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I Am Pedaling As Hard As I Can

I find it harder and harder these days to drive into the gym in the morning. It isn’t that I don’t want to get up or go out into the cold, although that is true, it is because my eyesight these days is particularly bad in the dark and driving to the gym in the mornings, this time of year, is just downright dangerous.

So instead, I got a Peloton bike for the house. I enjoy cycling, and spinning is a great exercise. The whole Peloton experience is pretty fun. You can choose from thousands of pre-recorded or live rides with some of the most energetic and supportive coaches. I love that you can pick the type of ride, endurance, HIIT, climbs, low impact. And I love that you can also choose the music, classic rock, 80’s, 90’s, EDM/Dance, hip hop, country. The music is great and adds a lot to the experience. In many ways, a Peloton is a better experience then what you can get in any spinning studio or gym.

The bike itself is pretty basic. There is one knob that controls the resistance on the wheel making it easier or harder to pedal. The big difference with this bike is that there is a 21-inch screen mounted to the front of the bike where you see the instructor as well as all the relevant metrics on your performance during the ride. Combine the resistance with how fast you pedal and that produces a power rating and the power rating defines where you are on the leaderboard that is scrolling on the right side of the screen.

The other morning, I took a live Hip Hop ride; it’s about the only time I get to put that music on around this house. As we were getting started, I looked at the leaderboard and there were well over 1,500 riders all riding in the same class at the same time! Imagine going into any fitness class with 1,500 other people.

I usually start out slower than most, it takes me a while to get warmed up. A few more creaks and cracks these days then I remember. About five minutes into the warmup I glanced at the leaderboard and was shocked to see how close to the bottom I was. With 1,500 riders, many in their twenties and thirties, with hundreds and in some cases thousands of rides under their belts, I had no misconception of being number one but, this close to the bottom? No, that is not acceptable. So, I added a little more resistance and picked up the pace just a bit.

After another ten minutes, I checked the leaderboard and to my surprise, there were now about 500 people behind me. Okay, that feels better, but still, the bottom third? Is that who you are Chris?

More resistance. A little more speed.

As we get into the meat of the class, I am pushing myself pretty hard and, low and behold, I am almost at the mid-point of the class. Not bad for a sixty-year-old guy. I just passed three dudes in their forties. Hey that guy right in front of me is in his thirties. He isn’t that far ahead. I can easily pass him, so a push harder. I fly past him, and the next guy, and the next guy, and the guy after that. When the class finally ends, and we cross the virtual finish line, I look at the leaderboard for the last time; I am solidly in the top half.

But all I can see is the long list of names in front of me; lost in a sea of mediocrity.

I knew when I started that ride, that there were some amazing athletes there so reaching the top of the list at my age was all but impossible, but if only I pushed harder, I could have passed a few more.

Yet where on the list is good enough? Well, certainly the top half is better than the bottom half but that doesn’t sound very impressive. How about the top 25%, would I be satisfied there? That means there would still be nearly 400 people in front of me. Top 10%? One hundred and fifty bikes in front of me? Nope.

Not only is the Peloton a great home exercise experience, but it is also the perfect metaphor for so much of my life.

My father passed away just about thirteen years ago and I wonder if he found peace then because I don’t believe he ever found it while he was alive. Sure, he had peaceful moments, but I don’t believe he was ever really “at peace.” Peace, that feeling of sitting in the mountains or on the beach or in a quiet forest feeling the warmth of the sun just wash over you without a care in the world. Nothing you need to do and nowhere you need to be.

If I look at his life, I can understand how hard it would have been for him. He came into this world during the Great Depression. Times were tough. His family was poor and estranged from the rest of their family for some unknown reason. He went to war and he lost his only brother; killed by a freak collision at sea. For most of his life he worked hard to escape that background. To provide a better life for his children. Knowing my father, the pressure would have been tremendous. It would have been hard to feel peaceful. Perhaps even a little decadent or undeserved.

I know he didn’t find peace near the end of his life when his wife of nearly 60 years died. When he saw my marriage fall apart. When he was faced with his own mortality and frailty. Hopefully, he finally found it at the end, because he deserved to find peace. He was a wonderful man and father.

That was the gift my father gave to my brother and me. He sacrificed his peace so that we could find it. So, we could have the life that he wanted us to have; that he wished he had but couldn’t.

He taught us to work hard. To keep pushing to be better. He believed in us both and he pushed us to be all that he knew we could be.

And it worked.

My brother and I both have enjoyed many of the finer things in life that our father never had. If you look at it objectively, counting the things, the worldly possessions, the experiences we have enjoyed, we have benefited well beyond what he was able to experience in his 84 years.

With that gift he passed on something else; something unintended. I have been pedaling hard my whole life. Scared of being mediocre. Trying hard to get to the top of the leader board. But it turns, out that you can’t actually get there. There is always someone younger, faster, smarter, more capable. Many of the mistakes in my life have been as a result of chasing that leaderboard and forgetting to enjoy the ride.

There is certainly nothing wrong with working hard. Striving to be better. But all too often I have forgotten to take time and listen to the music on the ride, or to feel the sun on my face.

That is where true peace is. I hope I can find that sooner than my father did.

I think that would make him very proud of me and of all the sacrifices he made in his life.

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