Monday, 23 May 2011

Integrity vs. Adversity: Accentuating the Positive

This past weekend, my faith in cycling was shaken.

This didn't have anything to do with "60 Minutes," although that show did cause me to lose faith in the airline industry recently. (Like Andy Rooney, I too am "puzzled by airline fees," though as a contemporary of the Wright Brothers I suspect Rooney is also still somewhat puzzled by the miracle of flight.) It didn't have anything to do with the so-called "Rapture," either, and that it did not arrive to snatch the righteous Freds right out of their anti-impotence cutout saddles. No, it was because I partook in one of those Rapha "Gentlemen's Races," and it looked like this:

Rapha like to talk about "glory through suffering," but there's really nothing glorious about voluntary, self-imposed recreational suffering. Sure, it can be fun if you're into that sort of thing, but glory is something else altogether. Really, when it comes to these sorts of "epic" cycling undertakings I think the truth lies somewhere between "fun through extreme discomfort" and "nailing yourself to the cross of marketing." I figure I almost lost faith halfway up one of those pointy things in the course profile, but I couldn't tell you which one since they've all blended together in a gravelly dirt clump.

In any case, I may share further insights and judgment once Rapha have "curated" their Raphafication of the event in characteristically insouciant pictures and video, but in the meantime I will say two things:

1) I was extremely fortunate to have on my team five riders who were not only great company but also far better cyclists than me;


2) Doing a long, hard ride made me contemplate stuff, as long hard rides are wont to do.

One of the things I found myself contemplating was doping. Generally speaking I'm fairly apathetic on the subject, but this whole "60 Minutes" mishigas was all over the place over the weekend, and on top of that I was in the midst of "curating" a Giro d'Italia blog for as well as riding a racing-style bicycle over a long distance in an informally competitive fashion. This made it sort of impossible to ignore, and as I ground my way up yet another in an incessant series of unpaved climbs, I asked myself the following question:

"If someone offered you an illicit substance that would make this more manageable, would you take it?"

The hard part wasn't deciding if my answer was "yes" or "no." Rather, it was deciding what form and means of ingestion could possibly prevent me from doing so. In other words, it was less a moral issue than it was the practical difference between taking, say, a tiny pill or a football-sized suppository.

Of course, with the ride now finished the concept of taking drugs to complete it seems beyond absurd, especially given that it was something I was ostensibly doing for fun. And of course when I ask myself the same question now the answer is an emphatic "No." Nevertheless, that doesn't mean the thoughts I had during the ride were any less real. And again, I was just doing this for fun. What if I was doing it because my livelihood depended on the results, and I had to do it all over again the next day (and the next, and the next, and so forth), and I had a demanding sponsor like

Now, is not a pro cycling sponsor (as far as I know), nor am I implying they would ever do anything untoward. I'm just picking them at random because I see their commercial (in English) regularly on my local cable channel, and because I have a juvenile sense of humor I always think these toys look like certain lady parts with legs:

In any case, when careers are on the line the whole thing gets a bit more ambiguous. It's easy to say no when nothing's at stake, but when you're being paid by a sponsor who depends on you to help them sell their Mexican walking vaginae, and you yourself need to get paid so you can buy your own children Mexican walking vaginae, and you're competing against a bunch of other people racing for other sponsors who sell other genetalia-based children's toys and who aren't as troubled by moral issues as you are, then you've got a big decision to make

So, maybe you sit on the football-sized suppository, and things go pretty well for awhile, but then people start asking questions, and before you know it you're on "60 Minutes," and everybody's passing judgment on you, and Andy Rooney's talking about how he's totally "puzzled" by this whole Mexican walking vaginae fad and how when he was a kid in the 1890s they just used to play with crudely-hewn toys made out of splintery wood and that was good enough for them.

It's a sordid business, and while it's tempting to think the gap between integrity and ignominy is wide enough to punt a football-sized suppository though, sometimes it's barely the width of a single Mexican walking vagina hair.

None of this should be surprising though, for as a culture we tend to turn to drugs for everything, when in fact the very impulse to turn to drugs is usually a sign that you should just stop what you're doing instead. Even the most benign drug use bears this out. For example, instead of smoking a bunch of costly "Wednesday Weed" in order to make the Grateful Dead sound good, you can simply save yourself the trouble and stop listening to the Grateful Dead. And if a climb is too hard, instead of cheating your way up it you should probably just stop riding and break out your ukulele, as forwarded to me by a reader:

If I had had any sense this past weekend I would have stopped pedaling at around mile 20, broken out the uke, and launched into a spirited rendition of "Accentuate the Positive."

Speaking of accentuating the positive, I recently received notification all the way from Brazil of something called "The Difference Campaign:"

As the website explains:

These advertisements were created and produced by Mikael Correa, a Brazilian adman.

He is also an urban bicyclist and designed the campaign with the purpose of making a comparison, through images, between motorized and human transportation, and the consequences of our choices not only for the environment but for our own life.

In other words, "Cars bad, bikes good." Continuing along that theme, I've produced my own series of smug juxtapositions that send the same message:

Cars bad, bikes good;

Cars bad, bikes good;

Actually, in this particular case, cars and bikes are equally stupid.

Sometimes it's not the vehicle so much as how you use it that counts.


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