Monday, September 6, 2010

Life is like enduro

I can't believe I haven't posted anything new since July 04.  Where did the summer go?

I got into a conversation about worry yesterday.  My friend was stressing about a trip later this month that could pose some personal challenges.  There would be people there from an old life and a different moral background, a lot of things that were familiar but no longer appropriate.  They were worrying about whether to go at all, whether to go alone or with someone, whether to take it as a character-building challenge and be a good example for everyone else.  I watched them change their mind, in print, twice in a single weekend.

I was reminded of a quote I've heard in church for years, that life is not a sprint but a marathon.  Neither of us run, so... "life is not a track day but an enduro".  I've ridden two track days at Virginia International Raceway.  By mid-afternoon, I knew the track so well that my last six lap times were all within 5 seconds of each other over a 2 mile circuit, in traffic.  Now, I'm not that great a race rider, so this reflects the nature of the game.

The pavement was perfect and clean, and I could see everything in front of me.  I was replaying each of the 17 turns in that track mentally over lunch and for weeks after.  It was predictable and controlled.  Honestly, I should have improved more.  Look at all that pavement...

The rider behind me was my instructor.  During one of my fastest laps, he passed me, in a turn, on the outside, waving one hand for me to follow him.  Puts all my stuff in perspective.

Then there's enduro.  I've been riding a lot of enduro this summer.  You're on a perfectly good trail and come to a fork, so you take it.  You round the curve through the trees and can finally see about 50 feet in front of you.  One side of the trail is exposed rocks and the other is dirt with a gully down the middle, and you are closing in fast.  The shoulder of the rock side is the face of the mountain; the shoulder of the dirt side is a cliff.  It's like this every few minutes all day, and it's the most fun I have in my life right now.

There are always choices.  There are occasionally choices that are life-changing, like cliffs and rock walls.  I've hit one rock wall, and I paid for it.  I've come within inches of the cliff a dozen times, but those don't really count.  On the trail mentioned above, I took the rock side.  I like rocks.  Around the bend, the gully crossed the trail and pinched me off.  I had to jump the gully (sideways across the trail, mind you) onto this narrow stretch of dirt with a cliff on the far side.  I felt one wheel actually skirt the edge.  That was only the midpoint of a long day's ride, too, so it wasn't like I could even dwell on it.  It wasn't a near-disaster, it was just "riding".

Does any of that count as a bad decision?  I was a capable rider, and I did what I did on purpose.  I was taught once that, if your heart is committed to God and you have asked for direction and are actually a good listener, that what you do will be within God's plan. No finger of fire writing on the wall, no booming voice, just you acting as the hands and feet of God.  This isn't sacrilege; it's reflected in everything we do.  Here on Earth -- grin -- we call it "expertise". There's an axiom in athletic training that states "practice makes permanent".  Not "perfect", but "permanent", because you can practice things the right or wrong way.

I was in an off-road park with my wife one day, who is a talented flat-track racer but hates hill climbing.  Our trail through the woods had forks on each side marked "Hill Climb", so we went straight.  Around the bend, through the trees, the trail went straight up the hill.  I took a quick visual scan.  Clean, dusty rock about 5 feet wide on each side, eroded gully down the middle deeper than my wheels.  "Go left", stand up, throttle up, top of the hill with a goofy grin.  Never hesitated.  My wife got halfway up and hit a tree stump about 4 inches wide and high.  In a full 6 feet of clear, bare hillside, she found a stump the size of a coffee cup and tipped herself upside down in the gully.

It's a phenomenon we call "target fixation".  Target fixation is a panicked attention given to the object of our fear instead of the path around it.  Look where you want to go, not where you don't want to go.  If you go where you want to go, then distractions remain distractions instead of obstacles.  Dawn doesn't fixate at ALL on the street, but she hates hill climbing.  This is the reason I can go up a hill like a goat, on purpose, but trying to avoid the one big rock can be disastrous.  Observe.

When you've listened, then acted, listened, then acted, for long enough, you begin to act in the spirit of the law, the moral character behind the directions you've been listening to.  We can make mistakes because we're human, but our mistakes tend to be less catastrophe and more nuisance, and we recover from them better.  I believe there exists a "perfect line" sometimes, an best decision with the easiest outcome.  Other times, it is a matter of walking through the valley of the shadow of death without fear because I am not alone.

That picture of me looking down at my bike in the trail... I landed on my feet with the bike beneath me, and I rode home with a smile on my face.  My only screw-up was that I tried to stop and second-guess myself on a muddy, rocky slope because there was a fallen tree alongside the trail.  Not even "in" the trail.

I kid you not; if I'd have just kept going, I wouldn't have fallen in the first place.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day, 2010

Happy Independence Day, everyone!  My weekend has included time spent lifting iron with friends, worship as a guest guitar player at my buddy's church, and some basic rest at home with the missus.  Festive neighborhood, here in the Buckhead singles district, but most of the people "celebrating" are doing it in such a way that they will not remember it.  Just north of here, there's the annual Peachtree Road Race, where the streets are blocked.  Just south of here, nobody's American.  I wonder what they're all doing?  Probably watching Krapistan on World Cup and singing along to the vuvuzelas.  If I'd gotten on the road earlier or made plans a little farther out of the neighborhood, I'd be celebrating the anniversary of my nation by blowing up a small part of it with fireworks.

First, I am grateful for freedom to hold to a moral center of my own.  I am glad to be a follower of Jesus.  I know people who have to lie about their faith to survive, women treated as second-class humans, and people providing love and care to those abandoned by their local culture.  I do not support legalizing required Christian behavior because I don't want some other faith to come along and make my beliefs illegal in the next election.  That's not what our government's here for.  We are blessed to be free to not just follow but to "believe".  If that word "blessed" not part of your vocabulary, feel free to say you are "damned lucky" to be American, whatever the rest of the world says.  Pardon my French, the phrase fits.

I'm glad for a new season of "Anthony Bourdain - No Reservations" starting tomorrow night.  I'm glad for Moto GP, and I pray for Vale's quick recovery, though Lorenzo is a prince and has totally come into his own.  I'm glad for American-made Gibson guitars and Russian kettlebells and Japanese motorcycles.  There, I said that.  I've had four Italian and one German, and I'm glad I have Japanese bikes.  They run.

I could go on, but I'm grateful to be healthy, employed, housed, and clean.  Not nearly grateful enough.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Turning 40

subtitled "Does this blog make my butt look fat?"

I think I just turned 40. My birthday was last Summer, but I think it's finally hitting me, less like an brick and more like a wave. Anybody who knows me knows I'm interested in music, fitness, and motorcycles. Anybody who REALLY knows me knows I wish I would go see (and play) more live music but never do it, I'm not half as fit as I'd like to be, and I ride mostly to get around now instead of to go fast and far. These sorts of realizations finally piled up on me this month in a new way, the sort of way that occurs once every few years in the middle of Spring cleaning or packing for a move.
This is so embarrassing.

It all started with my butt. A couple years ago, I injured a leg and was off my feet a while, and I lost a lot of muscle mass in my legs and generally lost a lot of weight. Some people gain weight when they're not well. I lost 17 pounds, 11% of my body weight, in one week. So, all my shirts and pants got baggy. I pulled out my "skinny clothes" and shifted the whole closet to the left. After a year of lifting weights, all those clothes are tight and my old "fat clothes" just hang funny. My pants barely reach my shoes, and I'm not suddenly inches taller. Nothing else looks quite like a 40-yr-old man with brand new muscles and white tube socks showing beneath his jeans. "This is all my butt's fault", I told myself.
Stupid butt.

Now I have to go shopping, and I hate shopping for clothes. Bad enough I have to fit my fat butt and short legs, but now I've got this nagging reluctance about the urban hippie thing I've been doing these last few years. I go everywhere on a motorcycle, so I wear riding jeans most every day with an armored jacket. The jacket's pretty harsh on collared shirts and the like, so I haven't worn anything ironed in two years. It's mostly thermals or T's from software companies and toy companies and rock bands. Now my favorite shirts and half my jeans all ride up and stretch 'cause of my fat butt, and I don't have the will to go replace them. It's an odd hesitancy, like a hidden desire to dress... "nice". I think that's the word, anyway.

There are all these cool movies and TV shows with Jet Li and Jason Statham and Adrian Paul and the like where they all have a closet full of the same black outfit and a light sweater. I wish. I've wished I had the guts to do that for 5 years now; my wife, too. It'd be GREAT to trade in two closets, two bureaus, and Lord only knows how many rubbermaid things under the bed for 5 pairs of pants and 10 shirts that all wash together and fit right. I've only known one person who actually wore all black almost every day, and his stuff was a little more military/hunting than urban action star. It still had quite a "look" to it. I wish. I love my powder blue Slinky t-shirt.

The other thing that happened to me was this closet. Oh have mercy, this closet. I'm ashamed to admit that I rent a mini-storage. I started through this closet, making a checklist of stuff to take to storage. Stuff I haven't looked at since the last time I loaded it into a moving truck. The crystal from my wedding. A computer full of computer games that I haven't played in... I don't know, years. They're just sentimental. (The Quake mods might be more sentimental to me than the wedding crystal, but don't tell my wife I said that.) How many toolboxes does a man with no workshop actually NEED?

There's this concept of cleaning house, not just the dwelling but the life. I feel I'm in need of a housecleaning. I'm not pathological, but seeing TV listings for "Hoarding: Buried Alive" on cable does make my skin crawl a little. There's an axiom that anything I didn't wear in the last year, I'm not going to wear again. How much do I care whether I'm at the show in a York Peppermint Patty t-shirt or in something that fits like a glove and doesn't fill up my closet? Do I really need anything in storage that I haven't handled in a year, 3 years? ... 10 years? Does anyone out there want a PC/Windows CD-ROM for Mortal Kombat? The game, not the movie... Before you snicker at me, count how many walls of your place are lined with books and CDs.

I promise to keep this part brief, but this is part of the reason I started using kettlebells and bodyweight exercises. The equipment is minimal and portable, and I only need about 3 45min sessions a week to make continued, long-term gains in strength and fitness. There's this great tag line in the community, "Don't use machines, become one". I love that. I can fit my entire "gym" in a dufflebag, if you can find me a dufflebag that can carry 3 cannonballs without ripping. I could STORE it in a dufflebag. There, I said that. Anyway, it feels like progress, one teensy-little step.

My life needs an enema. One phone with a gym timer, mp3 player, email program and basic camera: check. Effective fitness program with a yoga mat and an iron lump in my free time: check. Closet with so much cardboard the enclosure technically counts as "recyclable": needs work. 16 feet of closet rods with 3 feet of active clothes: needs work. 8 paragraph blog post about streamlining my life... well, just fan-tastic. Thank you very much for snickering.