Merckx casts his hand to fate; He went on to win Stage 10 of the '70 Tour from Belfort and Divonne-les-Bains

The Unknown

The Unknown

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The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think.– Virginia Woolf

Our actions lie on the horizon of the present, in that swirling cloud where fantasy turns into reality. To plan is to cast a shadow into the future, to attempt to lay shape to the unknown. As the present merges with the future, reality will try our plans on for size, indifferently gauging its fit before casting it aside like an unwanted garment.

We can never know if our actions are futile or not, we can never know what events they set in motion. They may set off a future we could never have predicted, shaping the approaching present in ways we could never have imagined. The true extent of our actions may never be known during our lifetime; in this sense failure and success are measured within an ever-changing and unpredictable chain-reaction of events.

The failure to act is a behavior driven by the fear of the unknown. In the face of a future we can never foresee, we question our abilities, our determination, ourselves. We keep our potential on a short leash for fear that we might fail. In all walks of life, failure forces an unpleasant introspection. In Cycling, failure forces that same introspection, along with suffering, and – apparently – some panic and possibly a few tears. Also some screaming and the chucking of bidons and gel packets. (If there were no cameras, it never happened. And it wasn’t me, I was the target. If it happened at all. Theoretically.)

But failure is only failure when cast in the light of the present; if we choose to fold that failure into our future actions and use it to inform the oncoming present, then those failures can become the foundation for success.

Our minds are our worst enemies, at least when it comes to accomplishing things. Actually, I suppose that’s not really fair; let me rephrase that: the part of your mind that does all the inner-monologuing is our worst enemy. It’s useless. All it does is tell us what might be, what we might not accomplish, the consequences that might arise from our actions should we strive to achieve more.

Brain: If we keep from trying, no one will ever know we failed.

Reality: Let’s get this one out of the way first: this is the Big Lie that our minds always tell us – this is what truly short-changes us from achieving our potential. I would rather fail and know I tried than preempt the virtual guarantee of failure by not giving everything I have to the chance of success.

Brain: We don’t know how long this climb is, we better store spare coals in the back room in case of emergency. It might get steep later or there might be a second climb.

Reality: There is no second climb; only the climb you are on. Besides, you are already in the lowest gear, even if you have a few cogs in reserve; the only gear that exists is V. There is no “spare coal”. It is a myth. The only thing you should be hoarding coals for is the energy it takes lift a Recovery Ale to your neck-hole when you finally finish the ride.

Brain: It’s raining and cold out there. The TV has some good programs on. For instance, there’s a great show about people who date naked but whose nakedness no one ever sees (except, presumably, the dating parties.) And we have beer in here. And chips.

Reality: Sean Kelly once said that you can’t tell how cold and wet it is outside by looking out the window; you have to kit up, go training and when you come back, you’ll know how cold and wet it is out there. So get out and ride, you wee imp. Rule #9.  You don’t get better by only riding in good weather. Plus, a little hypothermia is a great way to lose weight; all that shaking really burns the calories.

Brain: We can’t believe how much we’re suffering to hold the wheel in front. Everyone else must be in great shape. We don’t stand a chance.

Reality: Those other riders are on the rivet if you are. Rule #10 was ever thus. This would be a good time to attack. Hinault always attacked whenever he felt weak; better to be off the front and suffering alone than to let others witness your suffering first-hand.

Brain: Your legs are burning already. And do you feel that in your lungs? Even your arms are starting to hurt, so do your jaw muscles. Do you realize what that means? This sport doesn’t use those muscles and still they hurt. A lot. You are not making friends with your body here. We all hate you. Every one of us. We’re talking Union. Against you.

Reality: We all have a tiny little Scotty inside our engine room telling us how the motor is “Givin’ er all she’s got, Cap’n!” Bullshit. There’s another 20% in there, easy. Your mind just doesn’t want you to figure out the big scam.

To take a chance, to challenge to the unknown and play our hand at shaping the future is to take ultimate control of the unknown, to play an active role in our own fate. The future is dark, full of possibility. We Velominati are driven to succeed and embrace failure as a cobblestone beneath our wheel along our path to La Vie Velominatus.

// La Vie Velominatus // Musings from the V-Bunker

  1. Difficult to see, is the future.

  2. We have an entire section on our Saturday route called “The Unknowing”. I will certainly play with this article in my mind during the 326 km ride in October.

  3. The Unknowing (Saluda County)

  4. @Frank, I am gobsmacked by the shear virtuosity of the first two paragraphs. Nabokovian genius! Then to end with the quote from Scotty… Then to have The little Wizened One give the #1 reply, out of the force, is just, just, I’m at a loss for words. It might be time to put down your pad, you can never do better!

    Also, just saying, I had never heard the Kelly quote and that is icing on perfection!

    Then there is this:

    “But failure is only failure when cast in the light of the present; if we choose to fold that failure into our future actions and use it to inform the oncoming present, then those failures can become the foundation for success.”

    I feel like I’m reading a science fiction novel and you have just transported me away from the future back to the end to look at the beginning of the middle while tricking my mind into thinking what I already know – that I really did go for a bike ride in the rain… Fooking Genius!!

  5. @Yoda

    Difficult to see, is the future.

    You must be aware of this, oh Great One.

  6. @Rob

    @Frank, I am gobsmacked by the shear virtuosity of the first two paragraphs. Nabokovian genius! Then to end with the quote from Scotty… Then to have The little Wizened One give the #1 reply, out of the force, is just, just, I’m at a loss for words. It might be time to put down your pad, you can never do better!

    Also, just saying, I had never heard the Kelly quote and that is icing on perfection!

    Then there is this:

    “But failure is only failure when cast in the light of the present; if we choose to fold that failure into our future actions and use it to inform the oncoming present, then those failures can become the foundation for success.”

    I feel like I’m reading a science fiction novel and you have just transported me away from the future back to the end to look at the beginning of the middle while tricking my mind into thinking what I already know – that I really did go for a bike ride in the rain… Fooking Genius!!

    @frank’s writing gifts are considerable. I fear they are the fruit of some sort of Faustian bargain however.

  7. @Nate yup, as you can see from the photo above, he gave up the ability to ever have calves.

  8. Brain: If we keep from trying, no one will ever know we failed.

    Reality: Let’s get this one out of the way first: this is the Big Lie that our minds always tell us – this is what truly short-changes us from achieving our potential. I would rather fail and know I tried than preempt the virtual guarantee of failure by not giving everything I have to the chance of success.

    So much this.

    My sons have both rejected this concept,  to our great frustration.

    The eldest could have been a very good swimmer, certainly national level possibly higher. But every time he got close to a qualification time or should have been winning races he backed off. In his mind he prefered to under-achieve without even trying, than fail to achieve despite having tried.

    Same with the second one although in a slightly different way. He’s very, very good at maths and science and just gets it. Last year my wife and I were trying to get him to revise for maths exams and he just kept avoiding it. We got the results and he’d come third (and he is in the ‘extension’ stream of a part-selective school so it’s very much best and brightest).

    Naturally we said “Well done, but imagine if you’d revised you could have done even better.” His response, and this is more or less verbatim, was “But I did better than the people ahead of me. They spent all that time revising, while I did nothing and I still came third.” He has mastered the art of doing exactly as much as he needs to and nothing more.

    At a certain level I see what he means and have a certain respect for the efficiency and economy of it, but it doesn’t stop me wanting to bang my head against a wall.

  9. Brain: We don’t know how long this climb is, we better store spare coals in the back room in case of emergency. It might get steep later or there might be a second climb. ”

    Guilty as charged, your honor !

    Must remedy this one.

  10. This might help :-

    “Do or do not. There is no try.”

  11. A quote from G K Chesterton which rung in my head as i slogged up ventoux in 42 C in June –

    “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

  12. @ped

    A quote from G K Chesterton which rung in my head as i slogged up ventoux in 42 C in June –

    “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

    Sadly, I excel everytime at this.

  13. There is a lot to think about here, very nicely written. I really like this too, as I feel that I’m moving into a new (perfectly good) stage of my life and while I’m not riding as much, or as far, I feel secure in the fact that cycling is still a very healthy, unwavering part of each day.

  14. @Mikael Liddy

    @Nate yup, as you can see from the photo above, he gave up the ability to ever have calves.

    Woah, hold on a minute. As a fellow Skankleite, I think his lower guns are impressive. I have been playing running, ball sports since I was six and my VMH has bigger calves. The only thing I’ve got going for me – broke my leg playing college lacrosse and my right shin area is now slightly bigger than the left leg. Sweet!

    Frank & Darth Vader. Goddamn.

  15. Another awesome dharma talk, Frank.

  16. @VeloJello

    @ped

    A quote from G K Chesterton which rung in my head as i slogged up ventoux in 42 C in June –

    “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

    Sadly, I excel everytime at this.

    I don’t understand… do you excel at climbing ventoux and feel bad about it? or do you excel at doing something (I assume Cycling) very poorly on a repeated basis?  In either case, I don’t get why you would be sad…you are Doing It and that is what makes it worthwhile.

  17. Was it here that I’ve read, “don’t quit because there won’t be anything stopping you from quitting next time?” Seems relevant to the first statement above, and it seems to underpin the rest.

  18. @Owen

    Was it here that I’ve read, “don’t quit because there won’t be anything stopping you from quitting next time?” Seems relevant to the first statement above, and it seems to underpin the rest.

    It would have been more flowery than that, but I’ve certainly faffed on about that idea several times before but I don’t claim to be the only once to have done so. Quitting begets quitting, that’s for sure. It gets easier every time. And good call because that definitely is part of the theme.

    @Nate

    @Rob

    @Frank, I am gobsmacked by the shear virtuosity of the first two paragraphs. Nabokovian genius! Then to end with the quote from Scotty… Then to have The little Wizened One give the #1 reply, out of the force, is just, just, I’m at a loss for words. It might be time to put down your pad, you can never do better!

    Also, just saying, I had never heard the Kelly quote and that is icing on perfection!

    Then there is this:

    “But failure is only failure when cast in the light of the present; if we choose to fold that failure into our future actions and use it to inform the oncoming present, then those failures can become the foundation for success.”

    I feel like I’m reading a science fiction novel and you have just transported me away from the future back to the end to look at the beginning of the middle while tricking my mind into thinking what I already know – that I really did go for a bike ride in the rain… Fooking Genius!!

    @frank’s writing gifts are considerable. I fear they are the fruit of some sort of Faustian bargain however.

    Thanks for the overstated flattery from you both, but in honesty my only gift is taking stuff other people say and write and making it sound like its me. I’ve never had a unique thought in my life.

  19. @Yoda

    Difficult to see, is the future.

    So cool, and so sad that the quote is wrong. Difficult to see, the future is.

    @Mikael Liddy

    @Nate yup, as you can see from the photo above, he gave up the ability to ever have calves.

    HEY! I’m right here! I actually feel they show pretty well in that photo. Better than most.

    And there was some serious photoshopping going on here to make them look like this:

  20. @Nate

    @Yoda

    Difficult to see, is the future.

    You must be aware of this, oh Great One.

     

    Wait…which one is the Dark Lord?  I’m guessing Frank is the one in the black helmet.

    Either way, this article is just the kind of Jedi mind trick which keeps me riding farther and further than any reasonable person would ever go.

  21. @frank  “always in motion is the future” said I once. Repeat myself, must I? Pedantic this learner is.

  22. Frank, who needs calves anyway. I’ve lived my whole life without a set, I think it saves weight!

  23. @Optimiste

    @Nate

    @Yoda

    Difficult to see, is the future.

    You must be aware of this, oh Great One.

    Wait…which one is the Dark Lord? I’m guessing Frank is the one in the black helmet.

    Either way, this article is just the kind of Jedi mind trick which keeps me riding farther and further than any reasonable person would ever go.

    Yes the one in the black helmet. Not that black helmet. The other one.

  24. @Nate

    Correct. The one that makes you look like an Evil Lord, not the one that makes you look like a twat.

    @Daccordi Rider

    Frank, who needs calves anyway. I’ve lived my whole life without a set, I think it saves weight!

    That’s what I say!  We’re not scrawny, we’re optimizing body weight, ignoring the gut, of course.

  25. I’d just like to say that this piece inspired me to go out and ride after my normal tues night partners bailed. Thank you.  The ride was a continual “but you just rode pretty hard [for me] on sunday, dial it back” and “go ahead and get it… owp, too hard” process that worked really well for me.  Sprinting behind a car, in its draft, to get beer at ride end, was pretty nice.

    [disclaimer, i’m fat and slow, but I do apparently like to hurt myself when primed with good prose]

  26. @frank

    @Nate

    Correct. The one that makes you look like an Evil Lord, not the one that makes you look like a twat.

    What, I thought I was behind the camera?

  27. @ChrisO

    Brain: If we keep from trying, no one will ever know we failed.

    Reality: Let’s get this one out of the way first: this is the Big Lie that our minds always tell us – this is what truly short-changes us from achieving our potential. I would rather fail and know I tried than preempt the virtual guarantee of failure by not giving everything I have to the chance of success.

    So much this.

    My sons have both rejected this concept, to our great frustration.

    The eldest could have been a very good swimmer, certainly national level possibly higher. But every time he got close to a qualification time or should have been winning races he backed off. In his mind he prefered to under-achieve without even trying, than fail to achieve despite having tried.

    Same with the second one although in a slightly different way. He’s very, very good at maths and science and just gets it. Last year my wife and I were trying to get him to revise for maths exams and he just kept avoiding it. We got the results and he’d come third (and he is in the ‘extension’ stream of a part-selective school so it’s very much best and brightest).

    Naturally we said “Well done, but imagine if you’d revised you could have done even better.” His response, and this is more or less verbatim, was “But I did better than the people ahead of me. They spent all that time revising, while I did nothing and I still came third.” He has mastered the art of doing exactly as much as he needs to and nothing more.

    At a certain level I see what he means and have a certain respect for the efficiency and economy of it, but it doesn’t stop me wanting to bang my head against a wall.

    I can’t imagine the frustration this must bring a father. There were many profs I got a bollocking from for not trying and then one time in Calc IV (I was a math major, yeah – dork – still am although now I need my iPhone to calculate a tip) I spent a 12 hour training with my dad doing the theorems in our heads out loud as we skied (nordic) something like 120 km. I’ll never forget the Prof when he handed out the scores.

    He said, “Well, on the regular curve, getting 70 out of 100 should have given you an A; but one student broke the curve so your scores are adjusted accordingly.”

    Fuck me. I’ve had it.

    He called my name eventually to collect my exam and as I grabbed it, he said, “That’s a good score, kid.” I looked down and I’d gotten a 98.

    Only time I’ve ever broken the curve and I knew from that moment it was because of hard work because I know for fuck certain that I’m not very clever. And there were clever people in my class, people I know who have gone on to do great things.

    “Unclever boy breaks curve because he managed to focus for 12 hours straight due to sport,” the headline in my head read. I loved it and still do.

    Your kid will figure it out eventually. Don’t sweat it; you’re putting all the right values into the top end (his head), sometimes it just takes a lot longer for the juice tiger to turn all that value into morals.

  28. @sinikl

    I’d just like to say that this piece inspired me to go out and ride after my normal tues night partners bailed. Thank you. The ride was a continual “but you just rode pretty hard [for me] on sunday, dial it back” and “go ahead and get it… owp, too hard” process that worked really well for me. Sprinting behind a car, in its draft, to get beer at ride end, was pretty nice.

    [disclaimer, i’m fat and slow, but I do apparently like to hurt myself when primed with good prose]

    So am I, which makes you our target audience, mate! Pleased as punch we got you riding a bit harder.

  29. @Nate

    @frank

    @Nate

    Correct. The one that makes you look like an Evil Lord, not the one that makes you look like a twat.

    What, I thought I was behind the camera?

    The camera is the artist’s tool of expression.

  30. @frank now you are flattering me.

  31. @Nate

    Correct. The one that makes you look like an Evil Lord, not the one that makes you look like a twat.

    @Daccordi Rider

    Frank, who needs calves anyway. I’ve lived my whole life without a set, I think it saves weight!

    That’s what I say! We’re not scrawny, we’re optimizing body weight, ignoring the gut, of course.

    That’s me on the front showing the barest hint of calf muscle. But I think we can agree in the calf department I’m pretty much fully optimised!

  32. @Daccordi Rider

    That thing scares the shit out of me. Massive kudos to you for being involved in that endeavour.

  33. @harminator  I was nervous the first couple of times but you get used to it pretty quick. Great challenge to learn to ride properly in synch with another person. Really makes you think about what you do, and how to get better.

  34. Great article @frank.  And very timely, after succumbing to the anti-V yesterday and deciding that riding in the rain for a second day was stupid and that I should settle in and watch others do it (TdF stage 4 recorded) I now know that I am a failure.  Great News!  The next step is upwards!  I will be out today and I will crush mountains and I will bend time and space around me and you can be sure that the wake up call from this article had something to do with it.

    As an aside The Chimp Paradox by Steven Peters deals with just this sort of stuff….interesting reading.  Yesterday, the Chimp had a tantrum, today I am whispering to him about how great it will be to feel with fizz of the tyres on the road!

    Chapeau!

  35. Calc IV? Fack. My math train ended with Calc II. That stuff started to get really fucking weird. I could no long will myself to figure it out. For me, that separated the math brains from the non math brains, kinda like a VO2 max test for continental vs. EuroPro.

    Thus, I’m resigned to be a humanities fucker. Reading and writing are far easier than radius of convergence problems.

  36. @harminator

    @Daccordi Rider

    That thing scares the shit out of me. Massive kudos to you for being involved in that endeavour.

    thankfully it didn’t hang around too long on the Cogal a few years back on account of being powered by two superhuman engines.

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