Life lies ahead. Crested Butte, CO
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” -Carl Sagan
I am a perpetual student. Although I no longer attend school (though I spent plenty of time there), I still crave learning anywhere I can get it. I mentioned in my previous post that I have spent much of my time in this off-season committed to learning about myself and about the way I interact with my world and with other people. This got me thinking about learning in general and the difference between “understanding” a concept and really “getting” it: feeling something so deeply that you know it with every cell of your being and it becomes your own; it becomes one with who you are and something you will never forget.
There are many different learning styles and ways of experiencing the world. Personally, I am a very physical learner. I experience my world and gain insights not just by doing, but by using my body to physically feel what I am doing. I am very sensitive to the physical world around me. I notice and appreciate textures and smells in detail, and it is through these senses that I learn best. Although I do “understand” when I hear or see a concept that another person tells or shows me, it takes me experiencing it in this sensory way in order to really “get” it, to embody the concept and make it mine.
Although we all learn differently, a common theme that I have noticed in observing people is that most of us seem to be some version of experiential learners. We learn most completely by doing. This is why I love cycling: when we as humans are faced with an activity that is physically challenging for us; when we get not only our minds but also our bodies involved, we tend to more completely absorb the lessons we learn through these experiences.
Whether it is getting up the big hill in the neighborhood for the first time, to hanging on in the group ride, to finishing a century ride, to competing in racing; we can fully experience and embody some of life’s most valuable lessons and insights through the simple act of pedaling a bicycle. This is why cycling is so valuable to me and why I genuinely feel it can be a catalyst for inspiration, confidence, strength, and insight into the world and into oneself.
Last weekend, I was doing a hard climbing ride with my coach Alison. As we rode, we talked about our experiences in racing, in coaching and mentoring others, and about lessons we had learned throughout our time spent in cycling. On that tough training ride, I felt the sensations of my body and my bike working as one through all of the challenging climbs of the lonely gravel roads through the woods around Nederland. I was fully present in my conversations with Alison in between the times when we could barely breathe, much less talk. And as a result of this ride, backed up by other experiences I have had over the past few months, I was inspired to reflect on some of the most profound insights that I have gained through my experiences as a bike racer over the past year.
This kicked off a week of unexpected productive insomnia for me. This has never happened to me before. Energy coursed through my body and mind at the most inconvenient times as I would find myself lying awake in bed when all of the sudden some idea would click for me and I would sit straight upright like I had been struck by lightning. I think my dog thought I had lost my marbles.
In every race I competed in last year, as well as in some of my harder training rides, I learned something valuable. At the time, I had only felt it in the context of racing. For some reason, this past week in the wee hours of the mornings, I finally saw the bigger picture. I saw how many of the lessons I had learned during a race, when my physical senses were in their most heightened state, applied to my entire life. I finally "got" it. Suddenly these things became so true to me and every part of my life that if you wrung my body like a wet washcloth right now they would literally come pouring out of every cell. It is really quite overwhelming and incredible.
I would like to share some of these insights that I have gained through racing with you here. I hope they will be of use to you in your cycling, and I also encourage you to think outside the box a little and consider how they may be valuable in the rest of life as well. Maybe you will identify with them immediately. Maybe you won't. Or maybe you, like I did initially, will file the ideas away in the back of your mind somewhere, and when you are out on the bike someday pushing yourself past the point of comfort, they will come rushing back and hit you in the face like that unexpected tree branch that smacks you when you are least expecting it. Hopefully it won’t hurt quite as much. But maybe it will change your life.