I've learned a lot on the bike. When I was 8, I raced my big brother down the street until he flipped over the handle bars. The cuts on his arms were filled with gravel, and he managed to open up an artery in his hand, so blood was spurting nicely in time with his heartbeat. I wasn't nearly as stoic about this as expected — possibly my first moment of doubt regarding my certain future as a surgeon.
In high school, the bike was my freedom to get into the hills of New Hampshire, long before my midwinter Mount Washington climbs became a tradition. Later on, it was an integral part of my triathlon strategy: last out of the water by at least 20 minutes, wave to the patiently-waiting women's race lined up on the beach (that was fun), then pull back to something reasonable on proper, dry land. And now, the bike is my free thinking time.
Maybe it's not about the bike, and really you can see everything from wherever you are. You get a little open space around you, and there it all is. Or maybe it's because there's something extra special about my latest ride up the Hudson River out of New York. Either way, here are my top 14 things I've learned about life from my time on the bike.
1. You don't know where someone has been, or where they're going.
So don't bother with how fast anybody else is moving. Keep your own pace. Your ride is your ride.
2. You don't know what's going on in someone else's body or mind.
Sometimes people will pass you like you're moving backward. Then they'll flop on the next hill, you fly by and never see them again. Don't ever worry. Do your own thing.
3. It's more fun when you help people.
Let them draft off you. Change a tire. Give them your extra banana (see #4). Pull everyone along.
4. Always carry an extra banana.
You never know when you'll need it. See #3.
5. If someone wants to pass you, help them pass.
Move to the side. Congratulate them on their excellent riding! They're feeling strong. You might not care later on, but if you want to pass them back, just keep doing the work. You'll get your chance.
6. You're not going to feel your strongest all the time.
Don't fight with that. Be strong when you're feeling strong, go easy when you're not. One way or the other, just go.
7. You can fight your way up hills, or you can happy your way up them.
I've watched enough people fight hard when things get tough to know it's better the other way. Stay happy and relaxed, especially when things get challenging.
8. Sometimes you'll ride in a group, sometimes with one person, and sometimes you'll be on your own.
It's OK, all of it.
9. Sometimes you get dropped by the pack.
It's helpful to notice the view is often better on your own. Just keep your eyes open. I tried explaining this to a nice fellow who got dropped on the long hill by his racing club. He didn't seem to appreciate it much during the climb, but I know he will later.
10. You never know when you're about to take off.
You might be on a long uphill, feeling tired and slow. You might be wondering "What am I doing on this hill?" You might think you see a rider in orange steadily overtaking you. Then something shifts. You're moving easy now and the wind's at your back. You forget the orange rider. Next time you look, they're not even there.
11. The downhills are amazing.
Cruising rolling speeding downhills. It's worth all of it to get there. You just have to do the work, and remember to take some joy in it. This way you won't be worn out on the way down, you'll just be all energized and happy.
12. Mean people crash.
It's not that you want anyone to get hurt. But the people who don't help other people, who just push and force to get past everyone, they hurt themselves all on their own.
13. Sometimes you're lucky enough to meet up at the end of your ride with the person you saw at the beginning.
That's a happy day.
14. We're all going to the same place.
Which I think is a small coffee shop in Piermont, New York.
Want a mid-ride energy boost? The one in the video below works for me. Have fun and let me know how it goes!