4.2.17

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.

- - -

Can the how be the what ?

8.1.17

Unconditionality

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.

- - -

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.

1.1.17

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.

- - -

Happy 306th prime.

26.12.16

Backcoupling

It's the third day of the first training camp for the upcoming season, and I'm at home, with a sore throat and a minor sunstroke. Inspired by my out-of-season springtime and the phenomenal weather currently gracing the Balearic islands, I may have pushed, erm, just a tad beyond what would have been deemed appropriate for this time of the year (#FuckReasonable being the tagline of choice on many of my recent Strava rides) - and must now pay in full the price of my daringness.

With my training mates gone to explore the decadent bar scene, I sit, my entire body hurting, shrunk in the couch by the fireplace, as Elbow's "Leaders of the Free World" plays in the background. Between writing friends back in the Continent and sipping chamomile tea with honey, I skim through some entries from this very blog. Reviewing stories from the past few weeks - and years - somehow the aches are diminished, and I must restrain myself not to begin drawing plans for yet another long, and fast, day in the saddle tomorrow (maybe I do want to keep that remaining tonsil after all...).

Nevertheless. I wrote, and I hold to it, that inspiring others is the ultimate goal behind sharing my adventures here. Sometimes, however, it turns out that I am the one inspired. Even if perhaps a bit narcissistically, I manage to be touched, why, even admire some of my own prose as it reminds me of the obvious conclusion when facing this evening's maladies:

That's a bill I'm glad to pay.

23.12.16

Canadian Lakes, Bavarian Mountains

November 21st, 2010. Bruce Peninsula National Park, somewhere by Georgian Bay. After a cold, windy night, the morning sun coloured the overcast eastern sky with shades of magenta. The sea is a good place to think of the future - but on that weekend, a lake had to make do.


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December 21st, 2016, Winter solstice. Atop the Wallberg, Bavarian Alps. The alarm clock went off at 4 AM ahead of the drive to Rottach-Egern where the clear, moonlit sky made headlamps redundant for the night ascent. Reaching the top just ahead of dawn, I savoured a cup of coffee awaiting the first rays of sunlight.


- - -

In between, exactly two thousand, two hundred and twenty-two days. I swear I did not plan the dates.

11.12.16

Le Sacre d'hiver

I flew back from the Middle of the Atlantic with more questions than answers, clinging dearly to the hope that my stream of overflowing emotions somehow managed to reach out, to inspire and embrace. I was afraid, exposed, and exhausted - yet simultaneously radiantly happy and whole. And as I woke up from almost twelve hours of sleep the day after, I could hear that electrifying music playing again - silently and yet so loud.

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Walking back from our company's Christmas dinner, I contemplated the small, and perhaps not so small, goals and milestones we've achieved, and the plethora of ideas and plans for the way ahead we had just discussed over a Nero d'Avila or three. For the first time in many a year, I felt like there could be, however blurred and tortuous, a greater goal, a sense of purpose. Reaching the subway platform, Münchener Freiheit greeted me with its trademark classical concert on the background. I had to smile.

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The wind didn't come stiff from the North, but rather gently from the South. The Föhn, a dry, warm air rushing down the Alps, is perhaps the most charming meteorological event to grace the Bavarian capital and its surroundings. The clear air allows for an untarnished view of the entire mountain range, and, for this cyclist, is seen as a standing invitation to hit the slopes of what is now - replacing Burg Feuerstein, the ascent to the Castle of the Fire Stone, from seasons gone by - my favourite local climb, the Peißenberg.

Going under 20 minutes to the top, in December no less, is perhaps less than reasonable in view of progressively ramping up volume and intensity. Yet - despite the training wheels, the crust of mud still stuck to the frame from a previous Autumn ride - with the legs effortlessly turning whatever gear I chose, come wind or hill, there was absolutely no holding back. And how could I? After all, the music was almost deafening...

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Comme dans le Sacre du printemps. Mais, c'est l'hiver? Peu importe: Yay! toujours.

8.12.16

The lobster of Reykjavik

Casting off an old, confining shell is, however painful, a necessary act for the lobster to be able to grow - as Rabbi A. Twerski points out when discussing growth through adversity. Using such as a metaphor for getting out of our comfort zones (or, in the case at hand, jumping from the heights of the tallest mountain, sans parachute, in hope of learning to fly) would be exactly fitting, but for two caveats: One, when doing so, we may not enjoy having the protection of a rock to hide under, with the metamorphosis due to take place out in the open, akin to rebuilding the hull of a ship in the maelstrom of a perfect storm, when the safety of the docks is not an option; And two, while the crustacean, as it undergoes the shedding of its old and growing of the new shell, has - probably - a good idea of how his new armour will look like, our growth process leads to an entirely unknown final state - wherein lies its terrifying beauty.

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Deciding to face such undertaking could be cast as the single most important question, defining our whole existence. I'll argue that, should the answer be delegated to reason and reason alone, then we are ultimately no different than a sophisticated, yet mechanical, and thus soulless, artificial intelligence. And there's no point of living // if you can't feel alive ...

... and no better way of feeling such than helping someone else find the same.

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The sun broke through the winter foliage on a cold December morning. Temperatures in Munich were almost as many degrees colder as the latitude difference to Iceland's capital. A thin layer of frost covered the cars parked left and right as I opened the balcony door, placed the fan outside, and climbed on the bike.  Four hundred watts can cure almost everything.