When we were kids, we would run from place to place, because if you knew where you were going, why wouldn’t you run? The rusty jungle gym will not wait. They run out of chocolate milk in the cafeteria if you’re not there first. Running was like breathing. We didn’t think that much about it. We just did it.
This is one of the ways you know adulthood is over-rated. Very little inspires that sort of urgency.
More than once I’ve had the jump on my companions for the town line sprint, but alack and alas, I am not much in the sprint. The very first thing that happens is that I realize I’m still on the hoods and not in the drops. Who sprints from the hoods? No one who wins, that’s who. And so I fix my hands, but by then one of the diesels has cottoned on to our geographical situation and stomped on their own pedals. I’m no quitter so, now in the correct position, I gamely throw myself into a head down, full gas, effort, and for a few strokes I can almost convince myself that my narrow lead and an exertion of maximum willpower might hold me there, off the front, until we reach the rickety signpost.
Reality quickly intrudes. I sit up, short of the mark, and curse my stronger friends, all of whom have passed me by then. Chest heaving, I cruise, riding no-hands, laughing at myself. It was worth it. I’ll get the next one (I won’t.).
And then there is the situation in which the group has dialed it up to 11 without saying anything, with no signal, with no plan. Suddenly, you’re at full gas and looking around, wondering who else is there, who might have more to give still. I choose a wheel, guessing I’m not the strongest in the bunch, and see who jumps on behind me and who takes a chance to scramble off the front. I do my best to get myself together, to accept what’s happening and maybe even find a little more.
This is a confidence game, a game of shoulder-to-shoulder chicken. Who will crack first? Most of us are still smiling. That’s a bad sign.
For a moment, I lose the rhythm. Am I holding my breath? My legs have gone wooden. I climb out of the saddle to get back up to speed and to shake myself loose from whatever human weakness was threatening to suck me down into its leaden embrace. I can hang on. I can do this on muscle memory and disassociation. My body is failing? What body?
Adulthood, as I said, doesn’t demand this from us. It’s a slow, grinding way of living, being a grown up. It’s going and going and going until the tank is empty, and then pressing on a bit more. Adulthood is an ultradistance event, not a sprint, and there’s no chocolate milk at the end.
Unless there is. Unless going full speed because you can actually is the chocolate milk, the rusty jungle gym. We can’t go on like that forever, at full gas, but maybe we should while we can, or flex those muscles occasionally to know they’re still there. When you’re right at your limit, it may be uncomfortable, but at least it’s simple. You know what your problems are, and you know they’ll end soon.