My mouth fills with the faint taste of blood from lungs ruptured by the unrelenting killer gradient of War God Hill. My quads burn as if hydrofluoric acid is being massaged deep into the muscle tissue. But over the sound of me gasping loudly for oxygen, I can hear people talking. It’s Mike and Brendan a few meters ahead of me _ a gap that’s gradually growing. They’re having a casual chat as they climb, while I can barely stop breathing long enough to utter the desperate plea: “Help…me…please…”
Riding with fantastic athletes like these guys involves a constant reality check, a severe ego battering. I’m reminded that I’m not near as strong as I often think I am when I’m riding alone. I know cyclists who don’t like to be in such a situation. They prefer being the alpha male who hammers the rest of the group into the ground like a tent peg. Others would rather line up with people who are exactly at their level. I prefer getting my legs pulled off – as long as the other riders are cool about it, which Brendan and Mike always are.
It goes back to one of my key life principles. I found it in a New Yorker magazine article about aid workers in some of the poorest parts of Africa. A French doctor in Chad said, “Don’t take yourself seriously, but do what you do seriously.” It’s brilliant. When I’m on the bike, I try to check my ego and just focus on riding in a way that makes me stronger. I don’t care if I lose the sprint or get dropped on the hill climb as long as I put forth my best serious effort. I don’t ride to bolster my ego. I ride to get better. If improving means I’ve got to get knocked around, then that’s fine. Usually, if you do what you do seriously, everything else is sorted. I figure it’s my actions, how I do things, that best define who I am.
I’ve been living by this principle for a long time but just never knew how to articulate it until I saw the New Yorker article. I remember when I started studying Mandarin more than 20 years ago in Taiwan, the school put me in a class with five Americans. After a week, I asked to be transferred to a class with only Japanese and Koreans. I got my butt kicked almost everyday because the Japanese and Koreans could already read between 1,000 to 3,000 characters that they used in their own written language. Often, they wouldn’t understand a word, so the teacher would write the character on the blackboard, then they would nod their heads and say, “Ahhhh, OK!” I would still be sitting there staring at the blackboard like a stupid dog. I didn’t let myself get too discouraged, though. I always tried to find a way to salvage my pride and bruised ego by working harder. I just tried to do what I do seriously, and it eventually paid off big time.
wafflesandsteel | Filed under: Musings, War God Hill | 1 Comment »