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Sometimes It's Easy Being a Good Sport

There are huge advantages to hiking or bicycling with a group, and yet, it is difficult to make it work. There are plenty of compatibility issues: where, when, how far, how fast? At times it makes you just want to chuck it. But in the case of road cycling one simply must try harder to make it work -- your safety depends on it.

It's too bad more women don't cycle. Cycling requires no upper body strength, and women have strong legs. Perhaps they are bothered by the occasional boorish male motorist; or maybe they don't like the way they look in spandex.  When they manage to overcome such issues and form a girl's club, they always seem to have a great time, chattering away on the bicycles or off.

Male cyclists have a special problem: they don't like getting their butts kicked. Think back to one of the platitudes of your school years: that 'sports build character.' I never really believed that pearl of wisdom back then, perhaps because I wasn't especially athletic. But over time I've come to accept it as profoundly true.

It's easy to scoff at tired platitudes that everybody pays lip service to. But what if that old platitude was replaced with 'As you work towards strategic victory, you must suffer many tactical defeats along the way?' (Granted, it's not terse enough to be a catchy aphorism.)

Nowhere is this reformed platitude brought to life better than for a Yuma cyclist. When you go bicycling here you are likely to get stomped by somebody 10 years older than you. Think of how unique and wonderful that is! Think of them rubbing their grimy, tarry, rear tires right in your face  -- just to piss you off -- and yet, you merrily spin along with a big smile on your face. On the one hand you are furious, which then makes you try harder and more often. But can you think of anything more cheerful and optimistic than seeing graphic proof that you still have a future in front of you?

Each tactical defeat of this type represents a step on the road to strategic victory. There is a pleasure unique to a situation like this: an intense simultaneity of opposites.

One day the all-male group really had the testosterone and endorphins flowing as it spun along at over 20 mph down a rather busy federal highway. Suddenly a cyclist (two bikes ahead of me) caught the edge of the pavement and crashed, with parts of his body a couple feet to the left of the white line. Until the accident occurred, I paid no special attention to the cyclist in question; he was just one more slender, physically fit, fast-spinning, elderly, hard-ass-on-wheels. But he was in his mid-80s!

The club closed ranks quickly and efficiently by warning onrushing traffic, staunching the blood, and arranging for a car-ride home for the poor fellow. Despite the military-like efficiency of our response, there was something "different" about it that I couldn't identify at first. One minute we were a rampaging tribe of barbarians; the next minute we had transformed into something quite different. But what? It reminded me of something.

There was a tenderness in our response like I sometimes show to my 17.5 year old miniature poodle. Clearly the club had a great deal of respect and admiration for our oldest rider. 

Throughout history humans have invented various techniques for dealing with their own mortality. The most ignoble technique is the Big Lie approach of religions that offer escapist psychological crutches. At the other extreme there is the approach that Yuma cyclists use: they are solid, realistic, and determined role models for everybody a few years younger. There is something noble about accepting inevitable defeat (mortality) on a strategic level, while grabbing tenaciously at success on a tactical level. It is the best a human can do, and that counts for something. In fact it counts for a lot.

In his "Skeptical Essays" Bertrand Russell said, "There is a stark joy in the unflinching perception of our true place in the world, and a more vivid drama than any that is possible to those who hide behind the enclosing walls of myth." 


Ed said…
Hurrah! One of your better postings.
"The most ignoble technique is the Big Lie approach of religions that offer escapist psychological crutches". It took me 64 years to finally understand and grow strong enough for that bit of logical reasoning, but you summed it up very well. Excellent blog entry.
Wandrin Lloyd said…
Great post and thoughts that I have many times to ponder when I hike with the younger crowd. Good for the ego when I am able to keep up with the younger guys.
Also. Great to hear that Pancho is still getting tender strokes.
George said…
Great stuff. I literally felt a jump for joy in my gut as you rephrased the experience of being passed by someone 10 years older to be proof of a life yet to live.
It is an interesting dichotomy within the human spirit of competition vs. cooperation. You point this out so well.
My current read is "The Denial of Death" by Ernest Becker, along with his "Escape from Evil." He holds the premise that evil springs from our unwillingness to accept our mortality and the particular behaviors we engage in to avoid or delay death. Interesting.
I think it's compatible with Russell above (though Russell is inaccurate to imply that myth is an inaccuracy. Myth is more correctly seen as a metaphor, according to Joseph Campbell who aught to know. However, I get Russell's point.) I would say "our true place in the world" means accepting our mortality and, from personal experience, I agree that this brings a deep and profound joy.
(Not meaning to diminish the joy of being 85 years old and passing up a youngster like you.)
McBe said…
You might enjoy these two articles about John Sinibaldi, a former Olympian cyclist who was still riding with his Florida club in his 90's.