Friday, September 1, 2017

Be a Blight Unto Yourself

Why I Fucking Hate Gravel:  A Love Story.

"Why... are you making this about you?" she said.

Wherever I was... lost in my own head... that got my attention. I'd heard it before.  

I'd been passively watching her. Unavoidable, honestly, considering how many times she'd walked by my campsite. I was sitting in front of my open van... sipping coffee and poking at my laptop. Trying unsuccessfully to get the stupid words out. She'd flashed me a pretty, if curious, smile on her first pass. Looked back briefly. I'd smiled back. Cocked my head. What... was that?
The next time she passed, she was on the phone. No smile this time. Not even a look. She was somewhere far away. Somewhere she very obviously didn't want to be. Agitated sighs. Hushed talking. The words "you're being so unfair" spilling out as she passed within feet of me. 

"Why... are you making this about you?" 

Ah, I thought... l'amour. Who hasn't been there?

I tried to feel sympathy toward whoever was at the other end of that line. Couldn't muster it. 
I mean... maybe... he was great. A genuinely good guy. Devoted. Loving. Trying to be "fair." Trying to understand.
Perplexed and frustrated by the mercurial temperament of this pretty, leggy girl... but still hopelessly in love with her. 

Maybe... he said things like, "Hey... I'm here. Don't push me away." Maybe he asked her what she needed. Maybe... he told her he loved her. Asked her... to let him in.


Or... maybe not. Maybe he hadn't said those things in a long time.
Maybe... lately... he just told her that she was ungrateful. Maybe he threatened. Berated. Seethed. Couldn't see past his own hurt.  


Regardless of who he was... I'd chosen my side. The girl... with her curious smile. 
With no context, I'd have come to her defense. Fought whoever was on the other end of that line. Told him to love her the way she deserved. Whatever that even meant. 

The next time by, her eyes were wet.


"Why are you making this about you?" she whispered into the phone... loud enough for me to hear.

She wasn't talking to me... but I was listening. And I heard.

I think... that on some level... no one can help it. Everything we do and feel is filtered through ourselves. Our very understanding of the world, in too many ways, is just a flawed and subjective take on whatever our limited senses and brainpower can process. In so many ways... we can't NOT make it about us. 
Us... is the only context we have.

Which is how I knew... full well... that despite what she was saying and feeling...
... the girl... was really just making it about her.  

And that was ok.

I owe some of you an apology.
(Likely many apologies. Regarding many things.)
But focusing on the topic at hand...

If you tend to tune in here with even the slightest semblance of regularity, then, you are:

A) Fucking insane


B) Familiar with the concept of disappointment

Nonetheless...  I'm sorry. As ever.

I don't know how people do it. Churn out content. Most days... lately, especially... I struggle to put one foot in front of the other. My mantra for the next... however the fuck long... is "fake it till you make it."
Make what, you ask?
The fuck if I know.

Most of you know what's up by now. That there are really two people responsible for content on this blog:


and Super-Fucking-Emo Watts...

Be sure to check out my band:
As I Lay Falling on Fire with Airplane Stars

(emoification by @mustacheransome)
To the rest of you... welcome to the shitshow.

A Body:
I've thrown my phone approximately one million times. Across rooms... against walls... into bushes... All the normal reasons: Shitty news... crossed wires... someone making it about them asking me why I'm making it about me...
But while I've wanted to, too many times to count... I've only thrown my laptop twice. Which, I know... is still a lot. Because... laptop.
I forget the details of the first time. Maybe the words weren't coming out... or maybe someone was telling me to "live the uncertainty"... or some shit equally as dumb.
(It survived, by the way. A small crack in the outer casing being the only visible damage.)
The second time? I'd just read something. And I admit... as silly and arbitrary as it may sound... or of all the myriad other legitimate reasons for one to do so... it made me lose my fucking shit.

I'd just read a... I don't even know what to call it... story? And... it equated participating in a gravel event... with "courage."

Fucking. Courage.

I might have roared. This hoarse bark bursting out of me. The laptop slammed shut and tossed like a frisbee to the corner of the room. Like a naughty little fucker who needed a timeout.
(Or... like a dunce. Because... throwing a laptop... Fuck. I was lucky.)

Whatever fucked headspace I was already in... that word just put me over the edge. "Courage." Because fuck me dead, I can't help but feel like this... is what is wrong with cycling right now. With everything... in too many ways.
This wholesale shitshow of self-congratulation. Celebrating our mediocrity and pretending it means more than it does. Means something it doesn't. Confusing selfish endeavor with accomplishment.

If you know me, even a little... you know that I love riding gravel roads. Fucking love it. 
And if you know me, even a little... you know that I love endurance events. Fucking love them. They're how I cope with this world. How I maintain the small and slight grip I have on what is real.
(That and a crippling reliance on alcohol. Judge me all you want... but YOU try being me sometime. Let me know how that goes for you.)
And if you know me, even a little... you know that I like to talk about all of the things we wrestle with while we participate in them. Personal demons. Dark places. Voices that say we're not strong enough to finish. Voices that tell us that the world would be better off if we killed ourselves. And while I'll be the first to admit that dealing with those feelings and overcoming them; pushing past that pain and making it through another event... another day... another year... is difficult in its own way... and exceptional in its own right...
... there is nothing courageous about able bodied white people paying money to ride expensive bikes a long way on gravel roads in somewhat adverse conditions.

There just isn't.

Never forget.

All of the ways we may fall apart during endurance rides... all of the ways we may push ourselves... all of the ways we might potentially grow... use the word courage in relation to this kind of self-serving bullshit... is to misappropriate the term in the most poisonous of ways. In much the same way the word "truth" was misappropriated by evangelical christians to mean approximately fuck all.
There is no courage in what we do... however much it may hurt... and however much it may mean to us. There is just privilege.

Why... are we making this about us?

This... is what happened to Ironman. (Among other things.) How the challenge of a 2.2 mile open water swim followed by a 100+ mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run... became farce. Became the poster-child for tone-deaf entitlement. Became a way for smug and potentially shitty people to be even less humble about being mediocre.

Gravel road racing... is dangerously close to falling into the same trap... if it hasn't already.

I mean... look at this shit. Look at it! It longs for death!

As if you needed any more proof that "gravel™" is the next triathlon.
"Wait... isn't this your bike, Watts?"

We do many things on the bike... Most of them positive in their own way.
We suffer. We work through problems. We learn about ourselves. We find our limits.
We might even inspire others to find their own limits. I hope so.
But with notable and obvious exceptions; living with physical or mental limitations... discrimination... poverty... real adversity...
...we absolutely do not manifest "courage" when we toe the line at an event.

Life... is short. Absurd and painful. Do things you want to do. Go places you want to go. Chase things you want to chase. Tell people you love them. You get to do selfish shit. You need to. Fucking sign up for every event you can this year. Fall apart at Land Run. Implode at Bootlegger. Get washed away at Epic. Kill all the nerves in your hands at TransIowa. Get drunk with friends at Shenandoah. Think the world would be a better place if you killed yourself at Kanza.
Just... don't imbue it with a nobility of purpose that it doesn't have. Don't let humility get twisted into hubris.

We all love our belt buckles. Our pint glasses. Our defacto scars. Proof that we've suffered through something transformative.

But the woman with the double mastectomy... the one who hides her all too real scars. Hides all her fear of dying behind a shirt and a scarf. Hides all her pain behind necessity. The overwhelming need to stay alive to care for her children.
No sense of accomplishment. No finish line. No pride. No recognition.
Just desperation.

That's fucking courage.

Not some ride we did.

Why... are we making this about us?

Eventually, she just never came back. The conversation was over, and she was done walking. Done talking. Done pacing around the campground. As I pulled on my kit and prepped my bike, I absently wondered where she'd gone. Where she was from. Where she was going. What that was even about. I was piecing together my own story based on tiny, one-sided windows into the narrative. On body language and my own experience. For all I knew... I was dead wrong.
I was going to get lost today. Hopefully find some dirt roads and try to untangle the gnarled threads of my head. Selfishly spend the day trying to find something in remote places.
Probably... just make it about me.

And that was ok.

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