Back on-track after a little humor...
Does any body else here need to suffer on the bike to feel they are overcoming adversity and gain self esteem? This always seemed to me to be the motivational root of many outdoor pursuits.
No, not for me, but it's a question worth exploring. I'll have a crack at it.
What a fascinating question, Ian! Those so motivated are far from alone. I think this is exactly
the reason why many
people engage in sports and outdoors pursuits. I live on a feeder route to the riverside bike paths that start a block away from my home, and this certainly seems to motivate many of the runners who steam by. Many have faces portraying pure agony and gaits to match, yet they come home and talk about how "good" they feel...and go out and do it again the next day. A neighbor called out a greeting as he ran by yesterday and said, "Gotta do it! Helps with the guilt!" ?!? Huh? Huh. He must have Issues; sounds like he's running to expiate his sins. I know he frequently complains he's "old", whatever that means, and he's adopted or developed a persona to go with it. I try to steer clear.
Many formal (and informal) pilgrimages seem to run on this principle, at least in part. I've read many accounts of The Way -- the old pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. In the case of pilgrimages, physical suffering drops the barriers that help us avoid or prevent us from engaging our inner selves. By doing so, they allow for insights to be gained and work to be done that couldn't take place otherwise. Looked at that way, I think nearly any difficult or taxing pursuit can be viewed as a pilgrimage or opportunity for personal growth at a pretty core level. It would be no surprise if self-esteem grew as a result. I'd like to ride the Santiago route myself as a friend did last year, but mostly as a tour. I already use and value bicycle touring as a vehicle to commune with myself and for spiritual growth and communion away from the "noise and static" that seems to be part and parcel of daily life in a more developed and complicated artificial setting. As mentioned earlier, it is a way to re-create myself and fill myself back up as tensions and stress are released.
I'm fortunate that, while at uni, I fell into the mileage-distance trap and clearly saw the suboptimal returns. It was a good lesson and a good time for it. When I gave up riding-for-distance as an end in itself...it became less hard, and
I rode farther, better, gaining by letting go. There's a lesson in there. I'm doing things now and with far greater ease at 52 than I ever did at 19-29. Part of it is from years of "training" ("training"? for what? I just ride my bike), though I'd call it experience or time in the saddle. I've so thoroughly integrated all the little tricks and cheats, I don't have to think about them anymore: Drink before I'm thirsty, eat before I'm hungry, shift before I have to, keep the cadence high and easy and pedal round circles. Take breaks -- on or off the bike -- and let the hills come to you. Velocio (Paul de Vivie, http://cycling.ahands.org/bicycling/velocio.html
) knew what he was talking about.
Going up steep hills (as yesterday, with Sherpa fully loaded) I sometimes wonder at how a pursuit I love so much can at times be so terribly hard. Then, I reach the summit, stop, and feel a glow of satisfaction as I sit in my little chair and truly appreciate the moment. In this way, sport(s) or outdoors pursuits are built around a motivational reward structure by their very uh, nature (sorry). Put out effort => Gain satisfaction. Effort is keyed directly to Result, Investment to Outcome. There's a straight path to the bennies, and when you add in the effects of naturally-released endorphins and increasing fitness, it can be hard to tease out the real motivational elements of the pain-reward-ego-lather-rinse-repeat cycle. Engaging in such pursuits can be its own reward, and that's often enough. You see it in academia. It's not too far off what motivates people in the business world, particularly those with independent ventures. Y'really want to see an example? Look at the super-volunteer. Sure, their efforts benefit others, but they're gaining a lot themselves or they wouldn't do it. Athletes run a long ways on the built-in reward structure, but at a certain point it becomes a chicken-and-egg question. Does one engage in (whatever) because you love it and all that surrounds the pursuit, or does one engage because it is a means to an end? Journey, or reward? Are you motivated by the pursuit, or what arises from it? There's probably as many reasons and motivators as there are people. Each reason must be valid to a degree or it wouldn't happen. It is natural for self-esteem to soar when adversity is overcome. If one doesn't have adversity in their lives, then sport or a goal is a way to create it. Very rarely does one achieve a desired outcome without investing at least some effort.
I have seen that a lot last week and this here in Eugene, where the Olympic Trials are once again taking place. The agony and the ecstasy, and who is to say which or what motivates the other?
In my case, health has been a core motivator throughout. I spent a good part of my life in sustained physical pain. I grew from, with, and through that, and don't need or want more for growth's sake! As for fulfillment and self-esteem, that now grows and sustains from within and from a spiritual source. Aside from cycling-related things, I get my bennies from community service in one form or another, and am a primary caregiver to two people in ill health. Three years of suicide-prevention training in a past job shaped my outlook and character a bit, too. Much if not most of what we worry ourselves sick over isn't worth it and I see that clearly when I get Away. I'm an eternal optimist, temporary cynic, recovering perfectionist, and growth addict. Mostly, I'm...me.
I've had enough of suffering, so my motivation is a desire to leave
a state of pain for something "other" and "better". There's real joy when I engage in things that were sometimes denied me by circumstance. I started riding for physical rehab from knee injuries. That worked and I found something More. My pain response is different now, too. After my healing, I no longer suffer from lactic acid as I once did, or muscle aches. When I stop, it is mostly because I have depleted my reserves and have to recharge. I do get tired!
bike to feel they are overcoming adversity and gain self esteem?
Nah. For me, that happened in another venue called Life. As for the bike, I just like being out on it.
My two cents' worth and another data point.
All the best,