Road trip

750 kilometers to where the Drac meets the Isère

21 hairpins on the way to the top

48 days later.

A comeback has to start somewhere.



Those had been some hard weeks at work: a trade fair, a colleague on holidays, a new release going out among other pressing deadlines, and those nagging tickets coming in from the support desk. Then the ordeals in cycling, the meetings with team management and sponsors, and training camp preparations, all while riding like a man possessed. Not to mention, well, all that actually matters.

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you and one could say the writing was on the wall that something had to give. Or perhaps it was indeed a combined hand of improbable events and my recently reaffirmed vows towards the Gods of Yay had no bearing in the ordeals that ensued. Maybe - likely - a mixture of the two.

Previously I had discussed certain virtuous masochistic tendencies and my appreciation of hardships on the way to not at all megalomaniac goals. But, contrary to previous times where such setbacks were faced with the usual dose of enjoyment (!?), the aftermath of the latest events left me in a desolate and bare state, questioning choices and capabilities that I once had taken as unassailable: a whole new meaning to the idea of a lobster with no shell. Interesting times indeed.

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The phrase, "create something from nothing", was found in many a conversation some time ago, but in the case at hand, there was something, only now it's been burnt down to the ground. And I long to foster it anew, hoping to force back some meaning onto what is otherwise essentially chaos.

To constantly re-create oneself, from decaying states that Entropy (ah, Boltzmann, my friend!) strives to steer towards the Void - perhaps in cycles of varying strength. There's a mythological figure for that.

A bird, no less.


Amplitude Spectrum

Fall in love, rush up a mountain to see the sun rise, lead a start-up as it ventures onto new markets, or command a thriving cycling team on its first year racing the Bundesliga: I've recently rediscovered the thrill of reaching for the highest highs.

But in a sudden turn of events, I found myself grasping for dear life, watching powerless as an infection spread and urgent intervention was required. In those few minutes between hearing the diagnosis, signing the disclaimers for the procedure, and being wheeled off to be sedated, there was a sheer panic unlike any I had ever experienced.

As I convalesced, even while absorbing positive news from my recovering state, questions flooded in: would I ever cycle again? How hard should one fight for what he loves, and when is it wise to let go? Who am I, if I'm stripped of what makes me be?

The non plus ultra experiences set the bar for what is the upper limit ever higher, and push me to try and always reach out further. But events such as the latest, experiencing joy simply from being able to carry out activities otherwise taken for granted, remind me just how important it is to remain aware of the fundamental state which still defines us as human beings: the lowest low.

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In between these extremes, the broad range over which it all unfolds.


Pity and Fear

The recent lack of episodes left me wondering, questioning deeply if I could have been so mistaken or had done so wrong in piercing a hole through my thorax and laying a still beating heart on the table announcing, it's yours for the taking. As I watched its beat grow ever slower, like a paramedic rushing for the defibrillator, I channelled my remaining energy into two other endeavours as is often my wont. And while this energy was well absorbed into work as we faced a perfect storm of trade fairs, missed deadlines and customer issues over the past few weeks, in cycling, this corresponded to - again ignoring warning signs - pushing out too far during our second training camp.

The fear, once of the abstract, is now of the physical. I will only know the full scope after surgery but I'm scared: this godless atheist, with no heavens to pray to, can only hope such fears are unjustified.

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If you're reading this, it means I have now not only been subject to, but also survived, surgical interventions in exactly 20% of the twenty countries I have visited.

A yay! for being alive!


The How and the What

"The journey is the destination" is, undoubtedly, the most overused cliché in this blog (in fact, even referring to this is already becoming cliché - I'm so meta, even this acronym...). Often times, however, the story lies not in the goal - the what - nor even necessarily on the road towards it, but in the way it is to be traversed: the destination, then, is actually the how, and not simply the undertaking itself.

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My choice of means seems to heavily favour electing the hardest path. I have a fable for going with the underdog, clearly exemplified with my company or cycling team - the additional hardships of fighting against the odds, the suffering of slings and arrows somehow raising the enjoyment of any eventual achievement.

This, however, only makes sense if there is still a worthy goal, even if an ever-moving target - seeking the harshest ways as an end unto itself would be a worrisome evidence of a known, classified mental disorder: Millon's virtuous masochistic personality subtype includes, among its traits, a tendency for weighty burdens to be judged noble. Just where is the line to be drawn?

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As I fought over the entire summer to maintain my status in the highest ranked amateur division, I traversed alone thousands of kilometres to take part in deplorable races, under miserable conditions, in often vain attempts to score those feeble missing rank list points, feeling expectations and anxiety build up with each missed opportunity. And then, on the second last race of the calendar, I drove back from the Baltic with an exquisite trophy on the passenger seat, the A letter assured on my next year's license: Win.

And yet, that triumph was but the external good (MacIntyre, once again). Two years before, in what ended up being another particularly hard season, I went through a similar struggle - and failing then only served to emphasise the reasons why I would, later, again choose to subject myself to such ordeals: the goods internal to the practice - the journey - and perhaps even internal to the very act of fighting. The love for the how. I hold there was, and is, a certain virtue in simply not giving up, no matter what odds one may be up against. Which defines me, or rather: which I want to define me.

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Can the how be the what ?



There's a lingering melancholy on the last few days of a training camp.

Conversation around dinner markedly slows down, all tired from the cumulative fatigue of the past week and a half. The remaining rides to be ticked off the training plan, adding up to another couple hundred of training kilometres, seem like an insurmountable obstacle, so clearly all are already longing for home. And even if by no means as cold as back in the continent, the days, not as warm as when we first landed, contribute to more introspective moments under the blankets or with a hot beverage by the couch. The hours drag by.

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They hugged and said goodbye, he walked to the next tube station, she continued on to her hotel - both had flights to catch the next day. He could barely sleep that night. Watching the sunrise the next morning, it dawned upon him that which, carried away as they strolled around Leicester Square enjoying a gelato, he had perhaps not even noticed: he really had no choice.

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Flying home, one can look back and realise, hard and long and tiring as they were, all it took to accomplish whatever goals were set was a certain drive, perhaps motivated by the reassurance that such journeys are, in the end, always worth undertaking. In this case, leading one to get out of bed in the morning, fuel up, and, throwing a leg over the saddle, ride off onto the distance. "To meet one's destiny", however filled with drama, doesn't quite convey all there is to is: accepting, and resolutely carrying through with that which must be ultimately done: life is much simpler once certain alternatives are removed, whether forcefully or voluntarily, from its intricate equations.

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2017 starts now. There's a lot of excitement from plans and unknowns, but also - the other side of this concept, physically cast as irreversibility: thermodynamics always has the upper hand - a feeling that time, slowly but surely, is steadily ticking away.

Here's to making the best of it, no matter what: unconditionally.


Training Theory for Lobsters and Dummies

"People get stronger if they voluntarily expose themselves to things they're afraid of".

In a different context, the above quote - from Jordan Peterson, who, love him or hate him, made an exceptionally moving defence of free speech at a recent UofT forum - represents the underlying principle behind the impulse-response model upon which virtually all modern endurance training theory is based on. In a controlled fashion, you break yourself down and let the body repair itself - coming out just a little bit stronger at the end of the it. Rinse, repeat, and you have my training plan: voluntarily exposing myself to those dreaded sessions, a nearly visceral fear getting hold of me ahead of every Tuesday morning date with the trainer. Yet, frankly, the day I stop fearing those, I might as well as hang up the wheels, such is the passion I've come to develop with this process.

Being a proponent of high-intensity interval training, I tend to go balls-to-the-wall as often as I can. The body's hormonal response is much stronger, and besides, the whole fun is in going fast anyway. My recent bout of fever, however, served to highlight that this approach works only as long as you can handle it - obviously, and yet so often prone to be overseen. Dig a hole too deep, and instead of bouncing back incrementally stronger the next day, you end up in bed (or in the operating room, which - knock on wood - was not the case this time). One needs thus a controlled approach to madness - perhaps I can lay claim to "reasonably unreasonable"?

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Peterson's argument can nevertheless be taken into a much more broader sense. We grow, professionally, emotively, or in virtually any other dimension, through similar dynamics.

Making use of the recent lobster analogy, I was left wondering whether it was not the case that new shells are rebuilt ever stronger the more often one breaks older ones down? Or, maybe framing it differently, perhaps the more one grows used to being subject to the discomfort of this exogenous growth process, the more malleable the shell becomes? Or even - perhaps such constant stream of impulses could ultimately make the shell itself unnecessary?

I would venture that also my caveat pledging for moderation holds in such cases - just as well as the conclusion I reached while convalescingIn dubia pro audax. When in doubt, go all in. Expose yourself. For if, by failing, one still learns something new, then it's not a failure at all. The shell will take care of itself.

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The northern slopes of the island were covered with clouds, temperatures falling slightly. I dread Puig Major, not the climb, but the descent, and on a cold afternoon no less. Already the ascent was frigid enough, with few cars and fewer cyclists seen on that last day of the year. Reaching the top, I zipped my windbreaker, looked at the village almost a thousand meters below, and even if shivering, as if to make a point to the fading year, went for that which I'm afraid of.

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Happy 306th prime.