Friday, February 15, 2013

Raise the seat. Aim for a central point just ahead of you.

I learned something recently from a guy I know.

Wait... that didn't sound quite right, did it?  

Really, this is not a blog entry about that.  

But I did momentarily capture the attention of your inner 5-year -old, didn't I?  (Or, for some folks, their inner 18-year-old... ) 

(Now kindly re-direct your inner kindergartener to something more appropriate, while consoling your inner teenager, that there will be some mention of long legs coming up... oh, and a brief bondage joke.  You have been warned.

Ahem... back to those life lessons. 

I'm referring, of course, to what I have learned recently about riding my bike.  And while I was riding my bike today, I got to thinking about how those lessons could be applied in the rest of my life.  

Lesson 1- Raise the seat

Ok, this one I did NOT learn from a guy, (aren't you relieved?)  but it is something I discovered today on my ride.  I'm 5'10" and most of my height is in my legs.  I was the kid with the high-waters throughout most of my childhood.  And now I refer to my summer collection of "cropped pants" when I can't find the extra-long jeans for my 36-inch inseam. After struggling along with a much-too-short bike for a couple of years, I'd given myself the gift of a right-sized bike last Spring, when I needed to cross-train for my first half-marathon.  But I had never considered whether the height of the seat was properly adjusted to give me enough power in each pedal stroke.  Today, it suddenly occurred to me to raise the seat a couple of inches, and... voila !  More power ! 

I'm thinking that there's a metaphor I need to consider: when I'm feeling like I'm just not making any headway, I need to consider extending myself a bit more, stretching a little beyond my current comfort zone, if I want to experience my full power.  

Lesson 2: Aim for a central point just ahead of you.

This lesson was the one that actually got me thinking about how what I learn on my bike applies to my life.  And it's the one I learned from a guy. :-) 

I had a conversation, a couple of weeks ago, with a friend who is a competitive cyclist, and a pretty helpful guy when it comes to advice.  We were talking about that wobbly feeling that you get when you have to somehow thread yourself and the bike through a narrow place on a ride: gates, a tight overtake-and-pass, or riding in a group. Take a look at the photo above and notice those poles at the end of the crosswalk.  All along my ride on the bike trails around here, I have to ride through those gateways.  Sure, they don't look all that narrow, until, as a newbie cyclist, I try to ride through one, and I find myself feeling wobbly and having to slow way down, which makes me even more wobbly, which can lead to crashing into one of the poles.  They are a kind of Island of the Sirens for a casual cyclist like me: the poles have a kind of magnetic pull, and a swerve to either side can bring me to destruction, or at least bruises and embarrassment.  

And my friend's advice was to aim for a central point, ahead of you, just beyond the narrow place.  I tried it today for the first time, during my 22-mile ride along the Contra Costa Canal Trail.

And it worked !  As I approached the gateway, I chose a specific leaf, pebble, or even a dark spot on the pavement, a few feet past the gateway, and I maintained speed and sailed right through, again and again, gate after gate.  It didn't work as well when I just told myself to "look past the gate".  It seemed like I needed a specific, visible point to aim for.

In my life these days, my own magnetic, crash-inducing, poles-on -the-trail Sirens are guilt, grief, self-doubt, and a kind of paralyzing depression that makes me a lousy mom and a real drag as a friend.  Each time I get "ambushed" either by a holiday, or some kind of family milestone, or something that reminds me of the difference between my life now and where I wish it was, I find myself wobbling dangerously close to these monsters.  (If you've forgotten the story of Odysseus and the Sirens since your junior high school English class, click on the blue text, and you can grab a quick fix.)

So... what to do?  In the story, Odysseus had his crew put wax in their ears and then lash him to the mast while they sailed past the rock where the Sirens were.  But you know, if I'm going to have a bunch of sailors tie me up, it had better be for something way, way more fun than simply ignoring me while we sail past some old rock.  (Of course, I'm kidding... my mom reads this blog...and so do my pastors.) 

But I CAN "aim for a central point" ahead of me. 

If an emotional "narrow gate" on the calendar is looming, and I feel myself getting wobbly, and I'm pulled toward a crash, I can stay aware of those "poles", but keep moving toward a specific, visible point, just beyond that gate.  I have a feeling that the whole "just think of your future" thing isn't going to work.  It's too vague, and frankly, there are too many future scenarios that are not at all cheery, if my mind chooses to go that way.  Instead, I need to identify the possible upcoming narrow spots, and then find or plan a specific event, preferably something involving doing for others, extending myself (see Lesson #1), that will occur just past the opening of the narrow place I have to travel through.   

March... no problems that I see...April / Easter... I think that one's pretty well covered.  A celebration of the victory of life over death, of resurrection, renewal, redemption... I think that one won't involve too much Andre-loaded wobbling. 

May... a bit more challenging.  That one is going to require some spotting of specific pebbles on the pavement.  I've got a birthday in the month, and then there's what would have been our 19th wedding anniversary, a week later, on the 28th.  I've got a bit of time to spot those pebbles, I guess.  One possible "pebble"  might be my half-marathon run with the American Brain Tumor Team Breakthrough, on June 16.  (If you click on the blue text, it will take you right to my fundraising page.  How's that for shameless self-promotion?  It's for a good cause, though.)

June...maybe I'll still be running off the high of the half marathon for part of the month, but I'll need a pebble to steer for as I approach my eldest son's birthday on the 25th.  

July brings us to the one-year mark, and it might take more than steering toward a pebble to keep me from wobbling.  But that's where my amazing friends come in.  Somehow, I'll get through it... or maybe somebody will round up a crew of sailors to do that lashing-to-the-mast thing...No, wait...I didn't say that, did I?  (No worries, Mom, I really am kidding...

Hebrews 12:1-2 
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

I'm thinking that will make a pretty good-sized pebble, in addition to any of the other ones I might need to line up.  

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