7 Life Lessons Learned from @Ragbrai_Iowa #Cycling

Oh, barf. An inspirational post. Quick, kill it with fire before it causes any harm!

Seriously, though, you can get life lessons from anything. I’m just another idiot who noticed there are things that equate between x and life, and I’ve written them down because they seem brilliant to me.

1. Hills are daunting at the bottom.

I know what you’re thinking: Duh. Standing at the bottom, looking up at the hard thing, is the kind of thing that makes people want to either climb or give up. If you want the thing enough, you’ll climb. If you’re not invested in it, you’ll give up and go play video games or something.

2. Hills are exhausting in the middle.

So, you started climbing. It’s a long hill. Kinda steep. Not super-fun. The view from the top of the hill is allegedly cool, but you’re getting skeptical because this hill never ends. Of those who decide to climb, a whole lot give up in the middle because it’s hard.

To be clear, I consider getting off my bike to walk equal to giving up.

3. That bit where you’re near the top but not there yet is…well, it’s something.

You can taste the victory. It’s just ahead. But you’re not there yet. Most people who get this far keep going because it becomes a matter of having invested enough time and energy into the climb that giving up is a much worse failure than if you’d given up sooner. You’re in it for the long haul.

At the same time, it’s really frustrating to be so close and yet so far. When you’re in granny gear, you can barely breathe, and your muscles are screaming, keeping going is one of the hardest things imaginable.

4. There’s always another hill.

Seriously, there is. No matter how awesome the view from the top of this hill, there’s always another one that might be better for whatever reason. Anyone who tells you it’s the last hill is probably either lying or trying to sell you something.

So you know, if you ever come alongside me and suggest that hill ahead is the last one, you’ll be told something like, “Lies! Perfidy! There’s always one more hill. Always.”

5. Determination will only get you so far.

No matter what your hill is, you need more than one skill to reach the top. You have to know how to do the thing and then practice it until you’re good at it. You have to work on five other skills too. Maybe it’s learning how to talk to people about your thing, how to do the paperwork to keep your taxes manageable, how to find some sort of thing, or whatever. You gotta learn the skills, plural, and figure out how to deal with your weaknesses.

In cycling, it takes strength, endurance, determination, motivation, and a particular sort of “callouses” in a rather sensitive portion of your anatomy. Seriously, that seat is rough on your tender parts. If you’re not used to the seat, it’ll murder you with pain and blood flow issues. I have the value-added bonus of chronic tendonitis in one knee (and also one elbow and both wrists, which don’t impact cycling much, but certainly don’t help), which I have to train to overcome for a distance ride like Ragbrai.

6. Never pass up the unexpected awesome thing if you can help it.

One time on Ragbrai, I ran across a vendor selling frozen, chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick. I was full from lunch and didn’t get one. I’ve never seen any such thing again. This makes me sad. Do I need to explain further?

7. Everything is better with a good team.

Yes, everything. Even when your project is highly solitary, there are other people doing other parts to smoosh your part together with. In writing, which seems like a solitary activity, there are bunch of other people involved. Even the most self-reliant indie still needs a beta reader or five. Those of us with better things to do hire editors, cover designers, formatters, and more. A team.

I ride Ragbrai alone because I have no cycling friends interested in coming along with me, but I always manage to get adopted by some group at the campsite. Pork Belly Ventures, an excellent charter service that I highly recommend, has a lovely bunch of folks who ride with them year after year, and I’ve met several, as well as a whole bunch I’ll probably never see again. If I want to, I can plop down beside any of them and share my dinnertime.

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