Words and illustration by Stephen Haynes
What’s the goal of being a parent? To see your kids get the basic tools they need to go off and try to succeed in life? What about your goals as a cyclist? To crush your personal best on Strava while commuting to work? Ask a hundred people these questions and you may well get a hundred different answers. What’s always fascinated and beguiled me is the inherent competition between both parents and cyclists when talking to other parents and cyclists, like there’s some abacus wielding surveyor tallying up all your notable contributions to both pursuits.
I’d grade my performance as a parent at about a C+ or B-; Proficient, with some room for improvement. I love my kids dearly, but the mental and physical energy it takes to parent is beyond explanation, and sometimes pizza and television is the break we all need from one another. I feel the same way about cycling. Yes, I love riding bikes, but I’d prefer to do a 4-mile ride to and from the grocery store than a 40-mile gravel ride any day of the week. Hell, I’d prefer to eat pizza than do either of those if I’m honest.
Of course there are parents and cyclists who are the inverse of me; the yin to my cynical yang and I often succumb to idyll worship when in the presence of such uber-specimens. I can quickly feel like a lesser being when engaging in casual conversations with these folks, as the one-upmanship game goes on unabated. “Oh, your Jimmy is taking swim lessons? That great, my daughter just got her green belt in Krav Maga.” “Oh, you rode 10 miles yesterday? Good for you! I did a century before work this morning.” The underlying statement of course being “I’m better than you.”
Perhaps it’s my insecurity talking but sometimes I feel like I’m failing my kids because they aren’t getting MENSA-like scores on standardized tests, taking orienteering courses, or learning how to field dress a bull moose. Especially when the uber-parents’ children are doing these things and more. Instagram updates showing their prodigal sons and daughters topping out on their first solo-lead climb, Facebook posts proclaiming their little geniuses won the statewide spelling bee, Tweets announcing to the world that their beloved mini-me’s asked for a second helping of kale! It’s all too much, and it’s also a trap.
Being a good parent, in my opinion, means knowing when and where to push your kids. Similarly, being a good cyclist is based on pursuing what interests you about cycling. Both require you to foster the interest and bolster the effort with encouragement and, at times, tough love. The uber-parents and uber-cyclists of the world are a myth perpetuated by ourselves. Love what you do, love your kids and go enjoy both with the time you have. Also, eat more pizza.Tweet Print
I have some advice for keeping your life simple. Don’t ever spend two months pedaling your bike coast-to-coast—3,000 miles across 11 states with seven others who would become your some of your favorite people on this Earth, as I did in 2008. Don’t enter cycling events that will take you to places that are interesting (and some not so much) that you may not have otherwise had a chance to see, photograph and be affected by at a meditative pace. And definitely don’t ever ride your bike on an uncrowded dirt road—anywhere—innocuous though may seem.
If you never do these things, you will never know lust, one of the seven deadly sins. You will never know the primal desire for adventure on two wheels that makes you stick your butt in your desk chair by 6 a.m. so you can leave work early to drive 30 minutes just to ride 25 miles through two state parks, across unpaved roads among ancient, jagged rock formations that tourists travel far and wide to see, but hopefully not on a Tuesday afternoon. You’ll never find yourself stuck, unmoving, on a highway while an 18-wheeler burns after spontaneously combusting (I’m not making this up), pulling on your hair—hopefully only the grey ones fall out—because you need to pee, badly. That coffee you chugged all day to stay focused on your work isn’t going anywhere else.
You’ll never get to the start of your ride, half-an-hour later than planned, but still full of joy and anticipation to be rolling out into a crisp, bluebird autumn day on that beautiful bicycle you lusted after for years but only got to own after one in your tiny size showed up on Craigslist. You brought lights, so maybe it won’t be so bad if you have to finish in the dark. So much for all of your meticulous planning.
You’ll never get simultaneous flats two miles into your ride and look down to discover countless thorns in your “gravel” tires (what fresh hell is that misnomer?), relegating you to a long, slow walk back to your car in slightly-too-small bike shoes that pinch your toes and heighten your sense of disappointment and despair. And you’ll never know the hollow despondency of the rush-hour crawl back home, not having seen either park nor worked the kinks from your mind and your legs but, hey, at least the local rock station is playing a Journey marathon. That’s cool.
If you never do these things, you will never know the restlessness that comes from days on end without putting foot to pedal. You’ll never know the fogginess of mind that can engulf you when you haven’t explored somewhere new, allowing both your wheels and imagination to wander, run wild and take you places that no life problem can touch.
Take my advice: Don’t explore on your bike. If you do, the desire to do more, and then more still, will never leave your system. You will not be able to unride “the one” outing that hooked you deeply and permanently. You will never want to stop.Tweet Print