Tuesday, July 21, 2009


It is often said that cycling is a metaphor for life. I find that with BCBR the analogy is uncanny. Perhaps there are greater cycles of life I can compare the race to, but most obvious to me at this time is the parallel between the six nights at BCBR and the six years of my grad school career. Like a race, one of the remarkable things about my last four months was the recognition of the importance of every moment, that even my few periods of rest had meaning and purpose. If I may speak in analogy for a while, perhaps we may distill a deeper meaning of things. For those with little patience for words and the rambling thoughts from the road, I have posted a photo taken from my mother's porch early one morning on my visit to California last winter, an image which perhaps captures the essence of this essay, should one know the full story behind it.

The first two days of the race were effectively a hazing ritual, the first day especially so. All too soon we dove headfirst into the hills and felt the pains of existence so acutely, my competition swarming past me as I struggled. And at last, reaching the top of the hill there was little reprieve, for I knew that it was but the beginning of the more terrifying prospect of descent. Lumbering over the drops and rocks as best I could, rallying my courage to continue, we battled on, all too relieved to reach the finish, but I, having suffered through it all with immense cramping, was truly intimidated by the prospect of six more days of this, each stage longer and more unknown than the first.

It is hard to say that day 2 was much better. Where the trails lacked the brute intimidation of Stage 1, they made up for it in the length of climbs and freshly cut trails on off camber slopes taunting me, laughing at me as I tried to rally legs that refused to move. At times literally only able to stand, I wished my shame to vanish with the cramps. Ending the stage with a good section of fast fire road, I felt a fair bit of redemption. In my element, able to turn a big gear at slow cadence I was at last rewarded with the feeling of success. Retiring at the end of the day though, I could only hope that tomorrow would be better by some mysterious force of nature moving within my legs.

Perhaps finally coming into form by the trials of the first days, Stage 3 saw us embark on the start of a hopeful journey toward a higher running. Like a puppet of the gods, it seems it was perhaps more a lesson in hubris, for day 4 brought me to the lumbering endless darkness beneath the blazing sun. Everywhere I looked was only pain and frustration, with myself and with my place in the world. As I wrote before, for the space of 5 hours I was in a place of suffering. We finished in 5 hours and 15 minutes.

It seems that making it through the hump, with the end in sight, perhaps the hauntings of the previous day were mental more than physical. Rolling into our strongest day, we placed 18th on the stage, finding reward in the early showers and the first boat to Squamish, where in the shade of a tree we napped peacefully and dreamt only of good things to come. The final two days took us over hill and under hill, across root and yonder river. We had come into our own, finding comfort in the trails, rolling in tempo with the course, on our mark as it were. We finished day 7 on a high, perhaps not technically perfect, but somehow in tune. It was perhaps the best finish imaginable given the forecast from the first days.

I remember thinking so clearly on the first climb up the mountain slope at Whistler, how remarkably similar that effort was to the entirety of my thesis writing. Both are now a fog in my mind, save for a few moments of clarity through obscure twists and turns, brief moments where I caught my breath at some switchback or in the damp walk home from lab in the wee hours of the morning. But how vividly I recall the one thought, emblazoned upon the day as it were, that like climbing a mountain one breath at a time, one climbs a thesis word by word. And should you dare to look up from the valley and wonder at the height of the mountain, dumbstruck at the possibility of ever getting there, you may think it an impossible task. As endless as it may seem, it is far better to stare at the trail ahead, counting off the breaths, finding some enjoyment in the simple rhythm of life. Mountain tops are made for looking down from, not to look up at.

And having completed the journey, it is appropriate to look back to the beginning whence we came. If there is a meaning in the analogy, it may be that we carry our past with us, that beginnings are all important, that they mark a conclusion of a former chapter. Perhaps also it tells us that our various comings and goings are not as separate as we might imagine, that our training on a bike is training for life, that the way we face obstacles and greet companions on the trail is exactly that. It seems fitting at this time to revisit the beginning of this chapter, my first post to this blog, a century ago by some measure:

``When I think of the ideal life, it’s one where I might greet my colleagues tired and battered, but walk yet with the levity of victory. It’s one where on the starting line my competitors might call me Dr. Edlund, though I might suffer more because of it. It’s one where the suffering we endure makes us gracious and wise. We should aspire to live a passionate life, drawing from and giving to the stories of legends. I am honored to be embarking on this mission with Keith, and hope that with the courage to ride what comes, the coolness to flow with it, and the patience to try again, that I can learn some of his grace.

I’m not sure what I’m in for, but know that it’s good to dream of the future. With the inception of my thesis writing and graduation looming it’s hard to say where this year will take me. It’s good when heading off into new territory to take a survey of the land and set your bearing by some prominence – I think a mountain top somewhere will serve well.''

Perhaps this chapter has come to a close. Perhaps it is just the beginning of something new. There is not too much more which needs to be said, for I believe we have made it there. And having arrived at this place, now with the perspective of time and uncountable effort behind, what is it I see? Perhaps this, a passage from me thesis, a section from my acknowledgements written this day, captures the way from here.

"In going forth, I promise that I shall use the wisdom of my years and the full force of my experiences to assist our great evolution through the stars. We should ask ourselves daily, ``in what capacity can I best serve?'' At the end of the day we should be judged not by what we have done, but by what more could we have done. As scientists and citizens, we should not only endeavor to solve the world's problems and find freedom from the shackles of the past, but to create new ways of thought and new means of living. It is our duty, everyone one of us, to march ever toward the light."

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