Sitting down, but not for long- last race for me in the Czech Republic- ICA devo sits pinning up before a night criterium. Ido, Nir, Saar, Yuval, Sanaad, and yours truly (left to right).
These last 9 months have seen me travel more than I have ever done before in my life.
I’ve spent time in 10 different countries because of cycling: France, Israel, Spain, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and of course, the United States. “Behind bars” implies being locked in a singular place, but my life behind bars (handlebars, that is) has pushed me to explore more regions of this earth than I thought I would in perhaps a lifetime. And it’s been amazing, exhilarating, illuminating, as well as exhausting, frustrating, boring (at times), and challenging. Landing back in the states feels good, but looking back on 2018 what’s astounding for me to realize is that it has been the first year of my life where I’ve spent more time outside of my home country than in it.
Lurking in the front of the Peloton (center right) with the caravan not far behind.
Like a bike race, I have been in a perpetual state of motion for months: racing, training, traveling, all the while living out of a small duffel bag. To get back home and to actually “move in” somewhere with the intention of living there for more than three weeks feels rather odd. This comes at the same time where coaches have told me to “take a vacation,” to start the off season, in an effort to recover from more than 450 hours of saddle time and almost 14,000 KMs in my legs. It seems like an oxymoron: ‘take a vacation,’ and ‘don’t ride.’ Usually, I’ve always associated my vacations with riding; with more free time, that means more time to ride the bike. But this time it’s different, and despite the physical rest ahead of me, some of the most mentally challenging times lay ahead.
What draws me (and countless others) to cycling is the stimulation, excitement, and pure joy of being on two wheels and moving. One’s head clears, worries melt away, and the challenges of one’s life disappear as all synapses firing in the brain are directed to the ride. I’ve personally always hated the first few hours after a hard bike ride, as the mental come down from the thrill wears off, leaving me feeling almost depressed. The large “ride” of 2018 is now over, and this same mental come down now lies ahead as the off season looms. And this is perhaps why this vacation will not be as restful as it should be in theory, because it allows me to do something I’ve been avoiding for a long time: reflect.
Now, more than ever, it is time to reflect on many aspects of my life. To reflect on the season, how I’ve grown, to look at my defeats and reminisce of my victories. This also means needing to look inward and analyze how and why I’ve grown into both the athlete and individual I’ve become, and what this means for my cycling career, professional career, and personal life. All this comes on the heels of starting my senior year of Princeton University, where every student in my situation needs to look ahead at the future. It’s intimidating, daunting, and the road is far from clearly laid out. There is no easy to follow red-line route to adhere to, to go from A to B. Transitioning from student life to adulthood isn’t like following a course, it’s instead a state of perpetual discovery and exploration.
With the season over, the time is now to make fit adjustments for next season.
It’s a mindset that I’ve adopted in part in my riding, thanks to Karoo. Months ago I wrote how Karoo changed how I view cycling because instead of focusing on improving how I ride routes I know by heart, Karoo challenged me to explore new areas, jump in head first, and to focus on how and why I ride instead of mastering what I know. Jumping into adulthood is very much the same thing; instead of focusing on mastering the technicalities of adulthood (professional skills, schooling, etc.), adulthood is as much exploring the world around you and joining society rather than simply observing it.
I want to challenge you to reflect on yourself as well. Why do you ride? What are you looking for out of a ride? What drives you, the individual and the athlete rather than just the athlete? It’s easy to train and ride with a basic goal or challenge ahead — like a race, sportive, or gran fondo. But once the events end, and the thrill of the chase is gone, what are you left with? You are left with the self, and that is perhaps the hardest “thing” to master and to study.
Back to school means back to collegiate group rides.
Go out and ride, and when you get the chance, reflect if you can. Cycling is as meditative as it is exciting, and everyone is guilty of playing into the games and competitions of life, those games that remove the focus from the self. Take a vacation… but exercise the mind.