I recently rode a half century (50 mi.) in the Tour de Whatcom, which wends through some spectacular countryside, with views of the imposing snow-cloaked Mt. Baker most of the way. I hadn’t really trained for it, but I bike commute to work most days in the summer, and I often ride 15-20 miles on weekends for fun, so I thought 50 miles would be pretty much like that, but more than twice as far. I’m pretty fit, so no problem, right? Thankfully I didn’t use that logic to try the 105 mi. route. But my bike comfort was aided immensely by the BodyfloatTM seat post I got to demo. I loved it so much, I wrote a whole post about it.
Most of my Bellingham friends consider me an athlete. It’s hard to reconcile with my own image of myself, which hasn’t really evolved since I was 16: clumsy, large, bookish, musical, but NOT athletic. I’ve never liked sweating.
Nonetheless, as an adult living in the Pacific Northwest, I found my way to sports. Since the hipster crowd and the moms are hard social groups to break into (since I’m neither a hipster nor a mom), sports are a way to meet people and stay fit. Road biking, soccer, running, hiking, climbing, kayaking: these are like passports to the Pacific Northwest. If Washington State was to require a visa to enter, it would be an REI membership.
I excel at none of these activities. In fact, back in high school I played soccer for 2 years, but I was terrible. I didn’t really understand the game. I knew the rules and everything, but I couldn’t anticipate plays or wrap my head around strategy. And it was hard. Physically, mentally…and there were so many other things that I was good at, like academics (class valedictorian *cough cough*), music, theatre…so I quit soccer. Because who doesn’t equate success and failure with self worth at some level? This is especially a challenge for teenagers, who are often so concerned with approval—from friends, teachers, parents, coaches, college admissions, and scholarship committees.
These many years later I’m learning to detach from outcomes and be at peace with mediocrity. It is a HUGE STEP in becoming a happy adult. And as a result, I’ve started to love sports. I play recreational soccer on a women’s team. If I’m feeling grumpy at the end of a game, it’s usually because I’ve let my ability to trap or pass a ball get caught up in assessments of self worth. (Occasionally it’s because I’ve been elbowed in the face.) If I can step back and remind myself: “Gwen, you are not a rock star at this, and absolutely nothing hinges on this success or failure. You are TOTALLY MEDIOCRE, ” it actually helps immensely. Pressure’s off.
That’s why I love organized rides like the Tour de Whatcom. It’s not a race and there’s nothing to prove, it’s just a thousand people riding bikes together. Like Sturgis, but much much quieter, and everyone is wearing a shirt.