What can it teach anyone about life?
After a near miss in Colombia, South America, it got me thinking about life, cycling and the start of this blog post started to bubble in my mind.
I’d hit something hard flinging me over the handlebars doing an involuntarily Superman impression before I could react and onto my stomach with pieces of bicycle and camping equipment clattering behind me. Lycra does not have a chance against gravel.
It was pitch black at night and I was one of three people cycling up the Andes mountains as part of a cycle expedition from the North Pole to the South Pole trying to catch up time.
And then, a shocked voice in a foreign language, a machine gun to the back of my head and the sound of heavy strained breathing.
When they say the world slows down and everything goes in slow motion is an understatement. His eyes. His terror. My terror. Thank my lucky stars he did not shoot and then ask questions.
I had cycled straight into an armed solider on night patrol for guerilla forces and/or drug traffickers.
In the subsequent days this incident got me thinking about my life, cycling and life lessons. I had time to think about. A lot of time. About 10 to 12 hours a day to precise. Day after day, country after country, puncture after puncture.
In addition, I asked some other cyclists what cycling had taught them about themselves and life in general.
You must know where you are and where you wish to go to have any chance of getting from A to B. Your life is no different. And here’s a tip, get an accurate, detailed map and know which way is North.2. Learn from those who have been there and done it (and got the T-Shirt)
Listen and learn from those who have actually taken the journey you wish to take. Their insights and tips on what it really takes to succeed can be the difference in succeeding and failing. I remember turning up to a coaching session with Stu Mittleton, World record holder for running 1,000 miles, expecting mad sprints and leg exercises. Not a chance. Instead, he had me running around the track real slow getting me to pretend I had rose flower petals in between my fingers. A flashback of Karate Kid wipe on, wipe off but in reality that exercise saved my bacon on the road as it got me to relax my shoulder muscles so I could cycle mile and mile without injury. Listen up. As Tony Robbins quotes “Model Success”.3. Work as a team and focus on your strengths
In cycling terms its called “drafting”. It’s where you follow each other taking turns being the lead cyclist so those behind can save energy and give their minds a mini-break by only having to focus on pedaling vs looking for potholes, traffic and in some countries, cows. Net effect of this teamwork is everyone saves energy, goes faster and can go for longer.
Plus, not all cyclists are born equal. Some are amazing climbers, others can cycle for on and on non-stop like a windup toy and others can descend a mountain quicker than gravity. The secret is to work as a team and focus on where your strengths lie. If you let the climber take the lead on the ascents and it feels like they are pulling you up. The same on the descents, let the downhillers go first and follow their line like your life depended upon it. Often it does.
It’s the same in life. Do what you are best at and find others who compliment your natural gifts so together you are an unbeatable team.
4. Choose your team wisely. It’s the journey remember!
If you blindly follow a cyclist who cycles through dog mess guess where it is going to land? Your face. It does not look or taste good.
The same in life, choose wisely who you spend time with and who you give your most precious asset to – your time and energy. Do not only consider if they have already ridden the path you wish to follow but also where they are going now, what are their priorities and crucially, what are their values and how do they treat people? You will more than likely end up like the 3 people you spend the most time with.
Decide carefully as it’s not only the destination but also the journey getting there.
5. Look where you are going and focus on what’s important to you
Cyclists who look down at the road directly in front of them and not at the horizon in front often don’t see the pot hole or cow until its too late. Cyclists know to look ahead so they know what terrain or obstacles lie ahead and can take the required action in plenty of time so they don’t end up doing an involuntary superman impression flying over their handle bars.
So in life, look ahead so you can plan and take action now. Ask any 60 year old about saving money and the power of compound interest and all will say, they wish they started earlier. Ask someone on their deathbed if they had any regrets. To spend more time at work and sweat the small stuff does not appear on the top ten list not surprisingly.
6. Resistance makes us stronger. Be Grateful and know its part of the journey.
Cycling into a strong head on wind is the silent enemy of cyclists the world over. Battle as you may against the wind, it still pushes harder and harder against you.
But here is the deal. You need resistance to build your muscles. Not only your physical muscles but also your emotions and mindset. Go to the emotional gym.
What may appear at first to be a failure or pain can actually be your great. Your job is to find that gift.
In life, you also need a good adversary to push you even further, to hold you to a higher standard. Pick your adversary wisely.
You need to find your mountain to climb in life. Find it, conquer it, celebrate and find your next mountain.
And just like in cycling, in life the moment that you feel like you can push no more, give now more but you still give it all you have got, the wind direction will change and as if by magic, the wind will then push you along like an angel behind you.
7. You still need to pedal
Regardless if you have the latest feather weight carbon and titanium bicycle built by NASA and matching lycra outfit with kelvar implants or instead, if you have alead weight rusty chopper and work jeans you still need to pedal the bike.
It ain’t going nowhere unless you put in the effort and turn the cranks.
In life, absolutely work ‘smart’ but don’t just talk. Take action and do the work.
8. Balance – without it you will fall…hard.
To cycle you must find balance. Lean too far to the right and you will fall, lean too far to the left and you will hit the deck. Go down a hill with too much weight over your handlebars and you will learn the hard way (Always wear a helmet).
It all boils down to balance and knowing when and how to change your balance in an instant.
Same in life. Too much of one thing and it kick you where it hurts be it work, play, health and love. Balance is the answer.
9. If you fall, Get back up, learn, adjust and carry on
Cyclists know falling off is part of the game, they accept it and if they have a little spill or a big wipe out they simply dust themselves off, get back on the saddle and carry on.
Life will always send us curve balls and attempt to knock us off. Problems will not go away but we can accept they are part of the game, they are sent to us as tests to prepare us to achieve our dreams.
To quote Fight Club, “Its not how many times you get knocked down but its how many times you can get up”.
How many times do you get up, learn and get back on the saddle?
10. Go with the flow
Cyclists know they need to follow the curves of road to finally get to their destination. They may not always know every twist and turn coming up and exactly what is around the next corner but they know it will take them to their final destination…in the end. It maybe the most direct route but it will be quicker than trying to plough through walls, hedges and fences.
In life, many of us have such a high need for certainty that we don’t move without knowing everything in advance.
Sometimes though we simply need to trust and accept to follow the curves the road of life brings us and have faith we will end up exactly where we are meant to end up at that precise moment.
11. Find what works for you but always be flexible. Have a Plan B.
When I hit the energy ‘wall’ in China (no pun intended) and my normal strategy of water, energy bars and loud dance music was not working I felt I was running out of options and actually stopping crossed my mind. Then something surreal occurred. A surge of movement like someone was pushing me along. I felt exhausted so put it down to my imagination but then it happened again and then again. Whoosh. And then, the opposite. Like I was pulling along an extra weight. And then all became clear when I heard a child’s laughter. A little girl from a local hill tribe village was literally pushing me along and then she would grab hold and I would pull her along. Mystery solved.
But it did not stop there. The image of her smiling face, the sound of her laugh, the communication only between our eyes has stayed with me ever since and when I feel I am hitting the wall again, I look in my tool box of “Get More Energy” strategies and pick one from a selection and not just one. Now I am not limited to water, energy bars and loud dance music.
It’s the same in life. Find out works but always have a Plan B. One day you will need it and it will be too late to start looking then. Variety is the spice of life after all.
12. Turn your ‘work’ into play and the world as your playground
Bicycles were designed to be a mode of transport to get you from A to B. A tool to deliver an outcome. To provide fun was not on the list. However, some mavericks started to experiment customizing their bikes to conquer the road, mountains, track and crazy stunts for the pure pleasure of playing and pushing man’s physical and mental limits.
Cyclists have found oneness with nature and dare I say, the universe by merely pedaling. They have shared stories of ‘connection’ to nature and mother earth with her wind on their faces, rain and sun on their backs and the opportunity to explore remote mountains and desserts only accessible by foot and bicycle.
So in life, are you focusing on finding the “play” in your “work” and seeing the world as your playground rather than your prison?
Thank you, Martyn Anstey, MartynAnstey.net