Always go too far because that's where you'll find the truth and frozen microwave cake
This is part 4 of my Two Volcano Sprint Race Report - a text that has long been in the drawer, since I never felt the urge to publish it. It takes a certain state of mind and strength to write about these very painful memories and put it out there. Until now, I lacked the motivation and courage to do so, but since I'm confronted with yet another situation like this during my Transcontinental Race, I think now is the perfect moment. Its different this time for me, but I hope this text finds the ones who might be in a similar situation.
The photos have been taken by myself during theTranscontinental Race.
I looked at the piece of cake on the table in front of me, yes, a real table, even with a real tablecloth, not some of those cheap plastic - or paper doilies which sometimes flutter silly in the wind at the takeaways. No, this was a real restaurant, you order multiple courses and wait for everything to be served in its full deliciousness. You get new cutlery for each course and the serviette isn't made of paper. Everything was solid, home cooking, decent, savory, the kind where the chef knows exactly what he's doing, this was different than the reheated pea soup at the gas station.
And yet, the piece of cake in front of me was frozen. For a moment I wondered if it was a specialty, but it was all too ridiculous, no, they just forgot to thaw the frozen cake in the microwave.
It was very fitting, a nice metaphor for my situation. I was in a race, somehow I was still there, but I already knew that it was over. I'd probably never really been in it, just like that frozen piece of cake had never been the epitome of quality home baked patisserie, and it only took a pinch of carelessness to reveal the whole scam.
I kept the rest of my thoughts under wraps for a while. Just eat the frozen cake like a civilized person, with a pretty little pastry fork rattling so homely on china bone. I was too tired and the waitress was too nice, why should I complain, they had entertained me without batting an eyelid, although I was obviously not the perfect guest among all these freshly showered, happy people: families at large tables, everyone was dressed up while I sat there in the same cycling gear I'd been wearing for days, dirty, tired, in painful awareness that I wasn't going to finish this race in time.
Just sit here a little while, I thought, stop, not yet.
I looked around, watched the people in the room. What would I have given to be one of them. It was like in one of those Italian pasta commercials, only without the obvious falsehood, everything was real and beautiful and true and lighthearted. Sometimes someone smiled at me - I was surprised, almost thought I was invisible. Just sit a little longer at this table and pretend, pretend that I'm about to ride on, pretend that the cake was delicious and homemade, yes excellent, I nodded when the waitress cleared my plate. I sat there for a few more moments before finally thinking that the meal would probably be added to my room bill. No one had taken my name yet, but I was too exhausted and confused, I needed sleep more than anything else, shower, take care of my saddle sore quickly, so that I could continue in a few hours. I walked down the long hallway to the room where my bike and my race director were already awaiting me.
There I was in this hotel room, it was the moment I had been dreading for hours, oh what, for days, maybe even months.
I never thought it would be this painful, agony in the classic, physical sense. My knees burned with every step, I could hardly breathe in the stuffy air and there was only one window to a small atrium, which itself had no window. I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, my face so swollen I barely recognized myself.
Who the hell is that. My mind was in shambles and when I realized the abscess on my butt was bleeding, there was no doubt.
The race was over.
I hadn't made it.
My race director had fallen silent, there was no race anymore, just darkness and demons.
A hot burn spread through my chest and I gasped for breath. All the fears, doubts, all the trying and striving, all the hopes and trepidations, all the days I believed in this race, all of it broke in me in this very moment. I cried myself into a fainting sleep from which I was awoken by loud banging and voices outside my door. I yelled something like "silence" and a few curses, then it went quiet again. It was still afternoon out in the world, but it was night inside me.
When I was woken up by my alarm clock in the evening, I didn't know where I was at first, jumped up ready to pack my things, but my knees buckled as I tried to get up. My whole body ached, I couldn't even think about getting up, let alone cycling.
'A clown, that's what you are', my race director said flatly.
'One ridiculous clown and everyone laughs at you. I mean, look at yourself.'
I tried to silence the race director, as I often did, with distraction. In this case, I reached for my phone to convince myself that none of it was true, looking for words from others to confirm I had no reason to be so terribly ashamed, to reassure all of this wasn't so horribly pointless.
But suddenly I stopped. No, this wasn't the moment for distraction. I went further and further into this black hole where I expected the race director waiting for me and said with my last strength:
'There is no one here'.
And sure enough, there was nobody there. No race director and no one to laugh at me either.
Only myself I was all alone in this hotel room, looking straight at my worst enemy. It was me. All this time I was the one who addressed the most merciless, meanest words against myself, I laughed at myself, mocked me, tormented myself. No one could have hurt me like I could, no one could have destroyed me like I did. Against the insults I threw at myself in those hours, every contemptuous comment of others seemed ridiculous. There was no way out, no way around, nowhere to escape.
We often say, we do these things for ourselves, for a challenge, to go beyond our own limits and what we think we're capable of, to grow, to learn and maybe to find our true selves.
Sure, that's certainly one reason, but I doubt we can actually experience all of this, when what we do also validates so many aspects of our ego. Racing is, amongst many beautiful things, a way to seek validation from external sources, there's no need to argue. And there's nothing wrong with that, but evry once in a while it might be good to challenge this and find out what happens when you go against this. So what happens if you just eliminate all ego aspects and face those emotions of shame and failure while people are watching?
You experience the true meaning of growth, what it takes to swim against the tide and you'll learn that strength may appear weak on the surface, sometimes, invisible to the eyes of the ones who have never gotten the balls to jump over this edge.
In those moments when our bodies are weak, empty, the moment when ecstasy subsides and nothing is left but a pile of ashes and silence, that's the only time we really see. It's such a small window of time and it remains blocked for most of us by everyday life, convenience, habit and what we call desires. To get there you have to let go of everything, all desires, everything self-centered, yes, you actually have to die a little and maybe even a lot. Maybe even completely, who knows that exactly, nobody can confirm in the end whether and to what extent the physical death, the one with the missing heart line, with the long, penetrating beep at the end of every stupid film stripped off a happy ending, unmistakably indicates that it's over.
When you subtract everything that is your ego, something beautiful remains: A deep and thorough understanding of who your are. Not the ego-centered self we always talk about in our chronically narcissistic society. The actual self is probably so little identity, so little person, so little substance that it's hard to explain to anyone what it actually is. Catharsis. Beyond, you find your true self.
98% of our time here we strive for trifles, for unnecessary relieve of what we think is pain, we run in circles only to find true meaning once we learn to accept silence. Accept failure, accept that we don't need to emerge from what we are, because only if we let go of this idea, we can truly become who we were all along. To pull back the curtain we need nothing but trust, despite all odds, silence all the outside noise, that tells us who to be and what to want, where to go for what purpose. Always go too far, because that's where you'll find the truth, said Camus.
And the truth is: sometimes, the cake in front of you is just a frozen microwave cake. There's no need to argue, no need to disguise it, there's no point to elevate the facts. This is not where growth happens. It doesn't happen in what we deem failure and disappointment. That's why it's so painful. And it's okay to let it burn, to feel the pain and not conceal it, not distract from it, for once, being honest and not hide from it, but embrace it, with all it takes.
Cry, mourn, grieve.
We often hear clever life advice which sounds so pleasant, that failure is just the ingredient of success, that failure will lead to becoming a better version of yourself. But I don't think that's true. It's just a painful fact to accept and move on, despite, not because of failure. It doesn't make you better, it's up to you to define it's meaning, but to me it's not where the interesting part starts. It's about what happens after you failed your initial goals and how you decide to shape what comes next. Are you willing to get up again, continue when it seems pointless? Are you ready to understand why “pointless” is just a very one sided narrow view of possible meanings? Are you ready to find new sense? Let go of old dreams and find new goals? Stay fluid and flexible in the face of what reality has to offer?
The race against the timelimit was over for me. Now there was something new to learn.
I knew it didn't matter if I'd arrive in time in this race or ever.
I didn't come here to win or to beat myself or others. Sure, we all have several reasons to enter a race, there's mostly never just only one reason for it. But amongst all the obvious ones, the challenge, the adventure, the competition, I forgot another reason in the process, one that used to be strong and omnipresent but I had lost sight of it along the way:
To find peace.
So, how do you do that?