Taking Stock


Marking time by counting the trips around the sun may seem arbitrary, as if counting off every 100 days or every 500 days would make more sense, but anniversaries resonate because marking 365 days gives us a chance to think back on what we were doing under similar circumstances. The fact that it may be frozen yet snowless where you are can help recall previous years and the events that unfolded under similar weather. The short days and that orange light that blooms in the afternoons can summon recollections as disparate as falling in love and breaking up.

I am looking forward to the new year more than usual because this time, it really does feel like a chance to hit the reset button. The way I’ve been marking time, this year has been longer than most. I suspect that I’m not alone in noting October, 10, 2012, as a day when life changed. While I remember it as the day I almost killed myself, it’s also the day that USADA issued its Reasoned Decision. One thing died for sure that day. So while my crash didn’t actually occur in 2013, I spent much of this year recovering from and processing the literal and metaphoric impact on my life that one wayward second meant.

There are times when I want to inventory all the questions that  event begged. Why was I going so damn fast? Could I have pulled it out if I’d been willing to recommit to my line? How bad would that crash have been if I had tried but failed? Why has this crash been such a monumental event in my life? Other crashes were just things that happened, but this was an event—why? What does this mean for my family? I don’t mean just in terms of my presence as a parent, but how does this affect my values and what I should teach, not to mention how I teach my sons? What does it mean for my life if I stop chasing adventure, pushing myself? Is there a point at which any reasonable, responsible person shuts down the adventure? How much adventure is enough to keep you alive? How much is the ego of not letting go of youth? Does chasing adventure as a parent necessarily mean you’re being selfish, or is it a way to show your children what living is all about? For how long are we obliged to lead by example?

It may be that having faced mortality less than six months prior to the birth of a baby that wasn’t really meant to survive gave that previous crisis fresh weight. I know that I began to see my family as a far more delicate and frail structure than I did previously. What had once been concrete and rebar was suddenly little more than icicles hanging from a rickety rain gutter.

It seems clichéd to call this a crisis of faith, but that’s how this played out. Basic assumptions about cycling, my relative youth, the grip of bicycle tires, my ability to see down the road, again both literally and metaphorically, even what I thought of as my routines—it all went flying, like so many shards of a dropped glass. It’s made the writing harder, slower. Some advertisers have been more supportive than others.

Robot’s recent musings about how my life events intersected and altered what RKP was this year did two things for me. First, it gave me a chuckle because of the things he left out, like my Memorial Day trip to the ER that resulted in a bigger break from the bike than even my October crash was. He and I shared a lot with each other, behind the scenes. Second, in acknowledging that it was a weird year for the blog/site/media entity, that we’re allowed to admit we didn’t deliver all the content we wanted to, all the content perhaps you expected, he made it possible for me to take a slightly different look back.

I suppose if what we delivered was a bit more formulaic, a bit more commoditized, a bit more processed, hell, a bit more Cheez Whiz, we might have been able to conceal the acne a bit better. So it goes. The deeper truth is that in attempting to go deep, you don’t always pull up what you expect, or want. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve really begun to see this year as a blessing. As much as we love the Deuce, being present for his journey shell shocked us. It was every bit as traumatic as my crash, but it took billions of times longer to unfold.

My purpose isn’t to beg sympathy or prey upon vulnerable emotions, but simply to acknowledge the way I’ve been looking at the world for the last 15 or so months. It has made me tentative in ways where I was once more bold; I still can’t descend on the road the way I did even though my descending off road is every bit what it once was. That strikes me as an irony Thomas Hardy might appreciate. The guy who doesn’t trust the grip of his tires on the road is okay with sliding around off road. Insert 24-pt. WTF.

There’s a line, one that I admit is fuzzy, the way colors fade into one another. When does red become orange and when does orange become yellow? Somewhere in the middle is a life I can chase with purpose, a way I can show my boys how to chase bliss without simultaneously turning myself into a gravity jockey that will get my life insurance policy canceled. It’s a place that fulfills me, allows me to continue to grow as a person, or if not grow, at least not grow stale. That medium may be happy, but it’s not obvious, or easy.

Isn’t that the nature of cycling?

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  1. Patrick O'Brien

    First, RKP is my first place to go to see good writing.

    Second, I also trust myself more going fast down a trail more than a road. I don’t know why. Maybe I consider a temporary loss of traction part of mountain biking and even a little fun. My internal governor is now set around 30 mph on the road, and that limit keeps going down year after year. Recovery time from an injury is the main driver for slowing down. I am not willing to take time off the bike just to go a little faster or push a curve or technical section a little harder. But, I have never raced and have been a little timid since a quick and violent wobble at speed, many years ago on a recumbent, really spooked me.

  2. Dustin

    I think most folks are more comfortable ripping it on a trail than on the road. Like Patrick said, slipping and sliding is a part of MTBing. It’s much easier to do in the dirt. Bigger tires, slower speeds. And if you do go too far and fall, dirt is relatively soft compared to asphalt, and you’re going slower.

  3. TominAlbany

    As we’ve all seen from watching the pros battle on various cols and massifs, when you dig deep, you sometimes find that there’s nothing there. Despite your best efforts and hard work, you get a no mas! In geological terms, you’ve depleted the well some and you must wait for the groundwater to seep back in. The seepage rate is dependent upon local conditions and the weather. How much rain has there been? In that case, the hard work is then to limit your losses and look for that next opportunity.

    Well Padraig (and Robot et al), it’s a new year. A new season. You start afresh but, with last year’s work still in your legs and a new set of experiences. Take it from Tom Boonen, you can only be the best sprinter in teh world for so long. You then have to readjust your sites (to the classics!) in order to keep it going.

    Padraig, I’ve slowed down too. On the bike I’ve slowed down partly due to age but partly due to those other responsibilities. In the care I’ve slowed down mostly due to maturity and those same ‘other’ responsibilities. It’s an unsteady state and, as such, requires continuous monitoring. I’ll still hit 50+mph on one of my local hills but, I know is so well and it’s generally a straight shot with only one side road and just two driveways that are all visible from well uphill.

    We’re evolving.

    As for your pondering on what of the children, you show them how to live and how to take ‘intelligent’ risks. Given that you don’t have the reflexes of a 25 year old (sorry to have to break it to you) you intelligently begin to back off. That’s OK. As for the ‘what if’ scenario in your world-class endo, there’s no way to know. You’ll always wonder but, that’s just it. You may not have broken your face but you may have removed several layers of skin and shattered collarbones or shoulders, arms etc.

    OK. Back to work for me. The coffee’s kicked in!

  4. avid fair weather cyclist

    memory. your memory is not just in your head. it is in your whole body. talk to any parent of a child with a significant head trauma injury and you will learn this fast.

    your body will remember far longer than your mind. the trauma of a crash is stored in your body as well as your mind. your mind will forget your body maybe not.

    there is a local big hill ride that I crashed very hard on. it took a year and a half before I could race a descent again. I can come down a hill like a rocket now. but not that hill. my head is cool with it but my body has the brakes on. my head has forgotten the trauma but not the entity that bears the scars.

    I talk to the parents of children with severe head trauma injuries and they are all pretty much in agreement that this is just the way it is. they see it in their children. they care. I take their word for it.

    and really how much glory is there in passing on the descent?

    I can always use a little more nutrition or hydration anyway.

  5. Eto

    Thank you for being so honest with us in assessing your past “year” and how you may have changed. You will once again see the colors more clearly. Over the years you have shared your talents and gifts with us within the context of RKP. Trust your gut as to what may be next. Many of us can relate to dealing with adversity and feeling changed by it. We can not eliminate risk in our lives but we can moderate how much we introduce ourselves and for what purpose.

    Pausing to assess where you are in life can be like finishing a hard ride… you may not feel like doing that again soon, but over time (minutes, hours, sometimes days) you change your mind and find that motivation to look forward to the next time!

  6. Chris Bowen

    Patrick. I return, again and again, to RKP strictly because of your honesty and enthusiasm for life and the sport. I can read other books and websites if I wish, but they do not hold the dear messiness of life like RKP does. It is real here, its just a commercial venture elsewhere. Keep up the great work.

  7. Robot

    I think our children need to see that we are active. I’m not sure they need to see us get rad…or injured…which are often one and the same for me.

  8. Khal Spencer

    I guess I am the contrarian. Six months after herniating a disk in my back in 2005, I hit a log on a downhill with my front wheel much too weighted and did a fast, high endo. I landed flat on my back with my back between two logs, either of which, if had one been a little closer to my spine, could have snapped it. I really, really descend carefully off road. On road, I still check at the bottom to see if I hit a PB, but I do watch more carefully for animals after a workplace buddy totalled his motorcycle and put himself in an ICU while trying to avoid a mule deer on one of our favorite mountain roads.

    Patrick O’Grady and I both hit sixty laps around the sun this year. Me in a week, him in March. Somehow hitting sixty laps has me more contemplative than hitting fifty. At sixty, there is seventy to look towards and that seems ominous. Half my uncles were gone about then and genetics counts. One asks where one has been, where one is going, and why. Much of one’s life is at this point in the wake of that boat of life.

    Maybe I can get O’Grady to get drunk with me and write something up about that old Circle Game, although my writing is a faint fart in a windstorm compared to his abilities as a writer and journalist.

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