Message in a Bottle: Stillness
Back in April, I wrote some initial thoughts about the pandemic and cycling in a column for American Randonneur – the quarterly newsletter of Randonneurs USA. Like sending a message in a bottle, I didn’t know how I or others would relate to these early observations in three months.
Three months seems a long time ago now. My perception of time has slowed. The reality around this health crisis has become clearer, and I shake my had at the many ways I underestimated COVID-19.
I naively compared enduring a pandemic to typical discomforts experienced on a long randonneuring event. I did not wrap my head around how long we would need to adapt and manage our lives while this virus rages like a forest fire and devastates communities all over the world.
Even with that short-sightedness, though, I found value in the message from three months ago. Overly optimistic Past Me did manage to include some decent advice for Future Me.
I wrote about the importance and challenge of stillness. The full piece is below. As always, I hope you all are well, and thank you for reading.
Stillness. April 2020
For many years, brevets have been the foundation of my springtime and bike touring my summer escape. Building toward these experiences gives my life shape, and my free time purpose.
When life overwhelms me, I spin the pedals. My husband and I take a long tandem ride. Thoughts and worries release as miles pass beneath the wheels and I gradually uncoil.
Not this year. As I write, long rides are not an option. Brevets are canceled, summer bike tour plans in question. My radius shrank from going as far as my legs could take me – which for randonneurs is pretty far – to staying tethered close to home.
The familiar envelops us in an eerie way. Businesses have shuttered. We see little activity on our streets and quiet surrounds us. Every day it looks like Easter Sunday outside.
People keep their distance from each other. Those who can, work from home. Long days spent in motion have often been a balm to life’s uncertainty, but they are impossible now.
The trees happily blossom, unaware of our plight. Their flowers are an invitation to frolic that we cannot accept. I ask myself why riding long means so much. What am I really giving up, when others sacrifice much more. I have my health, home, and work. Temporary stillness will result in long term public good.
But my framework for life has been altered and adjustment takes time. I practice becoming comfortable with stillness. I’m terrible at it. Afternoon sun pours in through the windows and I want to go outdoors.
Settled on my floor, I try to make sense of what is happening. The key is to not think too far ahead, I tell myself. Wait, that’s brevet talk! It dawns on me that the skills I developed through randonneuring helped prepare me for some of this. We are in the early stages of a long-term event, and the cue sheet is awful. We must use our practical skills to orient and guide us.
All facets of a brevet unfold in their own time. Momentary dissatisfaction wastes time and distracts from the work at hand. Bite the challenge off into pieces. Focus on the next turn, the mile ahead, the upcoming control. Every pedal stroke we take is one less that we have to make. It sounds like a grade school saying, but this is my brevet mantra. It comforts me to repeat it when I feel like we’re strung out going nowhere in the middle of a ride.
Don’t forget to eat! Food is fuel, and we need it to keep us strong for big efforts. Consume what nourishes. Drink plenty of fluid and stay hydrated! Sleep as you can. Keep pedaling.
An unexpected pleasant moment may occur. It may not seem like it now, but it’s possible! Unassuming and fleeting perfection has broken through on many a long brevet. Keep pedaling.
Look out for fellow riders. If somebody is on the side of the road, give a shout. Ask if they are okay. Maybe they’re taking a break, but perhaps something has stilted their progress and you can assist somehow.
We cannot see the finish line, but it will eventually arrive. It will. We must keep pushing. We’re climbing what feels like an interminable mountain, it’s raining, we’re cold, our quads ache, and we wish we’d worn a different chamois.
Every pedal stroke we take is one less that we have to make. We’ll get there. Only this time we reach it largely through stillness, and that is proving to be its own endurance event.