Friday, June 28, 2013

Perspective

I'm home and getting better each day. Thanks for the many calls and expressions of concern- I'm doing fine and recovering quickly. My biggest frustration is sleeping. It's uncomfortable on my hip and lower back and ribs, so each morning takes time to loosen up again. By mid-morning I'm getting around just fine. I use a cane when I need it and my mild pain meds are only needed in the morning as I loosen up.

 

It's important to note that two separate crashes took their toll. The first occurred about 70 miles into the race on day one, when a mud hole ate my front wheel and took me over the bars. My ribs ached in front and my breathing was more difficult from that crash, but I chalked it up to experience and figured it would get better. What didn't occur to me was that my difficulty coughing or breathing deeply was most likely the result of a collapsed lung. I couldn't lift my bike and lying down was painful. The same hole ate quite a few riders. It was a moment of bad luck.

 

But I wasn't going to stop if I could carry on. So onward I went.

 

The second crash did me in. It happened after midnight about twenty yards over the top of a long gravel road climb. My front tire had a slow leak of some kind and wasn't completely flat but it was low enough to cause a crash when I tested my brakes. I fell on my right side, as noted in my earlier entries.

 

I've had a week to think about my TD13 experience and what it means. It didn't end the way that I or anyone who knows me expected. This is only the third race I've scratched from in 25 years across many different kinds of events. Hopefully I can relate my perspective here and help myself come to grips with it in the process. I wish I was still out there.

It's important to emphasize that the risk was no surprise and that obviously I don't feel like my race was a success. But the experience was a success because I'm growing from it and I'm done second-guessing my choices. It was a race and I treated it like one, with choices driven by many factors. I had some bad luck at the wrong moments.

 

We hear and say that we grow more from failure than success. I believe it's failure that enables us to grow into ultimate success- I doubt that anyone good at anything ever got there without a serious struggle and moments of doubt.

 

In reflecting on why the Tour Divide matters to me, that idea rings true- that we prepare ourselves for the real tests in life through a series of smaller ones. You don't show up to your first real battle untested, yet magically ready for victory. It's hard to imagine your way to success, even though a positive self-image is crucial. Stress is a part of the growing process. TD, for me, wasn't the real test. It's just a bike race. I've got no idea what the 'real' test might be, but I believe that this experience taught me things that will come in handy whenever it comes. It won't be a bike race, but what I've learned racing bikes translates to other aspects of life. Discipline, organization, consistency, focus, perspective, and commitment are each involved. The simple answer is a love of adventure and an innate self-knowledge. But it's not that simple.

 

When was the last time you faced your fears head-on? That's what the TD was for me. Being alone in the woods was a fear, although I was able to moderate that by riding with others whenever I wanted company. You wake up day after day, in a place you found in the dark, riding into unknown territory, through weather changes and dots on the map that turn into tiny buildings. You do the homework you can, but at some point you saddle up and move out, putting faith in your self-knowledge and ability to stay ahead of whatever comes. There is fear in that.

 

Which is really the test- whether you can stay ahead of whatever comes. Whether you can handle the situation when everything goes wrong.

 

Because sometimes it does. As 'Frosty' in the movie "Chasing Mavericks" points out, sometimes your limits push back.

 

And that's where the learning begins. The key is building enough of a safety net with your experience to minimize the risk that whatever goes wrong lies beyond your potential to handle it. Which means you need a base of experience to know where to draw your lines. You have to set limits and follow them. That doesn't mean you can avoid any risk whatsoever. It means you manage the risk so that it doesn't manage you.

 

You can do the TD without any real experience- many have. But in doing so you have to adopt a different mindset and strategy, more like a bike tourist than a racer. I truly admire those who've done that and finished. I wasn't there to tour, even as I also wasn't there to try for a course record. I wanted to go fast, but within rules I'd laid out for myself. I wanted to test myself and grow.

 

A race like TD is more about yourself than anyone else. You can't ride anyone else's pace. Each rider has their own processes for managing risks and challenges. You have to be methodical and your approach has to be consistent. It can't be influenced by others, unless the changes you make are immediate and don't leave out important things you'd do on your own. You learn a lot and adapt during these events, but your core approach must remain sound and intact.

 

My race reminded me of that reality every time I decided to ride with others. At some point, you have to get comfortable with the idea that you would ride alone for a while, just so you can do whatever you need to do to succeed. I ride at a faster pace than most but allow myself to stop and deal with little things before they become big things. I ensure my daily rest is sufficient, which for me means about 7 hours of sleep on average.

 

Those details matter in TD. The fastest racers have their kit so sorted that stops are minimal. It takes them thousands of hours to refine to that level. The fastest racers train themselves to operate on minimal sleep, sometimes 2-3 hours a day for days on end. That takes time to develop and it also requires certain genetic traits that not everyone has or want to test.

 

What I learned this year at TD was that my basic strategy was working well for me. Besides a little more luck, I needed the confidence to stick to it and the focus to not miss details like tire pressure checks before every long descent. It only took one, which happened to be the third major climb that day, and the only one at night. What saved me from greater injury was that I always check my brakes early on each descent. At night, you lack the visual cues of day. I didn't account for that when it mattered.

 

We tend to define ourselves through a narrow lens of experience, all too often limiting our expectations to previous experience. When our lens is so narrowly focused it diminishes our potential. Potential by definition is that which hasn't yet been tapped. It's hard to measure unless you have some sort of scale. Science provides scales for all sorts of potential. We don't have scales for the combination of physical and mental potential.

 

So we define them for ourselves.

 

It's true that after my final crash, I had to fix my bike and ride it 20 miles to a decent campsite. Ian McNabb and I agreed that getting off the mountain was key to having a chance to continue after some rest. I had no intention of scratching. He took his time down the mountain so I could follow safely. It was easily the most difficult physical event of my life, but only one thing occurred to me- it had to be done. Being heroic or tough was the furthest from my mind. Getting to Lima or someplace near it was my sole focus. I will admit that it was important to me that my effort honored those I was there to pay my respects to- our wounded warriors. That drove me onward. Those true heroes regularly endure far more than my meager challenges.

 

And as I process my experience, it occurs to me that I am barely scratching the surface of their typical experience. My small few days in the hospital reminded me that life is full of challenges and our attitude toward them shapes what we take from them. It is important to focus on the positive.

 

I was fortunate to be exposed to our Wounded Warrior programs in previous jobs. One thing that always struck me was the overwhelming positive attitude so many of them possess. You feel it in their presence.

 

Admiral Mike Mullen has been one of my personal mentors and heroes over the years. He spoke an important truth - that our Wounded Warriors may have had their lives altered forever, but they still have dreams. Often, their dreams are new ones shaped by new perspective. We should do whatever we can to help- out of gratitude for their willing sacrifice.

 

I have been lucky to live a life blessed by the fulfillment of many dreams. There is reason to be optimistic about what lies ahead.

 

Including my return to slay the Tour Divide dragon one day. I am already planning for it.

 

I hope that my experience encourages you to chase your own dreams in the knowledge that nothing worth doing comes easily. Plan well. Prepare well. Face your fears. Expect the unexpected. And when it comes, stay calm, do the next right thing, and count your blessings. Go for it!

 

Thanks for reading. And find a wounded warrior program to express your gratitude for the truly selfless sacrifices they've made on our behalf.

 

www.warriorproject.com is a good place to start.

 

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Rickster said...

So glad to hear you are back home safe and "somewhat" sound. Appreciate your perspective on the race and the definition of success regarding the race. You do all you can to prepare and the results to a certain extent are not important because sometimes "bad things happen to good people" like it did for you coming down the mountain after midnight. You got dealt a lousy hand and played it to a royal flush.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Don,

Chris Bennett here. I really enjoyed riding with you and was devastated to hear about your crash from Luke and Ian. Great to hear that you are on the road to recovery. I've got some good photos of you at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/h45rbvs136i441q/efb7RnOCz9 so feel free to use them any way you like. Drop me a note at chris [a] lpcb.org and stay in touch.

12:40 AM  
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10:48 PM  

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