A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams


July 2015

Ride Like a Girl

Perhaps it was the Always* commercial, or some other commercial, that inspired me to redefine what it means to ride like a girl. I’ve been searching for people to ride with who can help me grow as a cyclist. I want to challenge the professionals one day and I know I can’t do it alone. In a forum on a new group I’m checking out, one of the members made a comment that some guy was slow and “rides like a girl.” To the group’s credit, another member quickly corrected him, but the seed had already been planted. To ride like a girl is an insult? Nonono. Let me explain to you what riding like a girl really means. To ride like a girl is to love the sport of cycling like no man has ever loved. We are so few and they are so many that to even dream of riding a bicycle is like walking into the lion’s den. They would eat us alive and shit us out again without even a second thought if we gave them a chance. And we give them a chance every time we get on the road. “Can we ride with you?” “Sure, but this is a no-wait ride.” BITE “What pace are you planning to hold?” “Today’s an easy day, so something like 16-17 mph.” CHEW “I want to race, but there’s no women’s class. What should I do?” “Just jump in with everyone else. That’s how we learned. Trial by fire.” SWALLOW “Everyone is so much faster than I am. It’s very scary, is there no other option that’s more my level?” “Look, if you don’t have the balls, don’t ride. We are not the babysitters club.” SHIT And there we are, shredded, watching as the men ride off into the distance. And what do we do? We climb back into the saddle. We push on the pedals. We ride. We ride for the love of the bicycle. We ride for the need for speed. We ride for the joy of feeling our bodies propel the bike through the air, over the road, down the trail. We ride because we are made to ride. Some women will quit. After the kind of welcome we receive into the sport of cycling, who can blame them? But those of us who continue to ride, we are furious. We survive the burn, burn after burn after burn, because we are propeled by an inner fire a thousand times hotter than anything outside. With smaller legs, less muscle mass, and smaller lungs, we climb the same hills. Our hearts beat the same rhythm. We put in the same time. And each hour of work produces less speed and less progress than any a man’s body would put out. The hills feel bigger, the miles feel longer. And yet we ride. We push past the barriers of our own bodies, the barriers of an industry who considers us as nothing more than marginal revenue sources, the coldness of a culture that simply doesn’t believe that we should be allowed to play, too. And we excel. We fly. We get dropped, and we ride alone. We crash, and we pick ourselves up. No sponsor? No problem. We’re used to taking care of ourselves. All this we do with the energy that comes from a deep seated love for riding. Only a girl could endure all of this and still ride on. So do it. Go on. Ride like a girl. I’ll ride with you.

* Originally I thought Dove was responsible, but it was Always with their campaign #likeAgirl. They’re at it again and you should definitely go check them out.













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Martyn Ashton Rides Again

For some of us, we are afraid to chase our dreams. For others, we chase them, only to get discouraged when people tell us they are impossible.

For Martyn Ashton, however, “physically impossible” wasn’t a reason to stop chasing his dreams. He took the longest, hardest fall a human can: From international bike trials champion, to a wheelchair. He tried typical parasports. He tried giving up the bike, but to him, biking is in his blood. Martyn needed to get back on a bike like he needed to breathe.

For Martyn, some dreams really do come true.



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Is there a word for when one becomes comfortable in discomfort?

Yesterday I ate lunch with my favorite professor of economics. He is a beautiful Japanese man somewhere nearing his sixties I guess. Tall with strikingly chiseled features and a sincere smile that is framed, rather than depleted, by many deep laugh lines. He and the former chair of our department and I ate in the university dining hall and discussed the recent suicide on the shinkansen.

I only heard about the suicide because the professor told me. A man doused himself with gasoline and set it alight on a moving train, taking another woman down with him through the fumes and the chaos. Apparently he had attempted to warn people to run away from him, but such an event is so shocking that I’m sure many people failed to comprehend. The Japanese are now in discussion of whether they should add airport style security to the bullet trains and the professors were very eager to make their claims that it would be a silly thing to do.

I sat there at the table listening, practicing listening and hearing what they and my heart had to say, when I offered the insight, “This is not a man who just wanted to die. Fire is among the most painful ways to go and he chose public fire, no less. What was this man’s purpose? Does anyone know”

They said he must be irrational. I said, “No, people who commit suicide are often very intentional about it. Depression robs them of their ability to feel their own emotions, and such a painful suicide may have been this man’s last, desperate attempt at feeling. Moreover, people who are depressed are better able to perceive the world and their place in the world and their actual ability to control the outcomes of things than those who are not depressed. This man was not acting irrationally, he had a purpose.”

My favorite professor then started to argue with me. What is rationality if you can say that anything is rational? Some things have to be irrational for rationality to be meaningful. I suggested to him he is merely posing the fundamental question of empirical content that defines the field of decision theory and that there are many good answers. Consistency is the primary rule of separating rational from irrational, where consistency means that choices can conform to a particular axiomatization that we may then judge as plausible or not. He didn’t like that. So then I suggested to him that my claim about depression was based on work by a famous psychology professor at Penn (Seligman) and that it was well established and relevant. He didn’t like that either. He became suddenly quiet and divorced from the topic.

It occurred to me that the suggestion that suicidal people are rational choosers of their own death was not a claim that he was comfortable with. Whether he did not like the idea that people need their emotions to live, or he didn’t like the idea that there are times when suicide is in fact the best option available to some people, he plainly did not like that my takeaway from the incident was to empathize with the perpetrator.

As I walked back to my office, I reflected on our lunch. We had never butted heads before and I was surprised with myself. I respect him and he is older than I am and capable of influencing my career in economics*, but I found that I could not hold back what I truly believed. Moreover, it occurred to me that I make other people uncomfortable by the very fact that I am comfortable discussing these subjects. Sex and bodies do not make me uncomfortable either, but I have been in many a situation where my frank and open relationship to my body has made others very squirmy. Neither am I uncomfortable acknowledging that there are differences in people based on their race. I was almost expelled from high school because I dared claim that a particular idealogy was Jewish (historically speaking, it was, as was the teacher trying to expel me).

The irony with discomfort is that you would think people would like to be immune to it, but the only way to become resilient to discomfort is to spend time in it. Me? Yeah. I’ve spent a lot of time in discomfort. I’d like to say I’m used to it. Endurance sports are all about discomfort. You learn with practice that you can endure the discomfort. With more practice, you begin to understand it and learn from it. Discomfort is not a uniform sensation and its shapes and movements can guide you to becoming a stronger being. Eventually you become so accustomed to the discomfort that you actually become comfortable in it. Maybe familiar is the better word.

I love sports metaphors. The only way to grow as an athlete is to take your body, repeatedly, beyond its edge of comfort. Push until it hurts, or it strains, or you become aware that you are approaching your body’s limitations. Spend time at that edge, feeling where you can be in control and where the boundaries are still firm. As you spend time at the edge of your physical abilities, you will notice your ability to sustain your effort will begin to drop off. When that happens, you simply come back from the edge to a place of comfort again. It is critical to allow your body recovery time. Edges are uncomfortable because they are dangerous and require us to become more than what we are, which takes time. However, once you push and return and recover, your next push will take you further.

Matters of the heart and matters of the body are no different. Many truths of this world are incredibly uncomfortable, but perhaps that is because we have wrapped our hearts in a protective cast of manners and media. Exposing a raw and unsupported heart to the piercing nature of truth can be very painful and frightening. The weak heart threatens to break. Like a muscle, however, our hearts can grow stronger. Instead of avoiding the discomfort, which will leave us perpetually crippled, we should control our exposure to it. Giving ourselves the right amount of discomfort will cause us to grow. Like training our bodies, however, it is critical that we then return to a place of safety and nourishment. Repeated exposure  with no respite will simply tear us down.

As for myself, I tend towards overtraining. I overtrain my body and my heart. When I have my wits about me I can balance the two, using training of my body as a recovery period for training of my heart. Right now I definitely feel as if I have spent too much time at the edge of my heart’s capacity to hope and to love. I would like to provide it with a rest, but I must admit that I don’t know how. It’s been a long time since I have felt that I have a safe place for my heart to rest. Frankly I don’t know what that would even look like in my life today.

Well, that’s a lie. My heart sings for speed! Mountains make my heart alive.

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