“Its not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory, nor defeat.”
It’s the Monday after the Arizona state road race cycling championship in Show Low. As I drive to work, I remember that I need to get to the post office sometime today as I look over a Nikon D700 sitting in the passenger seat next to me. The Nikon has been a good camera, but it’s getting shipped to sell so I can afford a new Shimano 11 speed group set for my bike. I raced my bike at Show Low on Saturday and the Shimano group set got me through, but I finished last in my age group. The shifters and parts on my bike are over ten years old and in need of an upgrade. I wonder how the new group is going to feel the next time I race? Will it make me faster? Maybe put me on the podium? Will I miss the Nikon D700 camera? It was a great camera, but it wasn’t getting the use the way my road bike does. I have had the Nikon for a few years, but I have been racing my bike since 1982.
In all reality, the ten year old group set really wasn’t an issue. I did the race and finished. As Teddy Roosevelt said in a famous quote, I was in “the arena” during that bike race as I rode to 16th place. I always say that if I am not having fun, I will just stop racing, but that hasn’t happened in spite of a number of similar placing’s over the last 20 years.
Still, 16th out of 16 was not a result I expected. I had been training regularly and thought I was good for the distance. But one thing I am never good for, is sitting still. The race started out like it always does for me: working my butt off early, trying to help my teammates, covering breaks and riding in the front. But at the end, I didn’t have enough energy beans to keep me going. Those energy beans left me at mile 46 and with still 12 miles of racing to go, I was counting the miles until the end.
As I pedaled those last 12 miles, with my legs barely able to turn the cranks, I started to think about why I was in this predicament. Why I was off the back? Was it my old group set holding me back? Or was it that taco dinner I ate as my pre-race meal, or the heat, or maybe my gel that was a strange flavor? Or maybe it was my number, ‘123’ that jinxed me? Was I over trained, under trained; not rested? Should I have just let Peter Brown, a rider from the other team, get away?
Then I thought of something else, that it really didn’t matter. I was racing my bike and I didn’t enjoy sitting still. There were those two attacks I made. I went away and tried to chase Peter; going off the front after him with the whole pack behind me. Being off the front those two times were the best part of the race.
On the first attack, an opposing teammate jumped on my wheel right away. Peter Brown had been off the front for a few minutes and nobody was chasing him. He was now a half-mile up the road. I was near the front of the peloton when I took off after him. I just couldn’t stand it anymore—it seemed as if we were all pedaling at a pace fit for ‘driving Ms. Daisy’, letting Peter get away.
I could see Peter’s outline cresting a small hill as I took one last look around, then grunted a bit, bore down on my pedals, and took off. The lactic acid in my quads started to build almost immediately, but I kept going, trying to settle into some sort of pace that I could maintain. I could hear Peter’s teammate get on my wheel, but I knew I wasn’t going to help from him. He needed to follow me but not help me, but that’s road racing. I tried to concentrate on the green trees going along the sides as I kept up my pace. They trees were a nice distraction from the effort I was putting in and the trees were also a nice change from the desert landscapes that were always present in my neck of the woods down in Tucson.
Soon, the trees were no longer noticed, but the hills were making their presence felt. My breath became shorter, labored. I was slowing, but I kept the pressure on the pedals anyway. Maybe another minute or two and I could catch Peter. I could see him getting closer, maybe only a quarter of a mile now in front of me. Then, it happened: the pack of riders that I had jetted away just minutes before from engulfed me, and I was swallowed up by the peloton. I found a wheel mid pack and got on it while catching my breath and contemplated my next move. The pack slowed once again, letting Peter continue to stay away. Should I just rest and wait this thing out? Hang in with the group and hope for the best in the final sprint at the very end?
It was some 20 miles later and still no one else was chasing Peter, when I decided waiting wasn’t in the cards for me. At the front of the peloton and on a slight uphill, with Peter still away, I attacked once more. This time I got a gap, a big one. I looked back and no one was chasing. Riding around a curve and up another short roller, I looked back again, and I didn’t see anyone. I was really away. It was one of those race moments where as a road racer you are in time trial mode. I was a single rider—just the road and me. The trees became scarcer as the terrain started to change. A downhill was approaching and I kept pedaling. Faster and faster I went, the wind blowing by my helmet and whistling through my spokes, as the asphalt becoming a gray blur under my pedals. I continued downward, picking up more speed, racing toward the bottom of the next rolling hill. Peter was up ahead, I just knew it.
At that, another uphill was waiting. I dared to glance back, hoping to see no one. But there was someone, many ‘someone’s’. It was the entire peloton—once again, bearing down on me. My legs didn’t want to stop just yet, so they kept on going, urging my pedals to turn the cranks just a bit harder.
The road started to tilt upward. My speed once again began to drop. Was it those tacos I ate last night? In a manner of seconds, the pack was on top of me as they had been 20 miles before. Only the pack seemed faster this time. I felt like a 1950’s steam engine next to a 1960 era diesel, as the peloton accelerated up the hill and passed. Chug-chug-chug – the peloton was moving by me. My teammate, Brian told me to hop on his wheel. I could only grunt a feeble “ok”. Chug-chug-chug – I watched the peloton ride away as I popped off the back.
The rest of the ride was mostly solo. A few groups caught me, asked me to get in their paceline and I did, but just for a moment as I was spent, and my body had no energy beans anywhere. It was mile 46 and with 12 miles to go; my racing was over.
Coming into town and toward the finish, I noticed kids with their parents on the kid’s fun ride. I saw the trees again and noticed the Show Low City Limit sign, and then the finish line at the Ford Dealership, off in the distance.
With a hundred meters to go, I got on my drops and crossed the finish line and then coasted back to my car. I saw Peter in the parking lot and told him congrats on his ride, although I found out he was eventually swallowed up and finished 11th. Good effort Peter, you were a man in the arena.
I am driving to work and as I look over at that camera sitting in my seat, I know I still like doing this racing stuff. I like the attacking, and being out in front. This Nikon D700 is going to get me a new group set. It’s going to replace the one I have had for over ten years. I don’t know if the selling a camera and getting a new group set will make me faster. One thing I do know, it will keep me riding in the arena for a bit longer.
Photography, Lessons Learned, and Cycling.
I have been taking pictures since I was about 6 years old. I started with a Kodak Instamatic. Just holding that Kodak was fun back then. Today, the camera badge may say "Nikon", but the fun of taking someone's photograph is still there.
Times have changed regarding photography over the past 20 years. My first business was in in Corpus Chirsti, Texas back in 1992. I went under the same name, my name, David Whitney French Photography. One of my favorite photo gigs was doing weddings. Why? Well, besides being a challenge at times, with the stress of getting the right shot in the age of film, everyone was happy! It was a happy time for the groom, bride, attendants, everyone. What more could I ask for? Hanging out, with a camera for a few hours or more with a bunch of happy people.
Oh, and I like riding my bike!