Master Your Ego Or The Road Will Humble You
by Kaldwell Grant ( ___fearlessleader___ )
I worship at the altar of pain. For me, the transition from something being fun to that same thing being the source of my distress is part of the allure of cycling. It’s why I prefer to ride long distances instead of short, punchy sprints. Out with only sparse traffic and my own inner monologue on these seldom traveled roads is as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever come. The ability to suffer well is what has set me apart. Today I am not suffering well. Maybe this is why sitting on a bench in front of a fueling station, 83 miles from home, sweating and trying desperately to catch my breath, I felt so utterly alone.
Growing up a black kid who was into anime and rock music, I was used to being the outsider. Becoming comfortable with that early in life prepared me for the sidelong glances that standing in queue to pay for groceries covered in head-to-toe lycra invariably bring. While my contemporaries were getting into sports or cars, I was digging through the back-issue bins at my local comics shop. All three of my brothers played football in school, I was on the Academic Bowl team. During school I carried one (of several) folders that I kept to write whatever happened to come to mind. Having my thoughts ordered has always been a strength. It has allowed me clarity of mind when others around me started to loosen the grasp on their calm.
Sitting on that bench, underneath shade that offered little relief, I got angry. Really angry. I hadn’t done enough to prepare. Maybe my fitness wasn’t at the level it needed to be for so large an undertaking. I was weak, beaten. There was no way that this could have turned out any other way. My thoughts grew dark, like so many of us do, I began to put the onus on myself. Thinking to myself “If I had prepared more thoroughly things would have gone differently”. I immediately went back to square one; mentally re-tooling my workouts, planning a new diet and meal prep schedule, even brainstorming how to drop weight to improve my power transfer.
In the summer of 2012, I bought my first road bike, a fire engine red 2012 Specialized Roubaix. I loved that bike, and the way it allowed me to experience my surroundings in a way that I’d never known. My city was familiar to me, and I had ridden bikes before, however at this speed, and at this height. This was like I was a tourist in my home town. it was possible for me to really take my time, and be deliberate in the way I absorbed my environs. I loved these roads. A little over a year later I would be lying on those very roads, less than a mile from my home, the victim of a hit-and-run on my nightly commute from work. My bike was a complete wreck, and body wasn’t in much better shape. I would spend the next 8 weeks in a neck brace. That down time allowed me a rare opportunity to reflect. In those moments, with my body only slightly less wrecked than my bike, I took from that a valuable lesson; the road will humble us all. The first thing I did when I was granted a medical release to resume strenuous physical activity was head to my local bike shop to and get back on two wheels.
Resting in the passenger seat of my support vehicle, cooler heads (both literal and metaphorical) were able to prevail. The stillness and inner calm that I’d cultivated in my youth as an outsider, that was refined while I convalesced, returned to me in that moment. I remembered that all important lesson, that the road will humble you. The realization came to me then, I had fallen victim to my own vanity. Ego had been my undoing. General Colin Powell said “Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” I had done exactly what he had advised against, placing an unrealistic amount of pressure on myself in the process. It wasn’t a lack of fitness, or a problem with my diet or weight. Those were the excuses I was making to myself. The problem was believing so much in my own hype that I thought I could take on 100+ miles in 107-degree summer heat and come away victorious. In my life every endeavor that was ego driven has ended in disappointment. This endeavor was no different. I was humbled yet again, my hubris brought to heel by these roads that have given me so many other lessons.
Now that it’s been a week, I’ve rested both my body and mind. I decided not to rework my entire workout regimen or diet. I haven’t focused on my weight at all. What I HAVE done is to focus on making my rides fun, getting the same enjoyment that I had early on. Going forward, I’ll still be tackling those big miles, but I won’t be putting as much pressure on myself. Maybe you’ll see me on the road one day. If you do, give a wave and remember to keep pedaling.