T.E. Lawrence had just crossed the desert. He was tired, sandblasted, and thirsty. But he had arrived at the Suez Canal, still alive.
On the other side of the Canal, a man on a motorcycle saw Lawrence.
“Who are you?” the man yelled. “Who are you?”
Rain poured from the sky, and turned into snow. Cold cut through gloves and shoes. Stumpy cedar trees waved in the frigid wind.
I had a choice to make.
I could quit the race. Or I could keep riding.
Nobody would be surprised if I dropped out of the race. A lot of people were quitting. The Forest Service was asking people to stop. Urging them to stop. People had hypothermia. They were shivering inside vehicles. They had blue lips. It was too dangerous to keep going, they said.
I could not feel my hands or feet.
Snow piled up on the trail.
I kept riding.
The weather cleared. The sun came out, a little. I finished the race cold, wet, and covered in gritty mud. But I finished. And somewhere in those mountains above Prescott, Arizona I learned more about myself. I learned more about “who are you?”
Who am I?
Ah. I’m still learning how to answer that question.
I tell stories. That’s what I do. It’s who I am. I’ll tell a story to anyone who will listen, and to those who won’t. But mostly, I tell stories to me. Self-talk. Delusions of grandeur. Things that once were, or could someday be. Everything that I do is explained and accomplished through self-narrative.
The story am I telling myself everyday goes something like this:
Adam. Don’t complain.
Work harder. Learn something. Be more. Be better. Be kind.
Make good art.
Do these things and you will be happy.
Do these things.
And you will be happy.
You can make great art. If you do these things.
You can be amazing.
No, not if.
You can. You will.
Do these things.
Every day we have a chance to do something wonderful. Every day we have a choice: keep riding, or quit. I don’t DNF often. When I do, it haunts me for weeks, months. Quitting eats at the core of who I am and who I want to be. Someday, when I’m dead and gone, I hope people that remember me will say that when I was up against it, that I pedaled. That I kept going. And that I made good art.
What is art? It’s anything that we make. That we build. Art is pictures and music and words. But it’s also code, spreadsheets, and bike racing. The way we interact with other people, the relationships we make, the life we live–all art. Art is your gift to the world. Make good art.*
Bike racing gives us a chance to try something terrible and beautiful. It teaches us to move forward through challenges and obstacles. Racing helps us discover that we are all stronger, braver, and better than we are told. Hard things help us learn who we are. Too many external forces want to see us fail, or never try. Ignore those forces. Do not listen.
When in doubt, pedal.
And make good art.
*Watch Neil Gaiman’s speech. It will change you forever.