Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Practicing a New Kind of Caring

I’ve been riding a lot lately.  I’ve been putting in more miles this year so far than I have in years past.  And along with this I have definitely had (and seen) a lot of bikeface.  I’ve had bikeface on the beach, in the woods, on the road, in the snow, in the rain, in the wind, on a single bike and on a tandem.….  all sorts of bikeface for all sorts of reasons, with all sorts of people.

But I learned something quite unexpected recently.  At lunch one afternoon, my friends and I were talking about indoor training.  I explained that indoor training has helped me see more clearly my strengths and weaknesses as a cyclist.  I talked about my tendency to overwhelmingly favor one leg over the other, how I have a hard time increasing my cadence even at low gears, and how I am trying to train this winter to be a better climber (something my riding friends know is my biggest weakness).  In my lament, one friend reminded me that I had strengths too.  He told me that I had good bike handling skills.  (Hmmm… something that we don’t practice on the indoor trainer.)  Sadly, I immediately thought, “Okay.  So I’m a good bike handler, how is that going to help me get faster than I am right now, to be able to keep up with the group in the wind, to actually not come in DFL on every 'cross race?”   

He also quickly pointed out that in these past several months I have started caring about my performance in a way I never have before. He reminded me that I have been riding over the past 12 years primarily for fun and for transportation -- which are good and important -- but, I was completely new at this kind of “caring".  I was dumbstruck.  And he's right.  I care whether I do well in ways I never have before.  

What does this have to do with bike face?  Once I was told that I “cared” differently, that I was new at this particular kind of caring, I realized that I had also begun to care about bike face differently.  For one, I started this blog.  I cared that others around me experienced bike face.  But I also have noticed lately that I haven’t thought much about my own bike face.  I don’t mean that in my efforts to become a better, more skilled, more strong, versatile cyclist that I’ve thrown away my quest for fun…. but I wonder now if it means that my own bike face has changed… that it has become less frequent… or maybe… just …. different.  Maybe I've let bike face hide in the shadow of my fear of failing.... (And suddenly, I wonder if I have forgotten the lesson I wrote about back in November...)

Suddenly, I question whether I have created a kind of joy in my own cycling that only comes when I feel I do well.  Have I moved into a type of cycling that has forgotten the pure joy of being out there?  Have I forgotten how to look across the winter-barren corn fields with “snain” (snow + rain) spitting at us for an hour and think of it as a lovely day?  Have I lost the commitment to see each ride as special in its own way, or have I become so overwhelmed with my fitness and skill that I’ve lost sight of it? 

These are the questions that my friend’s revelation has spurred in me over the past few weeks.  Luckily, I think I’ve found a new way to think about this lesson….

Nikki Giovanni explains the title of her book of love poems, Bicycles:

“Bicycles: because love requires trust and balance.”

In all honesty, I’ve been pondering this line for several months.  Though not what Giovanni intended, what does love mean in cycling?  Is bike face love?  Does bike face require love, and therefore trust and balance?  

Seems that as I’m learning to have a different kind of trust and balance in the things I love: in my own personal life and in my work as a budding scholar, I'm also learning these things as a (differently) serious cyclist.  I’m learning that yes, even bikeface requires trust and balance.  That suddenly, I’m no longer an adult learner.  When I feel trust and balance leaving my adult grip, I’m an awkward teenager again:  I grope for acceptance among my peers; I think being invited to the dance is important to my survival (the drama!); I struggle to learn the new language, to be the kid in the back of the class who’s too afraid to raise her hand and ask questions.  Yet, I want to get that varsity letter.  I wanna hang with the big kids.  And so I practice.  I practice new things each time I’m on the bike.  I practice my pedal stroke.  I practice breathing.  I practice failing.  I practice climbing.  I practice the sprint and sitting in.

And so I am learning to practice a new kind of bikeface, a new kind of caring.

I practice noticing my surroundings.  I practice being more intuitive and less cerebral.  (Yes, I see the irony here.)  I practice noticing the barely-visible sliver of bright sky under the low-hanging Michigan gray.  In my new kind of caring, I must also practice not caring so much about my performance.

I practice trusting that the two kinds of caring, in balance with each other, is best.

Even bike face requires trust and balance.  And that takes practice.