Gunnar Fastlane bicycle in the snow on Council Crest

“Difficult” and “fun” are non-orthogonal variables

Published 2012-04-06

So on a recent BikePortland thread I came across these two comments:

[my car has] A/C[,] … a stereo and cup holders, and still has room for four supermodels and it can carry my bike on the back. Not bad for a “little” (i.e. sub-compact) car.

followed by

Not to mention you get to stay dry all year round [in a car].

These comments make me sad. I have been thinking about them for much of the last 18 hours or so. I couldn’t quite figure out why they bugged me, and mulled over it on two trips over Council Crest. Why would these relatively uncontroversial anodyne statements (duh, the inside of a car is warm and dry and thus a nice place to be) affect me?

Do I ride my bike 2200'/day in the snow and sleet out of sheer cussedness? If I had to drive to work every day I wouldn’t. I’d either get a new job, or more likely, just ride my bike 20 or 40 or however many miles through whatever obstacles in whatever weather. Which means, at some level, I would rather be cold and wet and sore than warm and dry and comfortable.

Which is a little weird.

Have you ever heard “the right thing to do is usually the hard thing to do?” When I was a younger person I thought this sentiment applied only to Big Stuff, choosing a college or raising kids or whatever. But as I get older I think this actually applies more to small stuff. If you have a choice between “do the dishes now” or “do the dishes later,” the right answer is probably “now.” The time you spend doing Small Stuff is at least as important as the time you spend doing Big Stuff. I will spend many thousands more hours in my life going to and from work than I will delivering my children into the world. Considered individually these are not equally important tasks. But if you had to choose just one activity onto which you poured all your power of Doing Good, maybe you should pick the activity that you do every day for thirty years.

But what if this doesn’t apply just to unpleasant things like going to work or doing dishes, but to fun things too?

A few days ago I tweeted: “Difficult” and “fun” are non-orthogonal variables. Which is a dorky way of saying “the fun thing to do is usually the hard thing to do.” Racing cyclocross really brought this into focus: a merely fun activity can become a peak experience if I apply myself. What if getting wet and cold is a feature, not a bug? It is the cold and wet, the pain and effort, that turns “mind-numbing hassle” into “peak experience.”

Two weeks ago I climbed home through a growing blizzard, in the pitch dark. I witnessed, first hand, the transition from rain in the lowland, to sneet on the climb, to an actual snow line around 500' I had moments where I feared a little for my safety. Ice and dark conspired to wrap me in solitude and reflection. Every sensation was heightened tenfold. My hands and feet felt like frozen hams, but I had to attend very closely to every aspect of the ride: the brakes, my gearing, the surface of the road (icy? bumpy?) I felt intensely grateful to be home; when I rolled into the garage, I realized that our garage is a haven. (When was the last time your garage felt like a welcoming, homey place?) I went into the house, sat by the fire and drank a beer; at the moment it was the best beer I had ever had. I had had a peak experience, and it was just my commute.

Imagine learning that a friend of yours has the capacity to experience at least two mind-blowing, life-altering orgasms every day. Doing the dishes. I would envy that person a little. Now imagine that your friend acquired this unusual ability not by some quirk of biology, but through the steady application of modest effort and willpower.