When I think about the things in my life that are important to me some may be surprised when I mention my bike high up on that list. Most may regard my bikes as really nice toys and I guess they would be right, but they’re much more than that to me. As I navigate my way through busy adult life I continue to learn things about myself: some good, some not so good. I find these little nuggets of information through many sources. Some come from the kids I work with everyday in my professional life, and some from my family and friends. I’ve even learned a thing or two from my cats. Most importantly, I’ve learned things from myself and it always seems to happen when I’m on my bike.
Eki learning something about himself while approaching the finish of the 340-mile Trans Iowa gravel race...Photo courtesy of Guitar Ted Productions
My competitive drive points me toward ultra distance gravel and mountain bike racing and I’ve always been an “all in” type of guy. Therefore, I am inclined to go into the realm of obsessive when I’m interested in something. For example, as a little guy my parents got me a Rubiks cube as a Christmas gift. Needless to say, I went in deep. I spun those squares around and around, until I finally got my hands on the book containing the solution. Yes, I may have cheated, but I as a result I was thrust into a new obsession. I needed to solve the puzzle as fast as I could. The next several days would find me sitting off by myself spinning that thing so much that I recall my Dad spraying it with WD-40 to help me get faster. Things aren’t much different with my approach to racing a bicycle. There are many freezing nights in the dark out on some lonely trail, as well as impossible hours on the trainer in my basement.
Yet, with all that attention to getting faster, it’s when I’m riding the slowest that I have learned the most.
This past year on my bike has handed me several instances of what I deemed “failure” at the time. Some of these “failures” came to me in the form of getting lost in the Chequamegon 100 resulting in a top 10 finish vanishing before my eyes. Another was being so physically destroyed in my dream race, the Vapor Trail 125, that I felt I had let more than just myself down. It was as if I needed to somehow explain my performance when I got back to Minnesota. I wondered at the time what my family and friends would say. It’s during times like those that the most important lessons are there for you to learn. You just have to be willing to listen.
As I drifted back in the pack during last year’s Chequamegon 100 I reunited with the joy of mountain biking while riding with people not interested in their finishing place, but rather interested in their day. I joked and laughed with them as we marveled at the beauty of that course. I fell in love with mountain biking all over again that day and it was the men and women that I rode with that reminded me not to take myself so seriously. I look back on that day and I realize that they were telling me that it’s not the race, it’s the experience. They were so right.
Continuing education at sunrise on Granite Peak...
I stood alone at 12,600 feet on Colorado’s Granite Peak as the sun came over the distant peaks. I was way back in the field of the Vapor Trail mountain bike race and I was really hurting. I had dreamed of finishing much higher in this event and I was awash in disappointment when suddenly a voice in my head asked, “Are you doing the best you can?” My answer was “YES”. I came alive as I realized that my best was good enough. In fact my best was great! I was in awe of my surroundings and my spirits began to soar. Doing “your best” is something we toss around lightly in this day and age, but when you are deeply immersed in a physical and emotional endeavor and you’re doing the best that you can, it has the potential to change you forever.
Listen closely, because whether you know it at the time or not, you’re bike is trying to tell you something. Winning doesn’t always mean first place. My bike has taught me this lesson over and over, that’s why it’s so high up on my list.
Read other posts in our Continuing Education 2012 series here:
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Tim (Eki) Ek
Tim Ek was born and raised in Duluth, Minn., and still calls it home. He’s always had a passion for competition and seeking his own extremes. Tim's true love is the woods: Out in the wild is where he clears his head and finds his peace, and he prefers getting there by bike. Tim Ek: The Eki Chronicles, ekichronicles2.kinetic-fitness.com