i read something once about a man asked of his recent result in a bike race. his reply (something like): 'i think i did pretty well. i came in first in my category. my category being: the successful [insert job here], wood-working, happily-married father-of-two 49-year-old category.'
this is wonderfully encompassing, and correct.
even desiderata mentions it - do not compare yourself with others, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
and i will take it one step further, and mention that these comparisons can and will often happen at inopportune times, and sometimes it will feel like most of the persons you are with are 'greater than yourself', but then we'd have to move on to that all-important stanza: 'whether or not it is clear to you..no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.'
thank goodness for that manifesto. like bicycles, i don't believe i would have survived adolescence without it.
take, for example, my small hill ride yesterday.
i like to hit up bayview because it's longer than most of the hills i get to ride, and although full of traffic, it offers a two-section gradient and plenty of shoulder room, and is conveniently at the end of my requisite 13-minute warm-up routine. i huffed and puffed my way up bayview, fancying catching the brightly-colored jersey ahead of me, but settled for a rhythmic ('he's got to ride at his own pace now, digging deep into the suitcase of courage...') spin that took full advantage of spring weather and a 3/4 zip on my shirt. following bayview, i spun easily and quickly over the top and along the ridge to the other loblaws, the one with the hill, and i prepared to bomb down the descent and begin climbing/clawing back up.
then those guys were in the way.
i know, with spring, there are a million times more riders on the road. it was friday. it was absolutely gorgeous. it was normal spring weather after a week of absolute shite. the road is open to all. the universe is unfolding as it should.
but that guy's wearing a backpack.
and i'm not talking a camelbak or other riding-based design of hydration-enhancing intent; i'm talking a chemistry text book, homework-porting pack sack that probably has his lunch baggies at the bottom.
and that guy doesn't even have a helmet on.
you can say what you like and steer yourself over to bikesnob's recent post about the helmet argument and all of that, but wearing helmets is the right thing to do, and i have instant prejudice/disdain for those who elect not to while riding bikes that make obvious one's intent to be fast and awesome on paved surfaces. not so fast or awesome when you're dead, dumb-ass.
so, where was i?
oh right. stuck behind pack-sack and his compadre dumb-ass, slowly, sssssssllllloooooooooowlyyyyyyyyyyy making their ways down the hill.
the last time i subjected myself to this hill, i flew down it every time. 42mph without a hilltop push, and i could finally carve the turns because all the construction debris and gravel and sand had been cleaned off the road surface. it was glorious. it was probably the reason i did as many repetitions as i did - i couldn't get enough of the descent, and climbing back out is the only way to get home.
yesterday, there was no flying down the hill. there was gentle swooning, meandering even, and so much meandering that there was certainly no safe way to pass. so i gritted my teeth, squeezed the brakes, and let the universe unfold.
nearing the bottom, dumb-ass made the move i predicted and began a full-road swerve toward my (straight and acceptable right-hand side of the road) direction to start his own climb back out. his buddy, pack-sack, saw this and promptly told him, 'heads up'.
disaster was averted.
i thought: maybe you should get a helmet if you're going to ride like that.
do not compare yourself with others...
i rode to the far end of the run-out, checked my blind spot, turned around, and looked up the hill. they had already begun climbing, and it looked feasible that i might catch them. i wondered if i should wait. i coasted to the base of the climb, debating all the while, whether i would catch them, if i should run that risk, what would be so bad if i did, and what makes one an asshole anyway, what they look like or their intent?
i shifted and started pedaling.
as the hill goes up, it doesn't seem so bad. there's a breeze in the trees and the pavement is smooth. the gradient isn't horrible yet, and victory seems to be within reach.
then you look up.
nothing wrong with looking up, except that you can't see the top. and if any part of your brain is still working, you realize that it's crazy if you can't see the top because the hill isn't really all that long. so, it must be that steep. that's STEEP. thankfully, before you can calculate any implications to this realization, the steepness has slapped some good ol' survival-based instincts into your legs and you are forced to run on fight or flight, no calculating or implicating allowed. unfortunately, flight requires one to fight in this instance, so choice is further reduced to basic obligation: breathe, push, breathe, push, breathe, try not to die right now, breathe, is that god at the next curve?, breathe, it hurts to breathe, ...
i passed them somewhere after the first maintenance hole cover. i wasn't dying like i usually do, but i wasn't feeling schlecktastic either, so i tried a little 'we're all in this together' greeting: 'almost there...'.
pack-sack returned, 'yep...'
dumb-ass remained dumb.
i pushed on and summited, quickly spinning out of the parking lot, and headed home.
and then i thought about categorization and stereotyping and bad high school poetry (i wrote LOTS) and shaving my legs and upgrading my bike and it dawned on me: i'm the best rider i know, in my category.
i cannot compare myself with others, entirely, because, in a scientific method sense, my whole existence happens in the 'Discussion' section, in the margin of error, in the 'yeah, but'. this girl rides faster than i. and i change diapers faster than she. and that guy's waaaay slower than i, and he does real work that changes the world for the better. i can race cat 4 elite, the old man's category for guys who've never raced but want to give it a go, and i will be in the same start as punk asses from st. catharine's and the editor of canadian bike magazines, but none of them will get in the smallest car of the parking lot after having buckled in the world's most beautiful 5- and 2-year-olds, to drive home while sitting next to the world's most wonderful and beautiful and perfect-for-me partner, and have a beer while stretching on the most rickety back deck on the street. i win.
i am still, without contest, the luckiest guy on the planet.