A Case of the “Whys”

So far, this season has been awesome. I’ve been riding well, having fun on the bike, and slowly but surely improving my results. Really, as a racer, this is all you can ask for. But still, over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself coming down with a case of the “whys.” Call it what you want – a mid-summer existential crisis, or just the July doldrums — but I keep finding myself sitting around asking the same damn question. Why?

“Why are you doing this? What’s the goal? So you’ve got some good top ten results…So what, who cares, what’s the point, and where is this all heading? Why why why why?”

Over the past few years, I’ve been very driven and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my big picture goals, sketching out plans for getting there, and tracking my monthly progress in a little orange notebook. All that came crashing down around my ears last summer. I put the notebook away. I stopped thinking big picture. I released myself from the ambitious goals that were bringing me far more stress than joy. I even put my bike away for awhile too. I focused solely on getting my mind and brain and body back in working order.

And it worked. I’m here. I’m back. I’m enjoying racing. I’m happy. I’m having fun.

But I lost something in that process. I lost “the big picture.” To be honest, I no longer really see myself becoming the best enduro racer in the country, or an EWS racer, or whatever it was I was trying to accomplish before. It’s not that I don’t think I’m capable — if anything my confidence in my capabilities is higher than it ever has been before — but rather, interestingly enough, I don’t see myself wanting it enough. This is strange, and bizarre, and I’m having trouble reconciling it with the fact that I am actually, right now, the fastest I have ever been before, and the closest I have ever been to those goals.

The great irony of this is that in 2016 and 2017 my long game and my goal setting was on point, but my actual ability to deal with the stresses of racing? Not so much. My ability to relish in the process and celebrate small successes? Not so great. I was dreaming but I couldn’t execute. Now I’m executing, but the dreams have gone a bit stale.

Anyway, the point is, I’ve spent the past few weeks obsessing over this, like the neurotic bike racer that I can’t help being. And then, while I was pawing through a gallery of photos from Crested Butte, I saw this:

Photo: Eddie Clark Media

At the risk of stating the obvious, that’s me. But I did a bit of a doubletake when I first saw it. Like, whoa, that’s really me. See, usually in race photos I look like a hot mess. (And there were a few other shots in this gallery that confirmed that my hot mess days are not entirely behind me…namely this one…)

But here’s why this photo really stopped me in my tracks: I saw Eddie Clark in almost this exact spot last year, too. I don’t think he has a photo of me from that moment, because I was pushing (or maybe strider-ing?) my bike and sobbing my face off. I had just had one of the scariest crashes of my life, my bike was basically unridable (broken pedal, broken shifter, chain jammed with one crank pointed down) and in retrospect I almost certainly had a concussion. But mainly, in that moment, I was angry. Angry that this kept happening. Angry that I just could NOT seem to get my shit together. Angry that every time I started to recover my confidence I went tomohawking off the trail AGAIN. Angry that “nothing” ever worked out for me. Angry, angry, angry ANGRY.

I think Eddie asked me if I was okay and if I thought I should sit down for awhile, and I told him (very convincingly, I’m sure) that I was fine and continued bawling my way down the trail. Good one, Syd. What if I could go back in time and tell my former self, that hey, right now this sucks, but a year from now you’re going to be back in this very spot, kicking up a trail of dust, flying through the air, eyes focused down the trail, and generally just having the time of your life? I don’t think I would have believed it. I was so lost in that moment that, even if you had shown me this photo, I don’t think I could have recognized myself.

I realized when I found this photograph that, at least for the moment, this is enough “why” for me. Going from sobbing on the side of the trail to this photo — that’s all the “why” in the world. I think there is some soul-searching in my future when it comes to racing, but for this summer, being better is more than enough. I don’t need to know what I’m going to be doing next year or even next week. I just need to know that today all my energy is going into being better than yesterday. That’s enough. That’s plenty. That’s everything.

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

I write about bikes and life and trying to get better at both.

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6 thoughts on “A Case of the “Whys”

  1. Today was the first time I’ve ridden my regular bike in almost 4 months, and a short ride of 7 miles left me sore and disappointed. I recently had rotator cuff surgery and have been experiencing the typical aches and pains of being 71 so partway through the ride I was thinking is this worth it, where is this going in the future? I contemplated selling all my bikes and gear and just giving up. Then I get home and what’s in my email, your post. It made me think and realize as you said “I don’t need to know what I’m going to be doing next year or even next week. I just need to know that today all my energy is going into being better than yesterday. That’s enough. That’s plenty. That’s everything.” Well said and I hope to remember that for the future. That’s enough, that’s plenty, that’s everything. Thanks for the blog, it came at just the right time for me.

  2. Your honesty is always so refreshing. I guess there’s a fine balance between accepting how far you’ve come (how good you are!) and keeping yourself down just enough so that you feel you always have something to reach for but not so far that it becomes easy to say fuggit.
    And btw You look like a total bad ass in that photo!

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