Some years ago, while climbing a mountain in Oregon, I realized something really important about racing. A good friend and I were climbing one of the more technical sections of the Eagle Cap Wilderness on a route that took us two days. It was a stressful time for me, with too many hours at work and too few with my friends. But high up on a steep mountainside, carrying a heavy pack and a rifle, and tied to my fellow climber, I felt ridiculously happy.
Part of it was us working as a team. We both had each other’s back in a breathtaking place. But my happiness also had to do with the pace and the breathing. You swing your rugged hiking boot hard into the shale rock, shift your weight onto that leg, rise up, lock your knee, blow out hard, breathe, and then repeat. Shift weight, rise up, blow out, breathe in. Same rhythm, hour after hour. This turned out to be no extreme sport. It was literally a breather. I wondered if another pastime could provide the same feeling without the mountain wilderness and I thought of road racing. Yes, that’s it.
Road racing has all the same qualities, the swing, stride, back and forth movement, breathing. Road racing has its exciting moments, but its beauty lies in its intricate rhythm: the driver strapped in tightly, the esses, the repeated turns, one after another hitting your mark perfectly time after time like the ticks of a second hand on a fine Swiss watch. Even an unexpected spin in front of an experienced driver can seem as if it’s all part of the dance in a well-rehearsed ballet routine: smooth, polished, refined and, yes, even expected.
Perfect execution even during caution laps as if all part of a composer’s score, written to be technically correct to create flawless performances by musicians and or instrumental ensembles.
I came to a conclusion a few years ago when I realized I was accumulating more in my life. More things didn’t really matter to me, nor did more commitments I wasn’t really passionate about keeping. This was all leaving me feeling a little flat and unfulfilled. It felt like something was missing, but I wasn’t sure what that something was. As I began thinking about it, I began taking action. I found that I have made good on long-term dreams to write creatively and I have realized I value freedom and flexibility to seek out ways of living accordingly. I have accumulated fewer material possessions, but enjoyed more travel, holidays, events, and life experiences.
I have concerned myself a whole lot less with the need to keep up with others — a toxic and empty competition if ever there were one. The upshot of these and other changes has been that the quality of my life has improved significantly. I certainly don’t have everything figured out. Then again, no one does, but my compass in life is much more in tune with where I intend to go.
I remember feeling the same joy I felt on that mountain watching Brazilian racing driver, Ayrton Senna win the world championship for McLaren in 1991 while I was drinking a great beer.
Road racing outperforms most other entertainment options in providing what I personally found on the slopes of the Eagle Cap Wilderness: a breather, combined with the social pleasure of supporting a team, be it two buddies climbing a mountain, or an entire endurance racing team set out to win the day. The words we need in our lives nowadays more than ever, seems to be: home, team, friends.