Comments from friends responding to my blog about my humbling climbing experience the other weekend have compelled me to write a follow-up entry.
Last week, I wrote about how my awesome friend Tom and I had to back off a multi-pitch rock climb in New Hampshire that we had easily climbed five years ago because our skills had diminished after a five-year absence from the sport. The experience had threatened to demean me, but I reminded myself that experience is what we make of it. Instead, I chose to rejoice in being able to have such a fantastic adventure.Yesterday, before embarking on a gorgeous evening road ride with my good friend Shaun (who’s nine years younger than me—ahem!), Shaun remarked how he had enjoyed my blog.
“But, Frank, you didn’t mention how great a mountain biker you are now,” Shaun said, after dismounting in my driveway. “You’re doing stuff on your bike that you wouldn’t have dreamed of being able to do even two years ago.”
Sheesh! Shaun was right!
One of my other friends, Rachel, had said something else that struck home. She left a comment on my blog saying that the tale of my NH rock climbing defeat was a great reminder of the need for us humans to be able to re-evaluate how we measure our own success. Indeed, Shaun’s point was the perfect example of the necessity to do this.
My last entry was all about how the climb was a success despite our failure to get to the top because a fantastic adventure had still been experienced. But, in that entry, I forgot to mention that the day after the climb, Tom and I travelled to nearby Highland Mountain Bike Park where we spent all afternoon racing downhill at ferocious speeds. We flew over dirt jumps and soared off man-made ramps and whipped around high, tight dirt berms, sweat pouring off us, our hearts pounding with the thrill.At first our hands and quadriceps screamed—our hands from gripping our brakes and our legs from acting as living shock absorbers. But as the hours passed, we felt ourselves growing stronger and more confident. I felt like I could have played on that mountain all day. And I did stunts I didn’t have the skill or the balls to do just two years ago.
And on one of those runs down the mountain, I broke my sturdy bicycle’s frame. I’m not sure how or where, but I know I was riding hard.
When I returned home to Kingston and told friends and the great guys at my local bike shop about the destruction of my beloved bike, they were amazed.
Who would have thought that mild-mannered Frank Armstrong would ride aggressively enough to break the frame of a high-end all-mountain trail bike?But I did. And riding aggressively, flying off sweet jumps, and pushing my limits at breakneck speed was something I just hadn’t done in my 30s. Simply put, I wasn’t good enough or strong enough on a mountain bike back then.
And going hard just wasn’t in me…
The point I’m trying to make is that effective evaluation of our experiences is about more than being willing to re-evaluate how we measure success.
We also need to put more effort into reflecting on those experiences.
While writing my last reflective blog entry on re-evaluating success, I didn’t think deeply enough to consider the magical afternoon of mountain biking after our day of climbing and how it shaped how I think and feel about myself.
It took a comment from my buddy Shaun to remind me that, although I no longer have a lot of hiking and climbing fitness, I’m fitter and stronger of mind than ever before—when it comes to mountain biking.
So I plan to take this experience as a lesson about two things: to truly learn from our own lives, we need to do even more than open ourselves to evaluating our experiences from different viewpoints. We also need to realize that the more energy we put into self-reflection, the more we will learn about ourselves.So the next time you catch yourself filling with self-doubt, self-loathing, or anxiety, take a few minutes to find a quiet place and maybe a pen and paper or word processor and consider this:
Have you reflected deeply enough? And are you using the wrong instrument to measure your success?
Author’s note: If I seem strangely cheerful about breaking the frame of my beloved high-end mountain bike, it’s because Trek Bikes is replacing my frame—no questions asked—with an even nicer model to honour its lifetime frame warranty. Trek Bicycles (NOT the bike store in Toronto, but the bigger bicycle company) ROCKS!