lives. It allows us, no, it encourages us to celebrate the vast potential that each of us carries within us. Every time we kit up, strap on our helmets and roll away from safety, we are putting ourselves in the position to call upon those reserves of intentionality that set us apart. For me, it comes down to my unwillingness to give in to the calendar. My birth certificate says that I’m 62-years-old this year. My stiff muscles agree most mornings. My head refuses to believe it and so I dutifully train every day.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to wake up and ride from my house in West Denver to Vail to meet my wife. I’m a bit nervous about it, to be honest. It’s a long ride over three mountain passes. I don’t need to explain to you why I’m doing it because I know that given the opportunity, you would do it as well. It’s simply one more way that I can remind myself that life is worth living.

OK. Enough philosophizing. Go ride your bikes.