Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Challenge

One of my goals for the upcoming year is to complete the Transrockies. It's a one week mountain bike race through the Canadian Rockies, from Fernie to Panorama, crossing the continental divide twice. Over seven days, I will ride more than 600 kilometres, including over 12,000 metres of vertical. It's one of the toughest mountain bike races on earth and it will be my first mountain bike race. I sure know how to pick them.

The event is something I've known about for a few years and look at from a distance with admiration for those who dare to take it on. From time to time, I had wondered whether it was something I should try...and then I would remember that I don't mountain bike. Perhaps it would be best to develop some mountain biking skills before considering this thing further.

Erik got me a mountain bike for Christmas two years ago and I have barely used it. I have always found excuses not to mountain bike. My favorite one has been: "if its nice enough to mountain bike, its nice enough to road bike". Others have included: "I don't like danger", "I don't know any trails", and "I'm not good at it". This year, some of these excuses have started to fall away. I love road biking, but I've discovered there comes a time when one has ridden to Big Hill Springs, Cochrane, Bragg Creek, Millarville a few too many times. So long to my favorite excuse. I tagged along with Erik a couple of times as he headed to Bragg Creek for some mountain biking. He showed me a few trails and left me to ride them at my own pace. To my surprise, I discovered that it was actually fun a lot of fun, didn't feel particularly dangerous when I was able to determine the pace, and I could see myself improving. Don't get me wrong, I'm no super star on a mountain bike - its more accurately a function of starting from a very, very low skill level, with only one direction in which to move. With my excuses rapidly disappearing, my enjoyment of the sport improving, and a bit more experience in the saddle, I looked to the event with increasing curiosity.

And then Erik competed in the event this year. Erik is no slouch on a mountain bike and is considerably tougher and more tolerant of hardship than me. His description of his experience in the race made clear just how tough it is. His description also made it clear that it was a fantastic way to experience the Rockies and a great opportunity for personal growth. I've chosen to listen more carefully to the latter messages and, when registration opened up for the 2007 event and was rapidly filling up, took the plunge and signed up to do the race. I'm now one step closer to doing the race.

Two critical steps remain before I'm going to be in a position to complete the Transrockies. One is getting my mountain bike skills and fitness to a level where this is within my reach. This is going to take a lot of focus and effort over the next nine months. I really have my work cut out for me. But, as if that wasn't daunting enough, there's an even more pressing challenge I face. It's finding a partner. Yes, this is a team event. And, well, um, I don't have a team mate yet. In fact, I haven't really ridden with anyone besides Erik really - and he's not exactly an option for me as a partner (by both his choice and mine).

I realize it might seem a little silly to commit to doing a team race like this without knowing my partner - afterall, the teammate is arguably the most important element. This is a pretty big commitment for anyone on their own. Add in the complexity of spending 24 hours a day with the same person for a whole week while you test your physical and emotional limits, and its kind of surprising that this event fills up every year. I think most people sign up with partners that they ride with regularly, or have a good sense for the skill level, fitness and personality fo the partner. Having not ridden much, there isn't a natural existing riding partner for me. I don't even know that many people that mountain bike or how my level of riding compares to theirs. So, here I am, making the situation even more complicated by putting myself in a position to find a partner that I've never ridden with, haven't spent any time with, and don't know particularly well. But I have faith. I've always been rewarded when I've taken a chance. Maybe it has just been luck. Or maybe it has been selective memory. Or maybe it has been the absence of expectations. But I feel good about the possibility that I will find a good partner for the race. It kind of excites me.

Skills and fitness will be key to finishing the race, but I think the most important thing I will need to find in a partner is someone with a similar philosophy on biking as me. My objective next year will be to finish with a smile on my face and a feeling of pride about the effort that my partner and I put in over the course of the week. I do not have the same fire in my belly as Erik does, which (besides the huge gap in skill and fitness) is why we would never be a good match for this. I would like to find someone that is better than me, but not so much better than me that it is not enjoyable for them. I'm secretly competitive and I know I will push myself harder if I have a partner that is riding at a higher level than me. A more skilled partner also has the benefit of experience, which will be important for pacing, preparation and organization. I would like a partner that is going to take this seriously (ie. willing to put in the effort training and unlikely to quit), but not so seriously that they forget to have fun. I have two people in mind and have no idea whether they would like to do the event, let alone with me. But I signed up for a spot in the race anyway. Let the adventure begin.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Reasons

I've hummed and hawed about starting a blog for a while now. I suppose it’s actually been a year and a half - ever since I went to Majorca for a cycling trip. It was the first time I'd taken a holiday on my own and the first time I'd been to Europe. Beyond some outstanding cycling and sightseeing, I experienced a range of new and different cultures and, perhaps more importantly, a new perspective on life. For as long as I can remember, I had been moving in a fairly focused direction, a direction dictated by my career aspirations. My studies, my employment, my extracurricular activities, my social life, and my lifestyle were all largely guided by my career aspirations. Focusing every aspect of one's life around a singular objective like this is a very efficient, low-risk path to success. Conversely, it’s a very efficient path to losing perspective and forgetting aspirations that haven't fit in well with the singular path. I speak from experience. Life has been pretty good to me so far. Part of this is a result of factors outside of my control - I have a happy, healthy, supportive family, a companion that challenges and inspires me, and a great circle of friends. But in April 2004, the icing on the cake was my personal achievements and the life I had built for myself. After completing a series of academic milestones, which was followed by a couple of years of ups and downs and a lot of hard work with a start up firm, it was all coming together. I had my dream job. As far as I was concerned when I left for Spain in April 2004, I was just living it up by going so for a week of early season cycling.

From the moment I arrived, I felt something inside of me changing. I emailed my family and friends pretty much daily to try to express at least some of my experiences. This was a great way to share experiences with those who could not be there with me. I considered it better than any souvenir I could bring back - and, in fact, I've discovered that documenting my experiences is also a great souvenir for me. But perhaps the most valuable aspect of documenting my experiences was that, in the process of sorting through the appropriate way to articulate an experience, it offered me a chance to more intimately appreciate what it was that I was experiencing. Ultimately, I came away with a much deeper appreciation of even the simple details. Experiences that might otherwise have been forgotten as ordinary or negative, took on a positive and memorable character through this process. It was an opportunity for self discovery. As I reflected on an experience and consider how I responded to it, I learned more about myself, my values, my interests. It was a conversation with myself, disguised as a letter home, I suppose. And, in Majorca, I had the first conversations with myself that I'd had for as long as I could remember. It made me aware of the little world I had created for myself and the interests that I had somehow forgotten through my focus and determination.

In reading the daily emails from my trip, my boss apparently joked that he was worried I wouldn't come back. I'm not sure he realized it, but part of me didn't come back. I left behind a person with a very limited perspective on life. That's not to say I came back all knowing, I just came back knowing that I'm not all knowing and having a voracious appetite to broaden my horizons - quickly. I felt as though I'd wasted too much time with a limited take on life. There seemed to me to be an infinite amount of self development and learning ahead of me and a finite life to work within. I was inspired to pursue every opportunity for self development that I could.

This remains a focus for me. I reflect on my week in Spain often. I have focused a lot of attention on personal development over the last year and a half. A blog was something that seemed to make sense for me, since I had a new appreciation for the value of documenting my experiences and I've been traveling regularly since my trip to Spain (so there should presumably be a lot to write about). Each time I consider something that I would like to do or that I think I should do, I'm now much more inclined to get at it as soon as possible. But, sometimes I get stuck and my limited perspective prevents me from advancing toward my goal. This has been the case with this blog. I set up my photo website in the spring as a first step in starting a blog. I registered my domain name in the summer. But I kept finding reasons why it wasn’t the right time. I had nothing to write about. I didn’t have time. Who would want to read this stuff anyway? My first post had better be a good one. So much pressure.

And then today I arrived home and Erik was getting ready to go for a bike ride. It's -25 degrees Celsius outside, the roads are covered in ice and snow and the sun has set. My perspective is that this kind of weather seems like a pretty good excuse to stay inside. But Erik is special. He inspires me. He knows that riding outside for 2 hours and 50 minutes when it’s this cold only builds character. He can find a way to appreciate what most of us choose not to. It's a matter of perspective I guess. He is so keenly aware that his life is ending one minute at a time.

Not seeing the weather as an excuse not to bike kind of makes my excuses not to start my blog seem small. Thanks to Erik, I've found the inspiration to make my first post. I realize this barely holds together, I'm hoping it’s a function of having a year and a half of pent up energy and unarticulated thoughts. But I figure there's no sense in wasting any more time and it should only get easier from here. I'm doing this for my sanity. I'm doing this because my life is ending one minute at a time. I'm doing this to keep perspective on life.