Funny; my last piece started with a plane flight, of a very different kind. I’m starting this tucked into an economy cabin, helmet in a soft bag in my lap, shoes and carry-on neatly stowed above me. I’m on my way to the Hampshire 100. A race I have never done before and which I need to win. Traveling to race, even traveling just to ride is so much a part of my life these days that the routine is almost soothing. In the quiet winter months part of me longs to sling a few kits and shoes in my bag and get on the move. My family knows the drill; knows that a very central part of me is in anticipation and preparation for the next event, race, demo, or epic training day. And my wife and the trail pup acknowledge this is important not only for sponsorship commitments but also to me personally. I need it, I won’t be the same man they love without it.
But nonetheless the mild unease that travel brings; especially plane travel, takes a toll. Successful athletes are constantly dealing not only with personal struggles, training loads, and constantly shifting professional goals and conditioning, but also managing this stress. Riders are constantly seeking that primal, in the moment feeling when bike, pilot, and earth move together. When muscle and sinew reach a rhythm that brings all the senses to reckoning and wakes the spirit up. Goosebumps. We spend untold amount of money, energy, and time putting ourselves into uncomfortable places, stepping out of our element so that we can be in it for just seconds at a time. Charging the unknown to taste that near euphoric heightened sense of being known to the Disciples of the Rad as Flow.
What do airports, airbags, and gas pumps all have to do with flow? What do work days, vitamin C, and alarm clocks all ultimately add up to? I’m a religious man; well I’m a believer anyhow, and I have had some of my most blessed moments on the bike when a culmination of weeks of work, prep, and training bring me into that flow, and hopefully across the finish line first. Being in my element at the finish line requires making my comfort zone broad. It requires me to go with the flow of the world around me so I can get into the flow on the bike.
I had one of what I consider to be my worst results of the season earlier this spring at the Mohican 100 when I spent the entire day before stressed about work, stressed about traffic, registration (which I was getting desperately close to missing according to my GPS), finding a good pre race meal, and literally everything else. I let the stresses of the world close in on me as I stayed heavy on the gas towards Ohio. My wife Emily, a constant source of both peace and energy for me, soothed me a little, and a friend was able to get my registration packet and race number, but despite these efforts the damage had been done. The following day I flailed and thrashed but my body would not cooperate. It wouldn’t generate the kind of power it can, and my mind was not focused on doing the things it does on auto-pilot. Eat, recover, pace, drink, all the endurance puzzle pieces were on the table but I wasn’t fitting them together to paint a winning picture. I had let all the stresses of being outside what I considered my element take over and thus defeated myself long before I toed the line.
All this metaphor and prose to point out that success in the outdoor element depends on making the world your home. Your comfort must be inside you, your positivity and happiness must go with you. Things will go wrong. Traffic will happen, feed zones will be missed, blisters will burn, whatever can go wrong…WILL! Get used to it and get mentally ready for it. I re-learned this hard lesson this spring and I’ve endeavored to carry it with me forward. Lots of folks know me for my positivity and enthusiasm, and if they had seen me 60 miles into the Mohican they’d have barely recognized me. I was disappointed in myself and with some retrospect it’s so easy to see that I failed to thrive in the situation.
That guy or girl you know; the one who wins alllllll the time? They might train more sure, they might have years of experience, but in the world of outdoor recreation (and probably any competitive realm) the reality is that things don’t always go their way. They win because they have taken the situation; whatever it may be, and they have committed to thriving in it. They make the scenario their home. They do the best they can, and let the rest go. You will never be able to control the world around you, variable sure, but not the whole flood of modern day home-spun crazy!
And so smile as you walk through airport security. Take a deep breath and relax your steering wheel death grip when you see brake lights. The place you’re trying to get; whether it’s the finish line or the flow is reached faster when you make the world around you your element. Don’t click go on your flow at the trailhead, never shut if off! Make out-of-your element YOUR element! The raddest journeymen outdoorspeople (you know the ones with weathered Chacos and who smell kinda like Patchouli?) are the ones who have relinquished a lot of their supposed control. They have relaxed and approached the journey with a let-it-be mentality that providing proper training and appropriate prep yields bombproof results.
So pack light, pack right, and make your playground more than just the outdoors. Make the world around you your element. Keep positive, believe that this life has purpose and many of the details will sort themselves out if you stay true to yours.
Gordon Wadsworth was second overall and 1st SS at the Hampshire 100 and is probably still looking for a place to brush his teeth in the Manchester Nh Regional Airport.