Life is like a 21 speed bicycle-most of us have gears we never use

Posted on 25-07-2011 , by: fusion , in , 0 Comments

In life, we skin our knees, egos and hearts but need to pick ourselves up and get back in the saddle.

-Even Cadel Evans probably had training wheels on his first bike. We all need support on new paths.

-He didn’t win the Tour de France without countless hours of disciplined training out of the spotlight for many years. Nor, is any career success achieved overnight and we should also celebrate achievements of those who excel outside the realm of sport.

-He had a super support team and it was heart-warming to hear him emotionally acknowledge his deceased trainer & mentor. Sometimes we have people who believe in us more than we believe in ourselves. Don’t wait til it’s too late to thank them.

-In 2010, IKEA gave all 12,400 staff in US a bike for Xmas. Of course, it required assembly!

-7 times Tour champion & cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong once said: ‘You need to eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty.’ It’s important for elite athletes to manage energy levels because if they wait until they feel thirsty, it’s too late as energy levels will have already dropped and they’ll be overtaken by stronger riders. So too at work, to stay mentally & physically fit, it’s important not just to spin our wheels but to take time out before we ‘crash’

That’s one reason why I spent June in Europe in between speaking engagements in Malaysia & London and meetings with publishers in Russia and Poland. I then met up with friends to cycle around Holland where we commented on the mutual respect between cyclists & motorists; which reminded me of a quote from Miguel Cruzatta:

‘Courtesy is like the air in your tyres-It costs nothing but makes the journey more pleasant’

-Holland had no hill climbs but rain and winds everyday prompted me to ponder that:

Headwinds build strong leg muscles-and even stronger character

We all encounter metaphorical headwinds in life. Head down and butt up until the equivalent of tailwinds speed you on your journey, never forgetting that:

‘Life is like a 21 speed bicycle-most of us have gears we never use’

If you’d like to read about lessons learned from my unsupported cycle trip over the Andes more than a decade ago (and contained within a chapter of Hot Lemon & Honey-Reflections for Success in Times of Change)-now available in e-book format-read on….

In preparation for an unsupported cycle adventure over the Andes, I needed a better bike if I was to have any chance at all of completing the trip. After all, it had been many years since I’d cycled and the three gears on my old bike were unlikely to give me the technological advantage I’d need. And, I knew, that on the other side of forty, I’d need all the help I could get!

Walking into a local cycle shop, a young salesman asked if he could help.

“What would you recommend for a middle aged woman wanting to cycle over the Andes?” I asked.

“Well, why don’t you bring her in and we’ll see what we can do”, he replied with a wry smile.

This guy was either very good at customer service, a con man or visually impaired. I discovered it was the former as he patiently explained the various product options and I eventually decided on a custom made, hot pink, twenty one speed model.

With the best technology available, we now needed to start the logistical preparation for a trip that was definitely outside my normal comfort zone. As plans slowly fell into place with my six fellow travelers, it became evident that there were many similarities with the business challenges some of us faced at the time. First, we had set ourselves a goal, which at times seemed to be a rather unattainable one of ascending over 17,000 feet from Argentina to the border of Chile and then heading downhill from the summit to the Pacific Ocean, over 800 kilometers away.

A quick look at the map provided a preliminary plan; one which admittedly seemed daunting until the overall project was broken down into manageable chunks; estimating how much ground could reasonably be covered each day, planning evening stops and making allowances for inclines and questionable road conditions. A buffer of a few days was allowed for contingencies such as poor weather or breakdowns.

While obtaining visas and security clearances, we simultaneously started the physical preparation. In some ways, we’d inadvertently started this journey when we first learned to ride a bike, all those years ago. And, although most of us hadn’t cycled a great deal since, the basic skills, like many we humans possess, lay dormant and it was no longer necessary to get out the training wheels. We just had to get out of our comfort zone.

Still, we knew that our aging muscles would have to be eased into a training regime rather gently so started with easy rides on a cycle path, without the hazard of cars. Over a period of months, we set a schedule of increasingly long and more difficult rides, progressing to hills and out on the road in preparation for riding in Buenos Aires traffic (although nothing could have adequately prepared us for that!) With only a few weeks to go, we had added to the load by putting telephone books in our saddle-bags to condition ourselves to the extra weight. Just like a business plan, we needed to walk before we could run.

Occasionally, in bad weather, we’d get on stationary bikes at the gym but that seemed less motivating as we were busy pedaling and going nowhere and it was harder to keep motivated without feeling you were actually making some progress. Sometimes it seemed that way as well in my newly formed business! And, I occasionally wondered if I should maybe have a partner, like a partner on a tandem bike but decided I didn’t want to risk the equivalent of doing all the pedaling at the front, while someone coasted pleasantly behind.

As the weeks and months rolled on, I pleasantly surprised myself with increased fitness levels and the enjoyment from cycling with a couple of friends; the best part being a stop at the end for cappuccinos and some tasty treat. Likewise, on a business journey, it’s also important to set little rewards for oneself along the way. This is especially true when you feel you’re constantly pedaling uphill or into a headwind.

Like most people starting a new business, we’d had a few disagreements leading up to our departure but these were now behind us as we set off to the airport full of unbridled enthusiasm. Confidence waned when our bikes arrived damaged and our leader left his passport and saddle-bags behind on the very first day. Our tyres and spirits were both flat but we hadn’t come this far to give in easily. He seemed unworried and cheerfully said that there was no use worrying about something he couldn’t do anything about so he’d make the most of what he did have. Another good lesson.

After nine hours of an uphill battle against gale force winds, we wondered if we’d made a serious mistake but as we hadn’t seen a single vehicle in that entire time, there was no choice but continue to our evening’s destination. If we stopped pedaling, we’d fall over. Arriving sore and dirty, we wondered if we should have trained more rigorously in the first place; and don’t we often wonder that about many everyday projects as well. It was also one of those moments when you wished you were at home in your own comfortable everyday environment, but yet knew, when you were there, you’d have been wishing you were off on an exciting adventure!  I consoled myself that I was healthy enough to be able to experience this much temporary pain, through choice!

The next day or two seemed easier and we worked more as a team, gaining some relief from the winds, by riding close together in other’s slipstream, with the front rider providing some protection from the fierce environmental conditions, over which we had no control. So too, in the economic environments we often find ourselves in but solid partnerships can there, too, provide some buffer during particularly bleak times. When we encountered 80 mile per hour head winds and snow, our goal seemed impossible. But, through persistence, we found ourselves, a few days later, at the border of Argentina and Chile at the top of the summit pass.

“Why would anyone in their right mind want to cycle over the Andes anyway?”, you might ask.

Customs officials must have thought the same thing and body searched us for drugs, as they were convinced we ‘loco gringos” (crazy foreigners) had to be on them! But the rush we felt as we started heading downhill was a natural high, as we easily covered twice the daily distances than on the ascent, now taking time to stop and enjoy the magnificent scenery.

So too, many people think others with innovative ideas are crazy-until the ideas work! We’d done it. We’d stepped outside our comfort zones and tested our own limits. As we philosophized, while dwarfed by magnificent mountains, we couldn’t help but be reminded that we were all only part of a much bigger picture and often lost perspective about minor roadblocks in our way. One of my friends, having hassles within the large organization where she worked, commented:

“Well, I got my rear into gear and if I can endure the discomfort of a sore backside while cycling over the Andes, I can easily cope with the people at work who are a pain in the butt!”

There would be no more back-pedaling for her and the brakes were well and truly off as she returned to embark on a new mid life career with renewed vigor.

So, how do ordinary, middle aged people cycle over the Andes? Exactly, the same way we should all approach challenges in our everyday life-one pedal at a time; one step at a time; one distance at a time as we set higher challenges for ourselves than anyone else would. And, always remember that:

‘Life is like a 21 speed bicycle-most of us have gears we never use’ CDV


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