Friday, July 23, 2010

Le Tour de Vie.

Ever since the 3rd day of July, Erich and I have been faithfully watching the Tour de France, almost as if it were our job. And, to be perfectly honest, we've watched at times instead of actually doing our real jobs. But if the peloton is under the flamme rouge with 1K to go...and the patient is waiting in the exam room (very comfortably, I might add)...another 90 seconds surely couldn't hurt, right?!

This race is impossible to watch without feeling all sorts of various emotions throughout the three-week journey. Anticipation before the start of the Prologue gives way to heart-pounding excitement as the first stages get underway, complete with nervous crashes and photo finishes.
This year's cobblestone stage added a whole layer of complexity, certainly for the cyclists, but also for the fans. On that day, the race was already over for many - and the foothills of the mountains had not yet come into view. Of course, there's always sympathy for those who are injured or ill, forced to retire from the race long before Paris. And then as the riders climb the tallest mountains in the Alps and the Pyrenees, the strategy and suspense build dramatically.

In addition to all of my usual thrills from watching Le Tour, I added frustration and a touch of anger to my repertoire of emotions this year. A very questionable attack at a pivotal moment left the subsequent race leader, Alberto Contador, in the yellow jersey...and in the hot seat. My blog can be anything I want it to be, but a forum for the discussion of cycling ethics it ain't! At least not for today. That aside, suffice it to say I felt strongly about the outcome, and it will be talked about with other Tour lore for a long, long time to come. Rightly so.

What I'm left with as the race quickly approaches its grand finale in the City of Love is a deep appreciation for the beauty of the French countryside, as well as for the sport of cycling itself. And I was thinking lately how this race is really a pretty good analogy for life. That probably sounds cheesy, but hear me out.
There are the easy days, right? Super flat road ahead, beautiful scenery, no hills to climb, wind in your hair, feeling 'no chain.'

There are lessons, many of them hard to learn. That cheating gets you nowhere, not really. That the guy in front of you owns you. And that turnabout is fair play. Always.

And there are days with a seemingly interminable climb before you, where the finish line is impossible to see. And maybe just when you think the end is in sight, you encounter a switchback, completely changing your direction and forcing you to 'grab another gear,' just to hang on. And then there's everything in between. Where, truth be told, most of us probably spend the vast majority of our time. Nothing that seems insurmountable...yet nothing without some sort of little wrinkle, just to keep us from becoming too complacent. And I suppose you have to have a little bit of everything - the easy and beautiful, the epic and hard - even the occasional crash - just to remind you that you're alive and serving a purpose. All the time soldiering on toward the Finish Line of a job well-done. So as the peloton charges over the line on the Champs Elysees this Sunday, I will surely miss the race, the drama, the views, and the beloved old Brits. But this year's Tour de France has brought with its usual suspense and thrills a stark reminder that perseverance is worthwhile; that honor outweighs a trophy; and the time-honored truth that in the end, the good guy always, always wins.

Maybe my favorite lesson from this year's race has been the subtle illustration of how things can change so quickly, even on what would seem to be the most routine of days. A flat tire here, a clipped pedal there - and the race changes, for good. So what I take away from it all is that it's probably best to live every day with eyes wide open - not only to avoid the cracked cobbles and the oil slicks and the dropped chains - but also to keep from missing the breathtaking vistas and the fields of sunflowers all around you.

Maybe Diane Ackerman said it best: "I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well."

Vive le Tour! And Vive la Vie...