My favorite feeling is perhaps the empty hollowness of hunger. That statement, in itself, is a declaration of the privileged life I’ve led; it is borderline obscene to boast of such a thing in a world where 842 million people don’t have enough to eat. Nevertheless, being lucky enough to have been raised in America and just competent enough to hold down a job, I find myself in the enviable position of needing to invoke “discipline” in order to experience this sensation.
All that aside, I love feeling hungry, both physically and metaphorically. Physically, being hungry brings something primal out in me; there is an edge that awakens which feels dormant when I’ve eaten. I’m sharper, more alive somehow.
When I eat or drink too much, I feel it in my flesh; I feel the lethargy that comes with food everywhere. I feel it on my back, I feel it in my limbs, I feel it in my eyes – everything is weighed down and blurred. When I am overweight, I find I can go all day without eating and hardly give it a thought. When I’m training and riding well and my weight is down, I can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner and never feel sated. That is the feeling of hunger to which I refer; not a desire to starve, but a physical condition where sustenance feels impossible to achieve. This is a beautiful state where everything feels alive and there is a sharpness and precision in every motion.
There is also a metaphorical hunger, which I don’t think we can achieve without the physical sort. The metaphorical sort is borne of desire and need. This is what drives us to achieve more than we normally would. Sean Kelly talks of this hunger in his book by the same name; in his opening chapter, he says he would rather fall into the any of the greenhouses below the sweeping hairpins along the descent from the Poggio into Sanremo than face defeat by Moreno Argentin. That is hunger in the metaphorical sense.
I am a better person when I feel hunger; I have drive, I have humility, I have courage. When hunger stirs, we come alive with an urgency we don’t otherwise find. Without it, there is no compulsion to act, to fight, or to endure.