Last week, I wrote about the far-reaching thoughts and realizations I had during my time in Belgium and Holland. This week, I want to tell you about a far more personal moment, and the realization I came to as a result. And no, I'm not referring to the moment during the bike tour of Brussels when I realized that I was easily faster than everyone else on said tour (even if they were mostly either eight or eighty years old). The realization I'm talking about had to do with cycling, who I was as a teenager, and unibrows. So read on.
Exhausted from all the travel, the time changes, the nearly-missed trains, and the extensive walking, my wife and I stood in line as we waited to board our plane back to the United States. We were surrounded by the usual travelers: the guy with the oversized neck pillow, the American couple complaining about how few people spoke English in the countries they'd visited, and the guy who decides to fly while waring a tanktop, even though his back ans shoulders have more hair on them than Miguel Indurain's unibrow.
Along with this fine group of travelers, there was the American teenager in front of us. He was obviously a cyclist, as were numerous other young men in the terminal. They all carried matching Giro helmets with their names and small American flag stickers on them. They all happily discussed a race they had just finished in Belgium. I half-listened to their conversations, and studied the cycling shoes that were visible in their carry-on luggage. They were youthful, upbeat, and seemingly carefree. Their legs were shaved, something I wished the hairy guy in the tanktop would pay attention to.
My wife must have noticed me listening to their conversations about the race. Because as we boarded the plane and we reached our seats, she turned to me and asked me a question. No, she didn't ask me if I had thrown up in my mouth as a result of the guy in the tank top. She wanted to know if—in retrospect—I wished I had actively ridden a road bike or perhaps raced at some level when I was a teenager. Did I envy these young men who were traveling abroad to race? I thought about the question, and the answer came to me very quickly. In a sense, my answer surprised me, considering that I've been known to dwell on the past, and sadly mourn the fact that my teenage years were tumultuous ones (largely due to my family's move to the United States).
I was unable to think of another image that I could use for this post...but since I'd mentioned unibrows and hairy men earlier, I thought I could safely use a picture of Bernard Richard. Richard was a French rider who proudly sported the sport's most memorable Muppet-like unibrow.
Did I envy these young men? Did I wish I'd ridden my bike at a young age more actively? I told my wife that no, I didn't regret not having done such a thing in my younger years (adding that my limited abilities on the bike would not have taken me as far as the young men had gotten anyway). But I admitted to having some regrets regarding the reason why I wouldn't have ridden or competed in any way at that age. I spent those years steeped in music, namely hardcore and punk rock, along with the lifestyle that went along with it. It dominated my thoughts, my political choices, and even influenced my diet. At the time, life was largely governed (albeit unknowingly) by a long list of do's and don'ts that I simply had to adhere to. I had always been (and perhaps still remain) a tightly wound individual...and living an all-encompassing lifestyle where my choices were limited, and those who did otherwise were wrong only made matters worse.
While I don't regret those years per se (I actually have very fond memories of that time, and still have amazing friends as a result), I do regret how willfully obtuse and dogmatic I became as a result. Actively competing in an endeavor like cycling back then was out of the question (and not just because of the tap shoes and the tight shorts it required). Though riding a bike today has somehow become integrated with some aspects of rebellious youth culture, that was certainly not the case in the late 80s and early 90s. At least not in the places where I lived. It was the furthest thing from it. And I complied.
Luckily, my choice to use a picture of Bernard Richard is not purely based on his unfortunate eyebrow/s. You see, Richard was one of only a handful (three I believe) non-Colombian riders to ever race with the Cafe De Colombia team. So in actuality, me using his picture is more in line with this blog than many of you originally believed. So there.
So while claiming to be somewhat rebellious during those years, I willingly fell in line with a different (but no less restrictive) set of regulations. No surprise there, as this is common for many teenagers. But the arduous fight I put up against miniscule things back then makes me a bit ashamed, and at times sad as well. Had I missed out on making great memories and even greater friends as a result? I had always taken great pride in my somewhat worldly point of view, aided by the fact that I had lived in, and visited different parts of the world at a relatively young age. But the way I judged others based on their choices and the activities they chose to engage in, tell different story.
I thought about all this on the flight back to the United States, and I tried not to judge the decisions of a teenager (me), with the mindset and hindsight of an adult (me). But my mind kept racing. What other things had I been dismissive of? Were others, the ones I saw as closed minded back then, actually more open to new experiences?
I began to wonder how many other great opportunities I had perhaps missed out on due to my judgmental tendencies. I began to wonder if the dogmatic tyrant in me is still there today, but just partially dormant. I had to think about the many things in life that I had chosen to dismiss as a young man, and was still perhaps missing out on as a result of these self-imposed mandates. I decided that—as much as I can—I'll try to keep an open mind. I decided that the world was now open to me, and that wearing silly clothing was preferable to having regrets later on. It was a lot to think about, but I had to scan my mind for all those things I had eschewed earlier on in life.
Luckily it was a long flight, and I had plenty of time to think about these missed opportunities.
Luckily, life is long as well, and I have plenty of time to change and learn.
Luckily the hairy guy in the tanktop finally put a hooded sweatshirt on.
All was well. So I closed my eyes, and went to sleep.