The Destination Stays The Same

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your .. khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”

Tyler Durden

———————————–

In bike racing, your wallet depth means nothing. You won’t win a race because you wear a pair of Oakleys. You won’t win because you ride a carbon fiber bike, and you won’t lose because of your steel bike. Having mud on your bike will not lose you the race, and neither will the brand name and model of your shifter, or the color of your shoes or the color of your teams clothing.

In bike racing, your bike is a tool, not a jewel. To waste money on expensive parts that will “help” you is to distract oneself of the truth; that the man, not the machine, wins the race.

————————————

As we drove down the N60, I knew that I wasn’t ready. It had been almost a month to the day since I landed in Belgium. I had been training a fair amount, but I’d still had enough days that were sub par so that I knew where I sat race-wise. Despite this, I still remained optimistic. It was 12:50, and the race didn’t start until 15:00. I sat in the passenger seat of the white 9-passenger Opel van and slowly sucked down my “rocket-fuel” water with caffeine as well as a few other supplements as we passed a McDonald’s on the right.  “You know, even though I don’t like McDonald’s much, and I purposely avoid the food, I can’t help but feeling like I’m passing the US Embassy right now,” I said.

Less than an hour later we were in the heart of Wetteren, just outside of Gent. As we drove down the would-be finishing straight, we remarked at the number of riders we saw, despite it being a whole two hours before the start. As we walked to the small pub to register for the race, I was amazed at the extent to which the promoters went to ensure a good race. Metal guard rails lined the street with a large inflatable arch to mark the finish line. There was a food stand near the line that was preparing for the coming festivities. The smell of onions cooking in pork fat wafted through the air.

When we reached the pub, there was a line winding out through the door. After standing like zombies for 20 minutes, and in all probability being made fun of by the Dutch riders ahead of us in line, I caught a glimpse of the registration table. The room looked like a meeting hall with wood walls with only a thrid of it in use, on the left were two official-looking men with a computer and a bar-code scanner, and a third lost-looking old man taking money and handing out vinyl race numbers. To the right was a table with six old Flemish men drinking beer, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and cigars, playing cards and remarking about the riders waiting in line. I handed my letter declaring my permission to race from USA Cycling as well as my international racing license. I signed my name next to #34 on the sign-in sheet and paid my 8 Euro to the next man and got a vinyl number to pin on.

After thoroughly warming up as well as peeing a few times, riders formed at the start line. My jacket came off and got tossed into the van and I staked my place in the lineup. As I looked up over top everyone’s heads, a sea of riders stood ahead. I looked back and about half that amount covered the ground. Riders showing up late to the line were riding through the grass and onto the sidewalk to find a more suitable place to start. Before I knew it, I’d made the rookie mistake of being in the back. Without the time to move up as shamelessly as the others, I swallowed the hard pill of starting at the back, a relative death sentence to a bike racer, let alone a Belgian bike racer.

The start was painfully slow. The riders ahead went at normal speed while those behind were still waiting to put their second foot to the pedal. By the end of the straight, we were already racing at 40mph.

Right turn.

Now a roundabout.

Because there were so many riders, those at the rear practically came to a halt at the roundabout, a handful of riders in front of me exploited the sidewalk and went straight through the mess. Though the sidewalk was the most direct path, we had to dodge spectators. The speed was intense. I tucked to the left to look further ahead in the peloton. The rush of wind that hit me was like a punch to the face. There were about a dozen  riders shredded behind me. I didn’t know how much longer I’d hold on for. It was like a scene from a Vietnam war movie, guys were getting torn apart before the war even began. We rounded a corner with bricks. I have to move up in the field and I have to do it now, otherwise I’ll end up as burger.

It felt like a homecoming when we made the right turn onto the 2km finishing straight, but first we had to split the overflowing peloton into two to get past a traffic island.

A few riders go down. Just like that it was over.

It’s easy to think that buying the latest and greatest gizmo will make you faster. There are plenty of scientific studies down to say that such and such product reduces your physical output by some increasingly miniscule amount. Lance Armstrong worked with his helmet sponsor and his sunglasses sponsor so that his helmet and glasses would feel better together. Did that help him win races?

Bike racing is equalizing. If you’re not strong, you will not last long. At the end of the first of 10 laps, I got dropped like a hot potato in a hot potato dropping contest. Chalk one up to experience. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to race much, I expected to learn, and I learned a lot from that single lap. By constant learning and application cycles, my racing will improve. Everything that hurts me only makes me stronger as a person and therefore better as a person. Before too long there will be too much of me to kill.

Talib Kweli said, “Life’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

 

 

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~ by Mitcholo on March 18, 2010.

6 Responses to “The Destination Stays The Same”

  1. Proud of you grasshopper – you’ve changed a lot already- you are a fast learner. Loved hearing your voice yesterday. Putting the care package together.
    Much Love Mom

  2. Mitch, you are learning and growing in leaps and bounds. We try and spare you the work that we had to go through. So we say “don’t do as I did”, but really ONLY in real experiences do we truly learn and come to a new understanding – ONLY THEN DO WE TRULEY GROW! Keep experiencing!

  3. why do you hate my fancy carbon fiber bike and oakley sunglasses?

    🙂

    keep the updates coming.

  4. The more I ride on fast group rides, the more I realize that the best riders often don’t have the best gear. Sure, nice gear and a clean drivetrain, but the hardest characters aren’t often on a the nicest/most expensive bike. I also realize that when you are traveling in a pack at 35 miles, it is nice know that you won’t miss a shift and that your brake pads are clean and work well

    Good write up, keep on learning. Every time I go riding in groups I learn something knew and get faster. That is pretty cool to see instant growth, with a little bit of suffering:)

    And regarding nice gear and a clean bike…yesterday a dude joined us a few miles into our ride. Had a nice carbon Specialized but the thing was insanely dirty. Then I watched him ride – wow, he was talented. I almost felt dumb for spending too much time keeping my bike clean. And I also realized that while I might spend far too much time on the internet oogling bikes, when you are out on a fast group ride you are trying to hard to hang on and can’t even check the gear out! Funny how that works:)

  5. Love the read. Keep it up.

    I think Emerson might take exception to the credit you gave that last quote! (I prefer Black Star to RWE anyday, though)

  6. i love your writing style, it’s descriptive without losing the main point, which is always a plus. keep writing and i’ll keep reading.

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