Since Saturday, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I was so upset about what happened on my ride. I was frustrated, and yes, I’m embarrassed that I teared up on the side of a road, but I cry at iPhone commercials, so it’s not like becoming emotional is foreign to me. But in the scheme of things, I did something terrifying to me and survived. So why all the hand-wringing and internet whining and hour of bike-shop therapy?
The first time I rode Paradise Loop, I felt joy on my bike for the first time. I felt like I could get on and take off and ride. And with the added stress of clippy shoes and a new riding position, the hassle of having to think through another step of stopping and starting, I felt like that was being taken away — not just for Saturday but for every time I have to ride between now and May. Just when I’d learned to relax on the bike, I had a whole new set of things to be tense about.
The thing is, ultimately, I’m not in this to fight through unpleasantness and fear. I’m in it for the joy. The joy swept me up when I ran the trails of my first 10K and has kept me in its grasp since then, through injuries and time crunches and bad weather and goal-missing and uncertainty, just for one run or one ride or one swim that leaves me pushing to the finish with a big dumb grin on my face. I’m a sucker for that joy, and if I have to slash through the unpleasantness and fear to get there, I’ll do it, but I’m only doing it to get to the joy.
And to be honest, in 2012, the joy’s been a little bit harder to find. While I’m happy I can run at all, I’m not doing the long, head-clearing, podcast-library-emptying, ocean-viewing runs I long for. I like swimming, and I have a feeling I’ll like it more when I’m in open water, but getting to the pool during the week is hardly the least-stressful thing I’ve ever done, and I’m always cutting the workouts short because of the 30-minute lane limit. So when I got even the first hint that biking could be my new joy, I latched onto it like my cats diving face-first into my chlorine-laced flip-flops. Too much, too soon, probably, especially when a bike-related freakout was almost certainly inevitable.
I’ve been kicking all of this around, and what I’ve realized is that I think I’m looking for the joy in the wrong places — or rather, I’m writing off entire activities as NOT JOYFUL ENOUGH when it shouldn’t be such an all-or-nothing issue.
Take running. I’ve said I love running, I’ve said my heart will always be with running even when it doesn’t love me back, but that’s not really true. The act of running — just that — isn’t the source of my joy. If it were, I’d love the treadmill instead of loathe it. The joy comes from other places:
– conquering new distances
– being outside
– making it up that hill without walking
– seeing the flowers bloom along my regular path
– crossing a finish line
– feeling strong
On the bike and in the pool, there are more joys, and they’re not about cranking my legs around the pedals or kicking from one end of the lane to the other. They’re about peace, and calm, and focus, about time alone to think, about moving all the boxes of my life around so that the workouts fit in their places, about progress, however slow and unsteady.
What I’m learning is that my joy doesn’t come from the fact of the sport itself. It comes from all of the little spindly bits surrounding the sport, the fresh air and fresh mind that accompany the act of propelling myself in space in one way or another. And those things can’t be stolen away so easily.