Friday, December 11, 2009

gumption traps

gumption: the energy you throw into what you're doing - the enthusiasm, initiative, sparkle

gumption trap: something that drains the gumption - energy sucker, enthusiasm damper

I just finished reading Robert Pirzig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - a book that is not about Zen, not about Art, and not much about Motorcycle Maintenance either.

But this is not a book review, it's about things that drain the gumption - cycling gumption in particular - and possible ideas on preventing it. Or at least minimizing the damage.

Gumption traps (said Pirzig) can be external or internal.

External Gumption Traps are things out of your control. Examples are

- horrible thick mud that collects on your mountain bike and builds up so thick that the wheels refuse to turn.
- ill weather - a non-stop south-easter, or never-ending cold fronts, or hail storms every afternoon exactly when you planned to ride.
- injuries / illness - you have all the gumption needed but can't put it to use because of an injury.
- mechanicals

Internal Gumption Traps are things within yourself. Examples are
- tiredness
- boredom

The essence of Pirzig's advice for bypassing Gumption Traps (in Zen & Motorcycle Maintenance) is to take time off. He calls it 'to go fishing'. Sit back, do something else. The answer will find you, you don't have to search for it.

I have seen this parallel principal at work very often with work-related problems. I would struggle with a problem on the database, not knowing exactly how to solve it, and then go onto Chain Reaction's website to browse through e.g. red bitsies for the bike - and next thing the solution would jump into my head. On a more dramatic note, i have gone to sleep at night with an unsolved problem, and wake up in the middle of the night with a clear solution - which i then immediately email to myself at work, and usually would work on the first implementation.

I have seen this parallell principal at work in cycling as well.
Some gumption traps that I have fallen into, and possible ways to bypass them:
The thick sticky clay on the first after-rain lap at the 24-hours
This was both an external and internal gumption trap. External because the mud simply didn't allow my to continue cycling. internal because I was frustrated that i didn't want to damage the bike (I spent almost R2000 at a bikeshop after some mud in last year's Sabie Xperience) and had to give the lap up.

Afterwards i was curious as to how other cyclists managed to cycle through the mud. I hubbed the question and got some pointers:
- Ride through every puddle you see. It washes the clay off and would allow the wheels to keep turning.
- Just keep pedaling. The clay will fall off after a while.
- Try to avoid changing gears.

The emotional trap I solved by standing back and changing the goal. Originally i wanted to do as many laps as possible. When the mud happened, I realised that I could either try to continue to race (and pay for teh damage) or just give up the race. I took a lot of time off, cleaned the bike as well i could, socialised with members of an x-adventure racing team, D&D buddies, hubebrs and other people i knew. Then went to sleep until i realised a long time later that that particular piece of mud was not part of the laps any more. I felt refreshed, the bike was reasonably ridable, and i got back on.
I'm going to have to train more to be able to ride through mud, but at least the take-time-off worked for getting back on.

the broken gear-cable at 94.7 MTB
I was flying - has a good seeding (2nd batch) and haven't been passed by many people in my group - in fact, I was passing people on the climbs and on the downhills. I felt good. Until the derrailleur stopped working at about 15 kays into the race. Stopped to check it out, and the gear cable broke off clean.

- learn how to fix it - or at least how it works.
When there's no gear cable, the chain goes to the smallest chainring - the biggest gear. A knight stopped and changed the limit-screw on the derrailleur so that the chain came to rest on the second-smallest chainring. This helped. A cycling-friend afterwards sugested that i could also have put a stick between the derrailleur and the gear where i wanted it. It would have manual gears, but it would have been better than singlespeeding in a difficult gear.

The ultimate place to see these make-shift fixes in place, is on Freedom Challenge. gadget epoxy'd a bottom bracket into place, the Gardener singlespeeded for a while, Doug rode with broken shoes, the tandem, the snowstorms and high winds and driving rain for days on end .... good grief, now that i think about it, the Freedom Challenge blogs are ALL about overcoming every possible kind of gumption trap - i wanted to still talk about getting bored with training, and with the ride itself, tiredness and other gumption traps - but there are far better examples of this out there - fiona's blog or doug's or the tandem story or gadget's story - so i'm logging off :)
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