Within the sport of cycling, a contingent of people seem to glorify suffering. This glorification of suffering stems from a toxic masculinity that pervades the sport. It is true that much has been done to welcome women to the sport, and it is also true that there are many seriously bad ass women in the sport, but by and large it is dominated by men. And they like to tell each other how much they suffer in the saddle.
Now, I have definitely suffered in the saddle. There were the rides when I was first entering the sport in my late 30’s that included more climbing than I could handle. There were charity rides in 108F and 85% humidity in July, which also had more hills than I was ready for, that nearly broke me. There was that final charity ride in 2015 that I nearly didn’t finish because I was so out of shape and so hung over from drinking too many beers the night before — the one that I had to bag the second day of because I knew that I wasn’t going to make it beyond the first few miles.
Even today, I went for a ride and froze for an hour because didn’t dress appropriately. Maybe this is a side effect of losing 30 pounds, I’ve heard that fat is an insulator, but for whatever reason, the same amount of clothing I’d worn in similar conditions in the past wasn’t enough for the ride today. The point is, I’ve had my fair share of suffering in the saddle. But I’ve never relished it.
When I ride my bike I have three goals:
- Don’t get into an accident and die.
- Feel completely alive and free.
- Feel like a kid again.
Number 1 is obvious. Numbers 2 and 3, well those are pretty much the reasons I ride. I’m not looking to prove my worth by proving my ability to struggle. The fact is that I’ve suffered enough in my life, both in and out of the saddle, to know that suffering is not the goal. Quite the contrary, suffering is to be avoided.
Off the saddle, I’ve suffered more than my fair share of loss and pain in this life. I lost my birth father when I was five to suicide. I lost my stepfather when I was 29. I lost 6 people in the span of 18 months when I was in high school. I’ve lost good friends to cancer. I’ve been hospitalized due to a staph infection that made my nose swell up to the size of a golf ball. I’ve had seizures and couldn’t drive as a result. I’ve been through the heartache of losing girlfriends. I have watched as my son has struggled to recover after being attacked. I’ve run a knife through my index finger so many times while cooking drunk that I have multiple scars and still can’t feel much in the tip of that finger. I’ve been to the bottom of the pits of hell on earth in my addiction.
Not once in all those times did I have the thought, “boy, I wish things were just a little bit harder. Then this would be great.” Nope, there’s nothing glorious about suffering.
The entire philosophy of Buddhism is built around the alleviation of duhkah which is often translated from the Sanskrit as “suffering,” “pain,” or “unhappiness.”
I’m looking for joy in life. And mostly, I find it by doing the right things. I find joy by taking time to be present with my friends and family. I find joy by making dinner. I find joy by walking in the woods and listening to what the earth has to tell me. I find joy by swimming in the ocean. I find boy by breathing in the cold air on a December morning and watching my breath as I exhale. And I find by riding my bike without seeking out suffering in the saddle.