Saturday, October 11, 2014

Dealing With Failure

I always jump at the chance to enter online contests. Mainly because I’ve got a lot of time on my hands but also because they provide a wonderful opportunity for personal growth—in that they teach you how to deal with rejection and failure, two of the most important qualities for cyclists, alongside quitting when things get tough.

Back in August, as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival, self-publishing company Blurb sponsored a competition called the Blurb Blog-to-Book Challenge:
“Three lucky bloggers will have the opportunity to create and publish a book based on their own blog via Blurb’s online self-publishing tools, all during the eleven days of the Festival from 21 to 31 August.”
I’d never considered turning The Private Cyclist in to a printed book and it raised all sorts of questions: What format would such a publication take? Who would read such a book? How would it make me feel? Would a printed and bound expression of sarcastic and cynical bicycle gonzo journalism catapult me in to the realms of the book-published literary elite?

With my curiosity piqued, I set about composing the submission, being mindful of the conditions that “Submitting authors should be prepared” for:
1. The content would need to ready to go. With several years worth of dated, mostly redundant and no longer topical blog posts already buried deep within the Internet’s ever-growing library of irrelevance, this would not be a problem. 
2. Three 100-word contributions to the festival blog would be required “showcasing your Blog-to-Book project.” That wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, seeing as how I’d managed to come up with 150 words (in the introduction alone) for an article about the Economics of Horse Poo
3. Attend a “Meet the Blurb Blog-to-Book Authors event.” While the event’s timing (5.30pm on a Saturday) would usually be reserved for activities such as reviewing the weekend’s local Strava achievements and watching hilarious CrossFit videos*, I was prepared to make an exception due to it being hosted at Peter Rowland’s “Optic Kitchen + Bar at ACMI…the coolest place to eat and meet at Fed Square.”
*This video provides some incredibly hilarious commentary on deadlifting technique at the CrossFit games, otherwise known as the “Washed Up Loser Olympics”—definitely worth checking out.

Deadlifts—CrossFit Style.

With excitement at the prospect of The Private Cyclist book now building, I cobbled together a submission to the Melbourne Writers Festival Blurb Blog-to-Book contest:

Subject: Blog-to-book challenge - The Private Cyclist

Hello there Blurb boffins,

I would like to submit my blog, The Private Cyclist, for entry in to the Blurb Blog-to-Book Challenge.

This blog aims to entertain its readers by exploring some of the quirkier aspects of cycling, although, at times, it is only very loosely related to the sport. As a book, The Private Cyclist In Print would serve as an instruction manual for deconstructing the serious facade presented by cycling, or indeed any sport. It would help demonstrate that regardless of the money, doping, athletic prowess or boutique craftsmanship present in the industry, cycling is nothing more than a game played by some and a way to get from A to B for many. This book would be aimed at anybody who has ever raced a bike, ridden a bike or seen somebody else ride a bike.

In blog form, The Private Cyclist has already inspired many readers, or at least some readers, or maybe just caused someone to chuckle out loud at work and have to explain to their boss that they were simply "amused by last month's sales figures." However, The Private Cyclist, like any cyclist, like any human being really, yearns to be held, physically. What better way to achieve this than by turning the words on this blog in to a book, allowing them to be cradled, caressed or just used to prop up a leg on a plastic outdoor dining table?

With articles on a diverse range of topics including drugs, religion, quantum mechanics and even horse poo, here are a few examples that would suit being Blog-to-Booked…

I think you can get a good idea of the angle I was going for. If I’d been allowed to include a photograph along with my submission, it would have been something like this:

A photo like this demonstrates to the judging panel that you are serious about your entry and prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to perfect your craft.

Unfortunately The Private Cyclist was shunned by the MWF literary elite, the announcement of the three winners demonstrating a complete disregard for cycling gonzo journalism’s important contribution to the overall sluggishness of the Internet.

Instead, the contest judging panel selected the following three blogs:

  • The Something Fine Project: contributions on “the whimsical, overwhelming, awkward and agonising feelings conjured by first love.”
  • On Dusk: award-winning freelance writer Siv Parker’s articles on indigenous affairs.
  • Noticing Animals: a collection of stories about animals and birds in the Australian suburbs.

Initially, these selections were a bit hard to accept. If The Private Cyclist was going to be overlooked in favour of whimsical collections, award-winning freelance writers and suburban animal stalkers, then perhaps it was time to seriously re-evaluate my goals. Was it time to change direction and focus on content with broader appeal, that was more politically challenging and included pictures of animals?

I seriously considered shifting direction but whilst still in the important procrastination-phase, another contest appeared on my Twitter feed:

Posted by Bike Snob NYC, certainly one of the Internet’s most important assets, this contest was announced in response to a horrific collision between a cyclist (on aero bars) and a 59-year-old pedestrian in New York’s Central Park (on September 19th). The pedestrian was left brain-dead after the impact and later died in hospital.

In an unusually serious article following the incident, Bike Snob NYC condemned the behaviour of the cyclist, who, it appeared, was a dedicated Strava segmenteur and may have actually been chasing a Strava segment at the time of the collision.

Bike Snob NYC offered this sincere plea following news of the accident:
“Lastly, I'd like to make a sincere plea. I do not use Strava, but I know many of you do.  I also know I'll never, ever convince you to stop being the gigantic dorks you all are. However, as a way to show the world that we're not all just a bunch of Lycra-clad weenies with our heads up our asses, I'd like you to join me in a pledge to turn off Strava for the entire weekend. Yes, I don't know what "turn it off" means because I don't use it, but log out, shut it down, whatever, starting RIGHT NOW until this coming Monday. You can do all your normal "epics," all your cyclocross races, all your Sunday group rides.  Just (gasp) do it without gathering data which Strava then sells to regional transportation departments. 
I'm totally serious, just this weekend, as a gesture of respect to the victim's family.
(Come on.  One fucking weekend.  You can do it!)

Shortly after this, the Twitter contest was announced and naturally I was not going to turn down the chance to win a free cycling cap. You might remember how I spent the best part of a week reviewing a The Sufferfest training video recently, knowing full well that I wasn’t even eligible for a pair of free socks. And even when I was offered a free carbon saddle by Asian cycling blogger Daniel Carruthers, I somehow still managed to blow it. Clearly, I’m not very good at acquiring free stuff, but this wouldn’t stop me putting a 100% effort in to winning that cycling cap.

It didn’t take long to compose my entry, as I’ve been a big fan of Strava for quite some time. I’ve already proposed the development of a hybrid Strava/Tinder cycling social networking mobile application called Striver and its spin-off walking-buddy hook-up app, Stalka.

Further spin-offs apps in the pipeline include the first social networking mobile application designed specifically for kayakers:

Thanks to @lethologicamelia for the conceptual development of Straddler, the first hook-up app for paddlers.

Anyway, my point is, that this contest seemed to be tailored specifically for me, much like those obscure wine awards medals that cheap and nasty supermarket bottles constantly seem to be winning. I was well-qualified to provide the “best 200 word essay about what a Strava-free weekend” might have taught me. Hopefully Bike Snob NYC would recognise my expertise in this area.

Here’s my submission:

To: bikesnobnyc
Subject: #NOSTRAVA

What Strava-free Weekend Taught Me

Please accept my apologies for non-U.S. English spellings that appear in the submission below and feel free to edit in order to best suit your intended audience, which, I imagine, is mostly comprised of American Literature majors, dentists, and coffee artists. [Please note: 52-word apology not included in 200 word limit.]

Up until the revolutionary “Strava-free Weekend” initiative, I hadn’t even realised [realized] how cycling, and indeed life, had become a chore. I vaguely remember being happy once, but where had that feeling gone? SFW revealed how small, almost imperceptible changes, had begun infiltrating my cycling and my life since becoming a devoted Segmenteur.

I had no reason to be up at the crack of dawn this weekend to catch the fast bunch (who’d help keep my average speed up and, who knows, even get me a cheeky KOM on a recently marked segment that nobody else knew about yet). My wife was initially confused when she awoke to find me still in bed next to her. That morning, we talked—actually properly talked, and connected—in a way that we hadn’t done in what seemed like ages.

I have SFW to thank for saving my marriage, for making cycling fun again and for rescuing me from an otherwise bleak future filled with approval-seeking, anti-social cycling and the sense of futility that inevitably comes with the realisation [realization] that professionals in actual races would one day own all of the KOMs in which I had meaninglessly invested so much of myself.


The Private Cyclist

I pressed send and then patiently waited by my inbox for Bike Snob NYC’s announcement about the lucky recipient of the cycling cap.

At this point I’d like to highlight one of the generally ignored shortcomings of modern technology. Whilst once upon a time, waiting for an important communication meant patiently staking out the mailbox in anticipation of the postman (or woman), nowadays, with the advent of email (or femail), the thrill of this experience has been all but eliminated.

Waiting by the mail box, you at least had a general idea of what time of day the postman was likely arrive. But trying to anticipate an email response from a (very highly regarded, talented and published) blogger based in New York City—almost literally on the other side of the world—was a frustrating and futile undertaking.

I really had no idea when the response to my submission email would arrive but nevertheless, I set my intelligent mobile telephone’s email notification to a loud, highly evocative and rousing ringtone (which, incidentally happens to be an audio recording of Tina Arena singing the national anthem at Cadel Evans’ 2011 Tour de France podium victory in Paris—it never ceases to bring a tear to my eye). I then remained attentively focused on my device during all waking hours while carefully stationing it near my pillow whilst sleeping.

Tina Arena sings for Cadel Evans after his 2011 Tour de France “Schleck Sandwich” triumph.

Basically, I carried on living my life as I had become accustomed to ever since discovering how to set milestone notification settings on the Strava smartphone app, making time away from my phone now seem hollow and incomplete.

I waited and waited. Hours drifted by as the entire #NoStrava weekend passed. Days turned in to weeks but every time Tina Arena’s haunting voice roused me from my slumber or interrupted me (during what now seemed like trivial matters such as work, eating or socialising) the message was unrelated to the contest.

Every email about discount airfares seemed like another nail in the coffin of my cycling-cap-winning dreams. Every security warning from a bank advising me to log in and change the password details to an account I never knew existed felt like a dagger to the heart and soul of my 200-word creative ambitions. Every offer of discount pharmaceuticals appeared as nothing more than a slap in the face to the effort I’d poured in to this Twitter-based contest.

I was at rock bottom. The paralysing uncertainty I felt during this time was akin to what I imagine Bradley Wiggins had experienced in the lead up to his non-selection for this year’s Tour de France.

Eventually though, I came to the stark realisation that I was not going to win that elusive cycling cap.

No book, no socks, no carbon saddle and no cycling cap—The Private Cyclist’s career was defined by this familiar pattern of failure and disappointment. And there have been many others too.

Coming to terms with this has hopefully helped me grow, and until such time as I can convince somebody to hold a contest for something I’ve got a better chance of winning—like “Worst Photoshopping in an Article About Horse Poo”—I guess I’ll just have to focus on remaining content without the recognition that such accolades afford. Being a struggling blogger certainly isn’t as exhilarating as the Melbourne Writers Festival would have you believe.

1 comment:

  1. Ash you are a winner..
    You don't need the world to recognise it!
    Stay safe keep BLOGGING!