Velominati › Ultimate Indulgence: The Simplicity of Pain

Jens Voigt: The permanent steward of the keys to the Pain Locker.

Ultimate Indulgence: The Simplicity of Pain

by frank / Jul 27 2010 / 46 posts

It’s a good question, this: who in their right mind would willfully hurt themselves doing something they “enjoy”? I’m guessing psychologists have a word for this type of behavior, and I’m not afraid to assume it’s not a flattering one. Indeed, we are all of us completely nuts.

When I’m not filing TPS Reports, it’s my job to help businesses not make technical problems any worse than they already are; occasionally I even help solve one or two. On the good days, I might sit behind my computer and do some actual “work”.  On the bad days, I try to remember what I actually did despite being busy from the moment I set foot in the office, if not before that.  No matter which of these shapes my days take, I come home feeling ready for a ride.

I generally look forward to that part of the day; to changing into my cycling kit, mulling over which cycling-specific eye wear to use and which lenses, before heading down to the basement where the bikes sleep. I like to spend a few minutes cooing over the stable while I pretend not to have already decided to take out Bike Number One; then I make my final selection and ready it for the road.

Being too fat to climb means that I am prone to snakebite punctures caused by my fat ass bouncing the back tire on the rim, so by necessity, I check my tire pressure before every ride (I’ve never had a flat on a Continental GP4000, by the way).  I check my quick releases.  If I didn’t clean and oil my chain after the last ride, I’ll clean and oil it.  I’ll make sure everything is shifting properly.  I’ll check the brakes, hang my helmet from the stem as stipulated in Rule #76, and roll my steed out into the garage where she’ll wait for me while I fill my water bottles and slip into the white ladies.

All the while, work will be knocking around in the back of my mind; be it the annoying things that happened during the day, the items I didn’t get around to, or whatever it is that will transpire tomorrow.  As I roll out onto the street, I’ll be preoccupied by little things as I settle into the rhythm of the ride.  Things like trying not to get hit by the idiot in a car who seems to be texting his buddies that he Hearts Huckabees.  Or I’ll question the decision-making process that encouraged the girl waiting at the bus stop to buy pantaloons that are three sizes too small.  Despite these worthwhile distractions, work will be knocking around in the back of my mind.

Climbing – or more precisely, the pain induced by climbing – is my favorite escape. When I’m on form, I’m encouraged by how good it feels to climb at tempo. Let me digress for a moment to point out that what a Velominatus defines as “feels good” diverges a bit from the traditional definition; by “good”, I mean to indicate that there is a tension in the legs – they hurt but feel strong – and the lungs ache as more air is taken from them than can possibly be pumped back into them, but they don’t feel like they are turning inside-out. “Feeling Good” is the only the beginning.

Then comes picking up a spade, cramming it into a mountainous heap of Rule #5, and turning it over on yourself. There is a strange freedom in the sensation you get as the pain rises through your body; it starts in the legs, and then in the lungs.  Together they swell and grow into each other as the pain consumes every bit of consciousness and affects the vision – colors become simultaneously more vibrant and desaturated.  The mind takes on a singular focus to keep the legs turning, blood pumping, and oxygen flowing; any thought not directly associated with keeping up the effort is pushed out.  A cyclist’s pain is a singular, focused peacefulness. From a Buddhist perspective, there might be something of the shadow of Enlightenment to it, that singular Oneness of Focus. Except that pain bit. I’m not a Buddhist, but I think they might not really be into that side of things.

It’s only during those moments – when I’m suffering like sweet baby Jesus on the cross – that my work doesn’t occupy at least some portion of my mind; the singular indulgence of pain clears everything away, and when I climb off the bike – destroyed – and after I’ve finished my post-ride beer (you need carbs after a ride, you know), everything seems just a little bit clearer.  By clearing away the noise, it makes all the problems in life seem a little less insurmountable.

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