Beads of sweat drifted off my face as I stared at my phone, caught in a thick patch of grass ripping through a tear in the asphalt. “No Service” it read. “How fortunate” I thought, as I shot a look back at the bus driver waiting for the light to turn.
I had been chasing his bus for a little over a mile now. He had already eluded me at two separate intersections. Both times he caught the green light. Both times I sat and watched as he strolled by, oblivious to my pursuit. Bastard was fast. But now, here he was, sitting in front of a bright red light. “Kismet.” I shrugged as I stared at the bus only a few feet away, antagonizing my obvious dilemma. Defeat and concession had already overwhelmed me as I waited just behind the peripheral of the driver.
I thought about how close I had come to conquering this futile challenge I had created for myself. I was completely determined, yet utterly defeated. I had pushed myself beyond any familiar threshold, willed myself closer to triumph, and just when I could smell the exhaust released by this mobile finish line, I lost focus.
As I approached the bus from the rear, weaving in and out of traffic in my fervent rage, I kicked over this hurdle of a curb and there it was. My phone, waving goodbye as it jumped out from the chest pocket of my own jacket in a display of it’s own excitement.
My hand reacted immediately, slicing through the air in repeated attempts to pluck the twirling device before it met the unforgiving pavement. Time stuttered to a stop as I became more aware of my current objective. Everything became a blur, as my eyes converged on this one object. Although my mind had seemed to sedate all movements, it couldn’t speed the impulse of my hand as the phone fumbled away.
I staggered off my bike beaten and in retreat. I could hear the brakes release their hold on the bus’ tires, as it slowly moved forward. I reached down to retrieve my phone. “Shutting Down” it read. I stood for a few seconds as I watched the street between the bus and I grow. I was giving it a head start.
Like it needed one.
Quickly, I secured my phone in the small pouch of my backpack and jumped back into the hunt. I could feel my bike reacting to my movements, in tandem with my own impulses, becoming a single peripheral of my own nervous system. In response, my body reacted to my bike as well. My feet shuffled blindly on the pedals, positioning themselves for maximum efficiency. My torso bowed and steadied, increasing aerodynamics and preventing unnecessary exertion of energy. I was realizing my 1972 Raleigh Gran Prix.
I breathed a short chuckle at a comment I had made earlier. “Something you can’t attain… Only realize.”
I pedaled harder, ignoring the irritation of the cold wind as it drove into my unshielded eyes. The sun had already faded, so I fought to keep my vision clear in the blackening street. I focused on the two numbers taunting me from behind the bus, “82”, as my body, and bike, did the rest.
This allowed me to focus on my target, preventing any distractions. I worried not about the car following too close behind or the burn of the anaerobic spin, which my legs were enduring; I was worry free. I neglected any contaminating thought. The ride home was only 8 miles, but the urgency of my strife remained untouched and unwavering.
For three miles I smashed through thresholds, until finally the pain my body had once been able to maintain, began to flow through me in every breath and every kick. The warmth of the sun had escaped the embrace of the solid earth, falling into the dark open sky. Each breath grew harder to swallow and disseminate to my waiting organs. The tires seemed to slow as if I treaded through thick mud; only there wasn’t any mud. My legs were simply breaking down.
Then, when my body and mind were debating control, I saw my opportunity arise. The bus had made a stop just before an idle green light. Too idle to await the bus. I tapped into the remaining reservoir of adrenaline and pumped harder down the street. The bus was only about a hundred-fifty yards away from me. I knew the intersection very well and could tell that I had just enough time to make it, but it would be close.
Again, my body reacted as my mind, body, and bike all became one. I shifted up to the 10th gear (obsolete my ass) as my legs shot like pistons possessed by an engine’s combustion. I watched as the small computer projected my speed and heart rate. As my speed increased, “25… 30… 35… 40!” so too did my heart rate, “160… 165… 170… 175.”
I glanced at the bus and the crossing traffic. The light was signaling for the last set of cars to cross the intersection before my bus would be set free. I yelled in agony as my bus inched closer towards the light. Was it in a hurry I wondered? It didn’t matter. This was my last chance. If I didn’t make it I’d be walking home, too upset to climb back on my bike.
“ARRGGHH!” I yelled once more, startling the family that cruised beside me. They received no sympathy from me. I was far too consumed with my own determination. I was impervious and un-relinquishing.
I wasn’t going to be defeated. I wouldn’t allow it!
I came into the view of the lights for the cross traffic. Yellow! I had a mere 5 seconds left. I snapped back from the light in an instant and hopped onto the sidewalk without hesitation; without break.
3… 2… 1… Green.
Just as the light turned, I halted to a stop, slapping at the bus door. The bus recoiled as the breaks regained their hold. The door flew open in welcome.
Exhausted, I exchanged a look with the bus driver, my nemesis, while taking in the air I couldn’t breathe fast enough.
He looked at me and said, “Don’t stop now.”
After placing my bike on the rack, I quickly boarded the bus. I was drenched in sweat and heaving gulps of air into my body. I spoke with the driver briefly recounting my epic tale of victory and defeat. We laughed for a second enjoying the moment and he asked me what the rush was all about. “Do you have a hot date or something?” he asked. I told him, very casually, “I just wanted to get home”. He looked at me a bit confused, but expressed his delight in my success.
As I sat down at the further end of the bus, I reflected on his expression. He was confused. He believed I had challenged myself not out of choice, but out of obligation. At that moment, I realized that it wasn’t confusion he was expressing, but fear.
I’ve thought about that for the past few days and I believe that this is the direction that our society is moving towards; a lack of will to test our abilities and persevere through adversity. It seems that we are so consumed by our own fears, that we are unable to prompt even the slightest challenges upon ourselves.
I am reminded of the times when my friend Albert and I would spend over eight hours a day on the basketball court. We would play through the high-noon, searing heat of a regular San Antonio Summer day, one on one. Not for any trophies, awards, or anything else, but because we enjoyed the confrontation of challenge and the idea of overcoming it.
We’d play, tired and exhausted, through the night against fresh legs and rested bodies. We’d search for any remaining ounce of strength to carry us further, putting everything on the line. We almost always came out victorious. Although we lost some, we never lost because we didn’t have the will to play or to challenge ourselves. We never lost because we were afraid to. In fact, I’d venture out enough to say that, in those days, we never lost.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream.” – Paulo Coelho
So, as we begin this new idea of “Conquer U”, I ask you to consider that which you are afraid of… and conquer it.