Guest Post by Michael Ziener: If You Had Superhero Powers...

If You Had Superhero Powers..., Would You Need to Ask What Am I “Supposed” to Be Doing For The Rest Of My Life? - by Michael Ziener

In a recent article, John Coyle asked a very good question: what are your superhero powers? I want to echo that question. To clarify, I am not asking if you can morph into any shape to camouflage yourself from the evil villain or leap tall buildings in a single bound. Rather, what differentiates you from the group? Every single one of us is unique. I can quickly think of some people who had incredible “superhero” strengths that altered the course of history. Who was the first person that popped into your mind?

  • Michael Jordan
  • Mozart
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Einstein
  • Ben Underwood

You’re probably asking yourself, who is Ben Underwood?

“Ben Underwood was diagnosed with retinal cancer at the age of two and had his eyes removed at the age of three. He was able to detect the location of objects by making frequent clicking noises with his tongue. He used it to accomplish such feats as running, playing basketball, riding a bicycle, rollerblading, playing football, and skateboarding.” www.benunderwood.com

Ben Underwood’s superhero strengths of listening and making sounds gave him the amazing ability to see with no eyes, no guide dog and no cane. But, he had to lose his sight before he could find his path.

So, how did I find my superhero strength? When I was in my 30’s and owned a marketing firm, I thought “This is it! I made it. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.” I had a wife, a son, a home and my own company. Nope. I was the furthest away from where I was “supposed” to be, and I had no clue what was about to happen. My superhero strength was about to present itself.

First, some background. I had lost my entire family to cancer: mom, dad and grandparents. I had suppressed those emotions so deep; it was preventing me from realizing my own strength. Not strengths like being extroverted or empathetic, but something I possessed which ultimately turned into a reinvention of my career and myself. I figured out what I was supposed to be doing: why I am here.

Ziener Family

In 2007, I was looking through the lens of a video camera recording a documentary for “my company” at a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Chicago. I was filming a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer telling her story. As I was watching and listening to her take every breath in my headphones, a flood of emotion came out of nowhere that overwhelmed me. I was mentally taken back to the exact moment my father walked into my bedroom when I was 9 years old to tell me that my mother, age 39, in 1982, had died of stage 4 breast cancer. Drop video camera….

I decided to sell my company and in 2008, I became the CEO of that very same chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure©, charged with driving that organization through massive growth over a 4-5 year period. Through collaboration and my newfound strength of HELPING OTHERS, we went from $700k in annual revenues to $4m in revenues in under 5 years. These increased funds allowed women who did not have insurance to receive mammograms. I was helping. I was making an IMPACT. My pain became my passion.

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I have an undeniable ability or superhero strength to help others. To give more of myself than what I used to believe I could offer. I have found that I possess the ability to give hope and aid through a newly identified “servant heart.” My career serving others was born. I am no Michael Jordan. I may not impact the world like Martin Luther King, Jr. but, that is not the intention of this article. I want each of you to realize that you are unique and possess a strength that is non-traditional.

What differentiates you from the group? What is your remarkable ability that could potentially alter your life and bring you to a place of fulfillment that you never thought was achievable? What undiscovered superhero strength might you hold? What are you supposed to be doing?

-Michael Ziener

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How To Maximize the Non-Linear Nature of Experiential Time and Live (almost) Forever

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNhyOYv2ejw[/embed] Are you Killing Time or Making Time? This is my life's passion, please comment and let me know your thoughts.

-John

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Looking for Your Strengths? Examine Your Weaknesses… (pt. 2 – Guest Post by David Rendall)

By David Rendall: The Rudolph Principle: Discovering Uniqueness by Embracing Weakness Last year I was watching the classic TV version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my daughters and I realized that the story has a lot to teach us about strengths and weaknesses.

Just let the song run through your head for a minute . . .

“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.”

The Rudolph Principle

Rudolph was different. He had a major obvious flaw. This is the same for most of us. We are too impatient or too messy or too silly or too serious.

“All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolph, join in any reindeer games.”

Rudolph’s flaw made him unpopular and led to his rejection and isolation. No one wants to be rejected. So what do we do? We often try to hide our flaws and fix our weaknesses. We become ashamed. We wish that we could just be normal, like everyone else. We want to be accepted, so we try to change. This is just what Rudolph and his parents tried to do. They covered up his nose with a black rubber cone. It didn’t work. The red nose still shined through. It looked like Rudolph was destined for a life of pain and misery, but then the situation changed.

“Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight.”

Rudolph’s nose was a weakness, but it was also a strength in disguise. In the right situation, a “foggy Christmas Eve,” Rudolph’s nose was an irreplaceable advantage. That is why he got the call, from Santa himself, to save Christmas for the whole world.

He didn’t succeed in spite of his weakness; he succeeded because of his weakness. What would have happened to Christmas that year if Rudolph had gone to Beverly Hills for a nose job?

“Then all the reindeer loved him and they shouted out with glee, ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, you’ll go down in history.’”

Rudolph’s legacy, his enduring fame, was a result of his uniqueness.

Do you want more happiness, fulfillment, success and energy? Find your red nose. Look to your apparent weaknesses and flaws. They offer clues to your greatest strengths. Don’t try to hide them or fix them. Just look for the right situation, the one that offers a perfect fit between who you are and what is required. This takes courage, to wait, to endure ridicule, to be rejected by others. But remember the end of the story. Santa called on Rudolph and he saved Christmas.

What Strength Will You Focus on in 2015?

“It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.” (J. C. Watts) In 2015, I will focus on developing some relatively newly-discovered strengths and deliberately designing around the well-trodden paths of my weaknesses.

  • Strengths: I will spend more time writing and speaking (a relatively newly-discovered strength). Both of these activities fill me with energy and purpose, and bring color into my life. I have already discussed this with my employer and designed my job description to focus on these areas.
  • Weaknesses: I will stop pretending that I have significant strengths in detail orientation and follow-through. I will rely on people who are strong in these areas, so that I can dream big and still deliver.

Please share: What strength will you focus on in 2015? Or what weakness are you chasing that you will let go or turn over to someone else?  Please share with our community by commenting below.

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A Perspective on Time and Speed: Guest Post from Tom Stat

Tom is a great friend, colleague and former partner at IDEO in Chicago and an horologist in his own right. A few end-of-the-year thoughts from Tom: ---------

As the Earth completes its orbit around the Sun, marking what we call one full year, and we somewhat arbitrarily celebrate the beginning of a new year (there’s no start or finish line in our orbit around the sun), I thought I'd try to put all this in perspective.

First, we make up this thing we call "time." Someone once said we did so this so that everything doesn't happen all at once. There is no now, no past and no future. Time exists only as our sensory experience of mass and space. And mass and space depend on distance - where things are, so to speak, in relationship to other objects, how fast you may be moving relatively, etc.

In the vast expanses of the Universe, we are tiny little beings gravitationally stuck to the surface of a tiny little planet, orbiting an average star 93 million miles away. And our star is one of over 200 billion stars in a relatively average galaxy of stars (we call our galaxy the Milky Way because on a very clear night a swath of "milkiness" seems to span the sky - this is us looking at the billions of other stars that make up our galactic disk "edge on"). There are over 100 billion other galaxies in our known Universe. There may be other universes (I suspect they are made up mostly of lost socks, keys, wallets and mittens)

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Despite our isolation, we're moving pretty fast.

The Earth's rotation on its axis (one day) means that you're moving at 1000 mph.
The Earth's rotation around the sun (one year) is at a velocity of 66,000 mph. 
In our galaxy's local neighborhood of stars, our solar system is moving at a out 43,000 mph.
 And our whole galaxy is spinning (one galactic year) and based on our location, we’re moving at about 483,000 mph.

Add all that up and at some point, with respect to some other Galaxy, we're all moving at close to 600,000 miles per hour through space!

Sounds fast, but our galaxy (the Milky Way) is about 100,000 light years in diameter (that’s 587 quadrillion (after a trillion) miles across). So even at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second!) it would take 100,000 years to get to the other side. At a mere 600,000 mph, better pack a lunch.

So, if time seems to sometimes fly by and sometimes stand still, perhaps this is why.

One Resolution for 2015: "Race Your Strengths"

"Race Your Strengths" was a refrain repeated daily for decades by Mike Walden, the head coach for a small cycling club in Detroit Michigan. During those 25+ years, this small club produced over 120 national champions, 12 world champions, 10 Olympians and 4 Olympic medals. There was no mysterious talent pool in Detroit during this period, and all of the athletes were local. Nonetheless, by a relentless focus on helping people find their strengths as athletes, this one club produced more than 25% of all national cycling medalists for a 25 year period. walden

For 2015 I propose we make only one resolution - the kind of resolution that "floats all boats." For 2015 I propose that we follow Mike Walden's advice and extend it beyond athletics. Let’s design our lives to align closer to our strengths and natural talents, and design around those activities that are true weaknesses. When we are operating in sync with our native capabilities, we are more resilient: we can handle greater amounts of stress because we are filling our bucket with energy and positive feedback. When we are pursuing activities that are in line with our strengths, we experience more moments of "flow" where time speeds by in the present, buts creates a treasure trove of significant memories. When we are "racing our strengths" we have more and greater chances to have life-defining moments of "really living," experiences of such meaning and gravity, that time slows, stops, or even expands.

Life is short: time to race your strengths. 

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Do Your Strengths Have a Color? Synaesthesia and Talents

Synaesthesia is one of my new favorite words and concepts. As Wickipedia defines it, synaesthesia (or synesthesia) "is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes."

Synesthetes often experience this phenomenon in the course of every day life - vowels, for example for many synesthetes have colors where as consonants don't. But I'm particularly interested in the intersection of synaethesia and strengths and talents. What if your strengths and areas of talent have a color or a sound, or both?

For years I've been describing my feelings when in a state of "flow" or deeply immersed in an area of strength as having a color - often a vibrant blue or yellow or orange and conversely moments of weakness as colorless, black or red. What I never talked about and never knew how to articulate is that in these "photisms" or "chromesthesia" episodes I actually SAW these colors, tasted and heard these colors. In fact, my personal form of synaethesia involves color and sound - a hum, or thrumming permeates my brain and I see what I'm doing tinged with vibrant colors of orange, yellow and violet blue that has a fractal nature about it. Examples:

"The pixels of light and darkness captured in the mind’s eye are filled with the pallet of color of the results – hence the memories of winning somehow pull from the yellows, blues and golds, success and color implying a relatively easier effort, while the losses are inevitably painted with the charcoals of those chiaroscuro efforts – blackened, brutish, pain and disappointment closely linked."

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"I choose to repaint this race differently. And in so doing what I did accomplish was a unique mastery of the instrument of my body. For over two hours, I played it like the first violinist – drawing out of it with every lash of the straight bow every possible note, every emotion, every tremble of resonance the space of ribs and air and bones was capable of producing."

Conversely when I'm suffering or pursuing a weakness, color and sound disappears... an example:

"The halls of pain echo for an experienced athlete. The suffering is nothing and yet is everything. The pain is white. It is black. It lacks color or sibilant sound – just reverberations reflecting off the porcelain tiles of the stony discipline of the psyche. But blood, glittering red-black blood, pulses through hidden rivulets in the gutters of the mind."

As a kid when I would ride my bike - whenever there was a sprint or an acceleration I would hum inside my head. In the early days it was sort of a motorcycle sound and I assumed it was an artifact not dissimilar to putting a playing card in the spokes to sound like a motor, but over time I just realized I did the same thing when skating or when painting or when working certain subjects in school. Now I get it when I'm writing, riding, racing or traveling.

So an oft repeated question is, "how do I know if something I'm doing is a strength?" "How do I know if something I'm doing is a weakness, or just a skills gap?"

Perhaps one way to know might to be to simply ask, "what color is it? what does it sound like?"

I close every speech on finding your strengths with the following advice: When seeking your strengths, "pay attention to your internal hum: you'll know it when you see it, feel it, hear it."

PS: this whole post was a medium blue, tinged with some yellow.

How Long Did Summers Last as a Kid?

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 3.24.04 PM How long did summers last as a kid?

Splashing into the lake, riding bikes across busy streets.

Crushes, broken hearts, bruises and dirty knees.

We all know summer lasted “forever” as a kid..

Everything was new - we really lived everything we did.

And now? How long do they last, in this world of the mundane?

I don’t know about you but I ache to live endless summers again.

The Worst Breakup: The Mourning After Sports

The Worst Breakup: The Mourning After Sports heartbreak_444561633

You fell in love. She was elusive, distant, exciting. She taught you things about yourself no one else could or did. She took you to new places all over the world.  Months, years were spent chasing her, growing closer, winning and wooing. But, even after entering her warm embrace there was something missing, held back, a slightly stiffened spine, the latent question always lingering, “are you good enough for me?” This whispered hint kept you running, producing fervent efforts to prove yourself, to earn her affections.

Over time the relationship matured, settling into an uneasy balance: occasional punctuations of dizzy delight when things went perfectly and then the opposite, an arbitrary and tempestuous falling out when they didn’t. These episodes created a delicate tension keeping you in her thrall, ever subservient to her whims, always chasing, always pursing. Ageless, her remote beauty and charms only grew and as time passed you grew aware of an expanding list of suitors who began to surround her, muscles flexing, until one day it all ended as she loudly and publicly chose another. The moment was sickening: even as she welcomed a new young, fresh lover to her embrace she continued to call out her undying love to you. You, however, were jaded now: you had been through it all before and had made your choice. Too tired, too old, too weak, too lame, too hobbled from injury you decided to walk away from her fickle charms forever.

Her name was “Sport.”

All breakups are difficult, but the worst breakups are those where attraction still exists even as one party moves on and when there is no clean break, the cuckholded husband forced to watch his replacement woo his wife. The separation from elite sport is this sort of breakup. Even as her insatiable demand for perfection forces you from her embrace, her demeanor never changes, she is still there beckoning even as she entertains the latest crop of suitors. And, unlike real romances, the entire charade, parade and transition is done publicly under flashing lights without any sense of guile or gall. No one apologizes and averted gazes are only directed to you: the flawed, aging or weakened suitor.

What preparation are young, passionate, competitive, perfectionist men and women given to guard against this inevitable moment? Little to none as it turns out. Not once in my 15 years competing on various national teams did anyone ever provide guidance about “retirement” from sport.  For the romantic fallen, the discarded companions, the color of life disappears and is replaced by grasping black pits of hopelessness that yawn for long periods, occasional white sparks of manic optimism intruding and then fading into stretches of grey. She is gone. I will never again measure up. There is no replacement for the feeling she brought me. She took my livelihood, my funding, my sense of self. I am nothing now.

At some point in most normal breakups the color returns and a true separation from the “Ex” is made. Old healthy relationships re-assume their former stature, new ones form, and in the blue distance of time and perspective the warm colors of hope return. Eventually for most, new and better relationships are formed and the brilliant red drumbeat of life resumes.

But, what if after the breakup no separation ever occurred? What if the two divorced parties were still forcibly joined in an endless anti-matrimony with an arbitrary set of rules that look something like this:

1)     The exact set of qualities that earned your lover’s attention are replicated and improved by the new suitors that have taken your place. They look exactly like you, act exactly like you, but simply put, they are better than you.

2)     Your former lover still legitimately needs and wants you, but just as a “friend” since you know so much about her and she and her friends constantly draw you in to the same social circle.

3)     Sometimes the only way to make any kind of living is working directly for your former lover and her new suitors in an odd soup of fading admiration and mild contempt.

If this sounds like a recipe for a bout of depression then you are right. I am not aware of any studies that exist on the exit of elite athletes from sport, but anecdotally the story is much the same.

You've met them: the high school football star who didn’t get to play in college, the college track star who never made the Olympics. The Olympian who never won a medal. The silver medalist who never won gold. The gold medalist who failed to win again... and all of those who, at some point were forced to retire and in so doing put to bed the one singular intense focus of their entire lives in order to move on.

The desires and requirements of elite sport are insatiable: at some point everyone fails to measure up. Nothing and no-one can satisfy this lover, the ungrateful achievement whore who demands perfection every time and rallies the voices of the world to judge. Michael Phelps? A failure for only, ONLY winning 19 Olympic medals. Bode Miller – failure. Lindsay Vonn- fail. USA basketball – fail. USA Hockey - fail.  Only a few seem to escape the trap by breaking up first - exiting on top and declaring their undying love to some new lover (even if no one believes it). Perhaps Apolo Ohno falls into this camp, or perhaps he’s still riding the coattails of his mistress and doesn’t yet know what awaits.

When I broke up with sport it was heart breaking. It was February of 1998 and weak, slow and tired I failed to qualify for the last final at the Olympic trials despite having a fantastic pre-season winning the first American cup. I did not have enough points to make a second Olympic team and at 29 years old I also knew I could not possibly go another 4 years of income-less training to try again. So, I declared my retirement and Chris Needham, the competition’s announcer, shared it on the loudspeaker of the Lake Placid Olympic Rink. Immediately after in the echoing hallways of the arena I sobbed like a child, terribly embarrassed when my teammates saw me. That night I sat on the steps of the Lake Placid OTC with Apolo Ohno (who had also failed to make the team) and commiserated.

I cried on and off for days. Skating was the rhythm of my life, my reason for being. Despite all my passion and sacrifice I had failed to make a second Olympic team despite putting every sinew and synapse towards that love affair the sense of loss was overwhelming. My friend and teammate Stefan Spielman was a rising star in cycling when at age 20 injuries forced him to retire despite 8 surgeries attempting to fix the problem. The loss stayed with him, weighed him down for a decade or more, in fact he's still not sure he's entirely over it. "I would have paid any price just to be back competing, trying.  I was so depressed for 5-10 years, even up to today I do not think I am over that loss."

I was fortunate. I had a new love and one that could actually compete with my former affair – I was in love with a real woman. I also found separation – immediately: the next morning I moved all my meager possessions into a car and drove 45 hours straight west to get as far away from ice as I could, landing in Phoenix, Arizona with my fiancé and starting a new life. I was also fortunate enough to have a fallback in the form of a pair of college degrees from good schools. I hoped that someone would hire me despite my failure and had to be convinced to even put my sports achievements on my resume.

It may sound odd, but the overwhelming feeling I had for a long time regarding my time in sports was one of embarrassment. In those early years I lived with an ambient backdrop of humiliation. I had professed to be something I was not, and I had failed. My romance with sport had become a source of disgrace. Fellow speedskater and Olympic bronze medalist Alex Izykowski shared similar feelings, "I shared the same 'disgrace'. I had a very similar reaction for about a 2 year period…which came after a year-long denial period."

I refused to watch the 1998 Olympics and for nearly a decade I didn't talk about the sport, didn’t enter an ice rink and severed most of my connections with my friends from that world.  I gladly gave my Olympic medal to my parents who kept it for a decade and lived enshrouded in the bubble a new world of work, marriage and, eventually, parenthood.

It was many years later before I finally began to recognize the gift that sport had given me: of discipline, agility, tenaciousness, self confidence and perseverance. It was nearly a decade later when the rewards of that original relationship were made plain to me.

It started simply. A sign in a grocery store in Madison, Wisconsin read, "Short Track World championships coming to Madison Wisconsin – Volunteers needed." And I thought to myself, "well I could help out - prepare the track, chase blocks - whatever." So I called the number.

"Hello?” I said and continued, “Yes, I saw the ad for the world championships and ... I'm a former speedskater and thought I could help out if you still need volunteers.." An odd pause on the end of the phone.

"Coyle?!!"

"Is that you?"

Welcomed back. It was Tom Riley one of my former competitors and a coach and organizer for the event. Quickly I was re-enrolled in the sport in a new role and recognized not for my failure, but for the part I had played. I began coaching, I began announcing and then was invited to join the Olympic broadcast crew for the Olympics with NBC the following year in Torino, again in Vancouver, and soon in Sochi Russia.

I have been very lucky - my first love has requited her love to me in unforeseen ways. No, perhaps they will never trump the one desire that I aimed to achieve - a gold medal - but with perspective I can see that even such an accomplishment would not have been enough. Perhaps had I reached my goal, my pain would have been lessened, or, perhaps it would have been that much worse. At some point the chase must be replaced by the lessons and narrative of the pursuit.

I do wonder and worry for the coaches of sport. I see so many of my peers during those years still traveling, still on ice, still chasing a revised version of that dream. How many of them are still pursuing the same unrelenting mistress and translating their energies into vicarious living through their athletes, trying to become what, in hindsight is impossible – a marriage to sport until “death do us part.” It does put into perspective some of the incredible passions displayed by some of my coaches through the years. It was almost as though they wanted it more than us…

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PS: There is an even more uncomfortable wrinkle to this tale. What if someone’s breakup with sport occurred during the transition to an era of cheating and performance enhancing drugs. What if an early retirement from, say, cycling, occurred right as the elite of sport took to illegal substances to improve their performance? What might have this crop of legitimate athletes have accomplished? Scott McKinley, Mike McCarthy, Marty Jemison and others on the cusp of greatness, winning the world’s toughest events and then suddenly marginalized – only to learn a decade and a half later that maybe, just maybe it wasn’t their limbs that failed them. It is hard to imagine what was stolen from these incredible athletes and and hundreds of others by the cheating scandals in cycling and other sports. Cheating is the perfect word – the heartbreak resulting from the betrayal of true love is perhaps the saddest outcome and these athletes can only wonder what “might have been.”

People I Owe: My Dad

I’ve avoided writing this “people I owe” post for years out of pure fear. How can I possibly “do it right?” I felt some of the same anxiety writing about Stan Klotkowski, Jeanie Omelenchuk, Clair Young, and Mike Walden but not like this. Deep down I’ve also been worried about the very real fact that Stan, Jeanie and Clair all passed away within months after I wrote about their impacts on my life. As far as I know none of them even were aware of my heartfelt gratitude. Mostly I’ve avoided this “people I owe” because it is a family member and hence any recognition contains the complex interactions that the designation of “family” creates.

In recent years I’ve participated in a number of leadership training curriculums where part of the interaction was to share with the group about someone who had had an impact on my leadership capacity or “leadership legacy.” I was repeatedly chagrined and surprised when teammates listed their father as one of their leadership icons. For these people their father had been a person who exemplified “typical” leadership characteristics – volunteering, military duty, leading charitable efforts, roles in community organizations and chairing change efforts. Inevitably they seemed to be extroverts, social organizers, “pillars of the community”, outspoken, brave, members of committees.

With absolutely no judgment upon my own father he simply did not fit this model. Meetings, committees? No way, my father – a strong introvert - avoided even social gatherings like family reunions. So I put this aside and found stereotypical leader archetypes from other walks of life to share as my influences – Jack Rooney or Mike Walden for example, people who had been pinnacles of traditional top-down leadership, with “presence.” Deep down though, part of me thought, “If my dad wasn’t a leader, what was he? He certainly impacted my life…”

With maturity comes wisdom and perspective and with perspective comes the realization of the gifts of leadership my father gave to me.

1)   Opportunity: growing up a series of opportunities were, in some cases, literally put at my feet. Tennis lessons, swimming lessons (I'll circle back to these two), piano lessons, french horn lessons. The there was my orange crate Kmart bike with the banana seat, a first round Hobie skateboard, hockey skates, downhill skis, cross country skis, running shoes, hiking boots, camping gear – my life as a kid in the Coyle household meant that almost every weekend and many weekdays were filled with outdoor sporting activities. Gladwell and others have written about the 10 year/ 10,000 hour rule, and in hindsight, I probably rode more miles on my bike the summer when I was 8 years old than any other 8 year old on the planet – by my count we did 13 century / half century rides. I skied the Pinery in Canada, Great Bear up north and of course the Wabeek golf courses. I played hockey on our frozen lake, raced BMX weekends and weekdays winning more than 200 trophies. At one point when I was 11 or 12 I was State Champion in road cycling, track cycling, BMX racing, cross country skiing and skateboarding all the same year. I was horrifically competitive, crying if I even came in second place. But that part, the ridicululously competitive part appears to be something I was born with that my father managed with grace.

2)   Being There. Did my father ever miss a game, a meet, a performance? Maybe he did – I guess in the grand scheme of life he must have. That said, I scratch my head and can’t come up with a single instance or memory of him not being there. Not once, ever. I have no notion or emotional impression of a repeated theme from movies, stories and books of “daddy wasn't there/didn't care.” 4am practices on Sunday morning after an hour’s drive to Flint Michigan or a Saturday evening soccer game? A painful band concert or choir rehearsal? Practices for 5 sports and music every single day of the week in disparate locations around the country for decades? He was always present, always supportive, always driving - the car that is.

This is a picture of set of two day planners that capture calendar entrees from the years 1980 and 1981. Almost every single page of those years have a journal entree of a practice or race or often two entrees. When we traveled for a competition, the mileage was sometimes noted. The 1980 journal shows that we traveled in excess of 52,000 miles for competitions. With my own daughter I am daunted by this form of servant leadership. How can I EVER live up to it?

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The following entries give about 6 weeks of my summer as an 11/12 year old. In the first below you can see practices each evening and then a 100 mile century ride in Michigan on Saturday (called Helluva Ride) followed immediately by a bike race in Connecticut on Sunday (drove all night? we NEVER flew anywhere)

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The next week was spent racing in Wisconsin. Here's my first Superweek races - at first getting beat by Steve McGregor... Sadly this year is the first year in 33 years that I won't be racing superweek as the series closed down at the end of last season.

fathers4The next week: in one week we went white water rafting in West Virginia, then raced on the track in Pennsylvania, did a few practices and a BMX race in Michigan, then another century ride in Indiana (the Amish ride). It then rained on Sunday - perhaps we were relieved...

fathers5I remember this week clearly - we had a Camero Z28 that got hit by another car just before our plans to drive it out to Arizona and California (and then sell it to pay for the trip) I got crushed at road nationals coming in 4th, but the next day won two different BMX races in AZ.

fathers6The following week I went to Tijuana on my 12th birthday (August 18) and I became national champion for the first time in San Diego, CA. (See lower right)

fathers7Here's a few pictures from the 1980 nationals:

Scan 2w dad

3)   Belief. Perhaps the greatest gift of a leader to a follower and a father to a son, my father gave me 100% unequivocal belief. Belief begets hope, which is the greatest power in the universe. A skinny, redneck, hard-to-tame kid managed to harness a potentially deadly over-abundance of energy through one and only one force – that of belief.

My father treaded that incredibly narrow tightrope between sharing the destructive power of reality “you’ll never be good at this” and the equally damaging artificiality of the fake, “You’re the best, it was the referees fault”.  At its core, my father anchored belief in one of my real strengths: “the gift of acceleration” as he called it. Little did I know how physiologically resonant was his evaluation of my talents. To be clear he didn’t say much. We didn’t have big inspiring coaching conversations, but when things went poorly he had a reason that provided a balance of opportunity for me to improve with that of hope.

How did he learn it? Why did he do it? To be clear, my father did not appear to have any kind of role model from his own parents. Generally ignored as a late addition to a family with an overachieving sister he certainly received little support from his own parents. He could be brittle and sadly our closeness created a separation with my sister that exists to this day. Conversely he also managed to avoid the mold of the “vicarious living through your offspring” parent often seen in competitive sport. He was, as I’ve learned the phrasing recently, “committed, but not attached” to the outcomes of my activities. Deep down I want to believe he just enjoyed the ride that my feeble singing voice, lousy French horn playing, decent academics and powerful but skinny legs provided. Maybe it was a simple as that – I wasn’t much to look at, didn’t come from a legacy or pedigree, but when my legs hit the pedals or skates, a resonant hum took over – at least for few seconds – and it was surprising coming from such an average kid. I was, when it comes down to it, pretty fast. Watching my daughter in sport now, I "get it" - it is a joy to watch when she's fully committed.

Time for a confession: what my parents may or may not know is how truly competitive I was as a child. If I wasn’t immediately good at something, I immediately wanted to quit, and in two cases at least, I was secretly successful. When, as a young boy, I was given weekly swimming lessons for a summer paid for by good parents, and on the first day found myself cold and floundering against more accomplished swimmers, I quit. Each week thereafter, after getting dropped off, I went and hid in the woods for 90 minutes rather thane “lose.” I never completed another lesson. Sadly the same was true for tennis lessons: after the first one I hid and skipped all of those as well. Sorry mom, sorry dad.

I am a father now. I struggle constantly with the balance of “over-involvement” that has come to characterize parenting today. When I was a child, if I fell down they didn’t rush out and soothe me, but if I fell and I was actually hurt they did. They didn’t pretend every performance was awesome, but did acknowledge that every tremendous EFFORT was awesome.  But they also didn't miss a single program.

What is leadership if not the ability to help someone else achieve all that they are capable of? Like all humans my father had and has his flaws, but when it comes to his role of a parent to a spastic, competitive, sensitive kid, he was near perfect in helping me tap into my limited strengths. Literature, movies, and deep conversations seem to often turn to "daddy doubts" or a sense of abandonment by parents. From a distance it is pretty clear: I'm a limited talent athlete, decent student, poor musician who has been granted a life of adventure and accomplishment that is founded and grounded in the love of two parents who managed to give at least one of their offspring the feeling of complete and total unconditional love.

I have never, and I mean never ever, doubted the complete love and support of my father. It is so much of a given that it has been completely taken for granted. When it comes to my parents and my father I doubt for nothing. Nothing needs to be said, nothing needs to be done, it just exists. We sometimes go without talking for periods of time that (I realize now) are selfish of me. But no experiential time passes between conversations and meanwhile I'm naturally applying everything I've learned to the relationship with my own daughter, which, by the way, is a beautiful and "near perfect" relationship. I didn't even have to think about it really - I just needed to follow the directions I've been given.

In hindsight, we never talked much, my dad and I. We just did things, experienced things. So perhaps for that reason I probably never got around to thanking you dad. Thank you for the gift of experiences and slowing down time together (did we really do all that!?). Thank you for always, always being there. Most of all thank you for believing in me. Because you believed in me, I believed in me. My life has become a wondrous adventure through time, filled with incredible experience thanks to your unshakeable belief. It is the foundation that serves me every single day. Oh, and sorry about the swimming and tennis lessons.

Happy Father's Day dad. I love you.

-John, 6/16/2013

dad

6. The Inversion of Experiential Time: Example 1

time-travelImagine a job where your sole activity is to enter a series of randomly generated strings of letters, numbers and symbols into a monochrome computer screen. Day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute you task is to sit there reading a string of numbers off an endless stack of papers, typing them slowly, complete with mistakes and backspaces and corrections onto the screen, losing your place almost every time, and then you review and double review for accuracy, before finally pushing “enter,” whereupon the flashing code disappears, and then you type the next 30 – 50 digit letter and number combination. As you can imagine, while performing such a mind numbing repetitive task alone, each hour begins to stretch on for an eternity, each minute expanding, bloating with the boredom, the tedium, the lack of purpose. After a while, the ticking of the second hand on the clock starts to slow, and as your eyes twitch watching it tick, you realize that time has nearly stopped… (This, by the way was my college job – entering the long strings of periodical codes for the thousands of obscure journals into the school computer at Stanford’s Green Library.)

indexContrast this with another scenario. It is a Friday morning and you have just arrived to work full of manic energy. You have a huge list of to-dos for the day, because on that afternoon, after a half day of work you are flying south to the beach, or driving up north, or heading west for vacation. You work for about 5 minutes of experiential time and are horrified to look up and see 2 hours gone. You focus more intently and as you race through your tasks, the hands of time race around the clock. Seemingly 20 minutes after you arrive (but actually 5 hours later) it is time to go and you run for the elevator… Then, perhaps you forget your tickets,  go to the wrong terminal, or your daughter throws up in the security line – (it seems it is always something) but a few hours later, you manage to arrive at the resort or cottage or campsite, explore your room, go for a hike, walk down to the beach, have a cocktail, watch the sunset, have an amazing dinner, take an evening swim, have a great conversation, read a few chapters of a great book – whatever and…yet…somehow the day seems to be over as quickly as the ephemeral and fabled “green flash” of sunset over the water…

Both of these examples include about 12 hours of linear time… But in the perception of the conscious mind (the part that lives in the present), the first scenario initially felt like an eternity and the second initially felt like a fleeting moment in time…

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 10.30.37 PM

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Contrast the real-time experience of the ‘eternity’ and ‘fleeting moment’ scenarios with the subsequent memories of those two periods a month or a year later when they have become part of your “temporal past.”

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 10.30.47 PM

Odds are good that the 12 hours of the first example (typing numbers & letters) disappears altogether leaving no trace in the software of our brains and hence takes up no actual memory time (in contrast to the “eternity” it was in the present). Is it fair to say that except for its role in enabling the second scenario that that time was lost? There is more to this scenario too - when you include anticipation and planning, experiential time goes through another inversion. More on that soon.

Screen Shot 2013-06-01 at 10.30.56 PM This scenario is simplistic example of The Second Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Inversion. In the next post I will describe the law in detail.

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5. How does the brain process time?

“Time” is the most commonly used noun in the English language. The word fills our descriptions of the past, present and future. That said scientists and neuroscientists don't actually know how neural time works.brain “Despite its importance to behavior and perception, the neural bases of time perception remain shrouded in mystery.” David M. Eagleman1,

It has been known for centuries that the brain imposes biases on the perception of time, and those biases become more pronounced the shorter the period of time that has passed - an interesting wrinkle I will explore further. For now I will introduce four cognitive influencers of time.

1) There are no sensory receptors dedicated to time. The perception of time is distributed amongst various brain functions and assembled in an ad-hoc fashion as required for the task on hand. Therefore the perception of time is subject to multiple biases.

2) Over short intervals, the brain uses as an approximation for the passing of time its own rate of information processing. The greater the rate of data being processed, the more time associated with the event.

3) Emotion strongly influences the perception of the sense of time. The theory of “embodied cognition” suggests that our brains mirror and create empathic states to the people and situations around us and adjust our internal clocks accordingly.

4) Finally, It can be argued that there is no “present” or “future” at all: that all of our experiences are processed through the 15 second window of our short term memory and hence life is lived and experienced through the lens of the “near past”. If how we anticipate future events is different than how we experience them, and if how we experience them is different than how we remember them, then this notion suggests that of the three temporal perspectives, the third (past, memory) is the most important.

These factors combine to create some interesting paradoxes: as the brain assembles various timing measurements to orchestrate an incredibly complex set of physical, mental and emotional activities, significant departures from chronological time emerge. These anachronisms become particularly acute when the brain becomes highly focused on an intellectually challenging and emotionally pleasurable task and even more so if there is an emotional bond with the environment or people incorporated in the task. Csikszentmihalyi would call this "flow" which is often accompanied by a separation from the sensation of time passing. I believe it is possible to design experiences in the future to "really live" in the present, and create a past worth remembering. This is the entire purpose of this blog:

"Plan a future to really live today, and create a yesterday worth remembering"

More to come on that, for now let me re-introduce the Second Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Inversion

The experience of time in the present (experienced time) is often inversely proportional to the experience of time in the past (remembered time). Remembered time governs the overall experience of time.

Next Up: I'll share a pair of stories that show this law more clearly.

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My new blog: The Art of Really Living

Warning: self serving request attached. Today I am launching a new blog that has been a long time in the works. Please check it out and if you like the first few posts, please subscribe, comment, and forward to your friends. http://artofreallyliving.com The quote below gives a glimpse of what it is all about:

The Murder of Minutes

“Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need to sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of your life you have lost something and the loss is too empty to share.”

Danielewski, "House of Leaves"

3. A Simple Measure of Life: Time

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.Benjamin Franklin

If time is the stuff life is made of, what is time itself made of? 

As children we were trained to believe that time is composed of a linear set of markers, ticking forward into the future, tocking back into the past. This, however, is a lie, and it matters. Time, as we actually experience it, is anything but linear. Through the distortions of cognition, time speeds by or freezes, is made or filled, wasted or killed.

If we accept that “experiential time” – i.e. time as processed through our brains - is not chronological and linear, then we can begin to imagine that it might be possible to influence or manipulate the experience of time in ways that are beneficial and accretive. If you accept this, then you can accept that it might be possible to experience more life through the lens of time and hence really live longer without adding a single chronological day.

“Are you killing time or making time?”

There exists, in fact, an alternate paradigm of time with a set of rules that we all experience but for some reason continue to ignore in favor of the linear view of chronological time. After more than 10 years of studying and thinking about time, I have uncovered some elegantly simple insights about the nature of what time is actually composed of.  In the coming weeks I will share what I have discovered about the New Physics of Time and its application to how we experience life.  You may end up wondering, as I did, why we ever accepted an alternate notion of time in the first place.

Three Laws of Temporal Dynamics govern experiential time.

First Law: Temporal Contraction Second Law: Temporal Inversion Third Law: Temporal Expansion

These laws can each be documented with: a)  a relatable story that demonstrates how the law plays out in reality, b) a metaphor describing the system dynamics, and c) suggested mechanisms to manipulate time in beneficial, accretive or expansive ways.

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The First Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Contraction

All other factors being held constant, the conduit for the flow of time, as processed through the constraints of cognition, will contract, resulting in the subsequent perception of the acceleration of time.

Coming Soon: In post 4. I will explain the first law in detail.

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2. What Happened to "Endless Summers?"

“Sweet childish days, that were as long, as twenty days are now.”
William Wordsworth

You are eight years old. Your eyes flicker open in the late morning to the brilliance of the summer sun streaming through the wide open window. The light warms the side of your face and your skin glistens with moisture from the humid air - no air conditioning to dry it out. But it isn't the sun or the humidity that rouses you, it is the rumble of lawnmowers and the deep green scent of freshly mown grass - the sound and smell of summer.

You fall out bed and head to the kitchen to pour yourself a bowl of cereal, then head out to the couch to voicelessly join your siblings watching cartoons. After breakfast the magic moment occurs: with the front door wide open, the brilliant shafts of the morning sun angle towards you through the screen door lighting up the entryway, beckoning. In the chiaroscuro of those golden rays you see them, those mysterious motes of dust like stars dancing against the black. Beyond the screen door your eyes travel to the driveway, the freshly mown grass, and the possibilities of sidewalks and sprinklers, bikes and forts and friends and candy bars at the corner store.

Summer calls. So you do the only natural thing, you run outside to play, screen door banging behind you. “Make sure you are home for dinner!” your mom shouts and you reply “OK!” without breaking stride. Another endless summer day of long days and short shadows awaits…

I have a vague recollection of the first time I realized that time wasn’t linear. I was 16 and enjoying summer like always before, swimming, hanging out with friends, boating on the lake, riding and racing my bike all with the August summer sun still high in the sky. Then a piece of mail arrived announcing the first day of school a few weeks hence and I remember this intense disturbance. I felt like summer and time itself had been stolen from me. Shadows lengthened school began and sense of nostalgic loss permeated my thoughts. "Where did it go?" I wondered, "what happened to the summers that used to last forever?”

Question: do you remember the first time you realized that time didn’t flow evenly? That, indeed time was accelerating?

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1. The Art of Really Living: For People Who Are Good At "Life"

"Every man dies, not every man really lives"William Wallace in Braveheart

If that quote really resonates with you, then this site is for you. After many many years in the making I am very glad to finally launch this site. In the coming weeks and months I will begin regular posts on the definition and nature of this idea of "really living" and its unique relationship with the way we experience time (experiential time).

My hope is that this site will attract fellow adventurers, risk takers, time travelers, and people from all walks of life who are "good at life" or simply, "really living." My hope is to create an interactive forum to share stories, ideas, and gather feedback. Topics covered will be as broad as suffering and joy, the nature of strengths, and experiential time vs. chronological time and topics as specific as quick snapshots of a day in the life of one of the readers or "how to plan a really living vacation".

SUBCRIBE! Will you join me? Please subscribe, and if after a few posts you like what you read, please forward to your friends. Life is short. In my case you'll note each post has a "T-(00,0000)" countdown at the bottom. This represents the number of days in my life left according to actuarial tables. I don't know about you but I don't want to waste a single one.

Teaser: Have you noticed that time appears to be accelerating? That each year seems to go by faster than the past? What if I there was a way to stop and even reverse that trend and actually slow down time?

Coming Soon: The New Physics of Time - How to really live for 300+ years

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Lance and Enron: The Greatest Innovators in the World

Lance the Innovator: Lance Armstrong, in my book, is one of the greatest innovators in history. In one of the most challenging, highly contested, well funded and competitive “industries” in the world, where fighting the elements for 20 days on the bike for 6 hours a day tends to eliminate much of the luck and timing of more singular contests, Lance managed to dominate and win the world’s most difficult contest for 7 straight years while making a fortune and a hero out of himself. As it happens, Enron, a company where I spent more than 3 years, also won an exclusive title of the "Most Innovative" company by Fortune magazine 7 years in a row while making many fortunes for its executives.

Lance did so through a single-minded focus AND the power of innovation, thinking “outside the jar” to identify “whitespace” opportunities to compete and win the yellow seven times.

The innovations he helped usher in to the world of cycling come on many fronts and not just the obvious like lighter bikeframes, lighter wheels, ribbed skinsuits. It also included organization and governance of a team with a very, very specific training regimen designed for one thing only – to win the biggest event in cycling – the Tour de France. Wind tunnels and the perfect tuck to reduce drag, a higher cadence to reduce muscle fatigue, more time in the saddle on the climbs, a specialized diet where each meal was weighed to replace exactly the lost body mass, consultations with experts from around the world to identify opportunities to win – all these were innovative builds to the previous approach.

It was only natural that the science Lance was analyzing would show that increasing the ability to process oxygen (more red blood cells through EPO and blood transfusions) and recovering faster (steroids and cortisone) were adjacent innovations to the core of training harder and suffering the most. He had, as he has shared, no guilt at all about it.

Lanced tilted the field in his favor in every single possible aspect. Was he the best ever? Yes he was: no one has climbed so many mountains so fast – recent times up the famous mountains on the Tour are more the 15% slower than during the “Lance Era”.

But therein lies the rub: innovation is necessarily “absent of values”. It is part of the process – to “diverge” and suspend judgment and restrictions to determine opportunities to find new ways to compete. One of the primary predictors of a creative or innovative approach is the willingness to step outside the status quo, to break rules.

Societies have a cycle of creative destruction, with “rulers” and “innovators” trading power. That said, an innovation that is launched, without a filter of ethics, runs the risk of being criminal. In fact, it is most likely true that many, if not most of the world’s most famous criminals and villains were also innovators. I spent 3 years at Enron, a company rewarded by Fortune magazine 7 times (odd!) as the “Most Innovative”. It was true, they were… but I wish we could withdraw their accolades and awards like was done for Lance. (I did my part to try – on the day they closed their doors we tried to steal their famous rotating cube from the lobby but were thwarted by security.)

Tonight Lance went on Oprah and confessed what had become obvious to those watching closely for a while: that he had aggressively orchestrated one of the single greatest frauds of all time.

In the history of the world has there been a more visible public figure that so actively said one thing while doing the exact opposite without shame? Lance didn’t dodge the question of doping, he didn’t hide his head when approached, he didn’t focus attention elsewhere, instead he actively attacked others fallen from the omertà, sued former friends and supporters, and enlisted the public, moral and political support of millions to aid in his cover-up through sheer pressure.

Indeed despite my own misgivings knowing some of those around him, I was in the camp of “just leave well enough alone” for years, and silently criticized the wife of my friend and teammate Frankie Andreu while openly criticizing Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. I was wrong.

Innovation is almost certainly the answer to many of the world’s most pressing business challenges. That said Lance saga also shows that one of the success criteria for all innovations has to be an ethical filter. It sounds obvious, but “implicit” expectations of the most obvious sort have repeatedly failed – let’s not make that mistake again.

Postscript: my only conversation with Lance

Flashforward - 1 year to 1991. Back at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for another camp. The Junior World Cycling Championships are taking place at the same time, and I catch up with cycling friends Jessica Grieco and George Hincapie. Jessica and I spend a good deal of time together and that other cyclist I only know by name, Lance Armstrong, notices.

After the Junior World Cycling Championships were over, we attended a house party near the Olympic Training Center (OTC) with skater and Olympic silver medalist Eric Flaim and some of the other skaters and hooked up with George and Jessica and met many of the other cyclists. At one point mid-way through the evening, after a long discussion with Jessica, I was motioned outside by a “minion” of Lance’s. Lance was only 19 but already had assumed command of the junior ranks. He was waiting for me out front of the house and asked me if I would walk and talk with him. It was very “movie-like.” I said, “sure.”

We walked to the curb, and then sat down. He then proceeded to ask a series of targeted questions about Jessica (who was not without her charms) with that same, now famous, hawk-like stare. He started with, “How did you ‘get her’?” I explained that we were just friends and that we were not romantically involved. He immediately followed up with “Well, how can I ‘get her’?” and then asked a series of very specific questions. “What kind of music does she like? What does she read? Does she wear perfume? What are her hobbies outside cycling? Is she smart? What’s her favorite subject in school?” and then again, “How can I ‘get her’?”

I can imagine Lance and Chris Carmichael planning his comeback in much a similar fashion, “how can I ‘get tour #8’?”

I tried to be helpful, but found it all a little bit like a science project and wanted to ask, “what does, ‘get’ mean, exactly?” but I didn’t. Later I saw him talking to Jessica with some of the same intensity – though he did bother to smile and laugh.

Lost in Malaysian

Lost in Malaysian The sun sets vertically in the tropics, falling straight into the ocean like a stone versus the glancing traverse across the trees it makes in the northern latitudes. I knew this as from a distance, but failed to take it into account when I planned my ride 1 degree north of the equator. This is how I lost my car in Malaysia.

Like most of my adventures, this one started out serendipitously – I arrived on time from Chicago to London to Singapore, a 24 hour pair of flights where I stretched out and slept in the full flat beds of business class on Singapore Air – a first for me. (“I can’t go back… I won’t”) Over the five day trip I flew around the world – literally – I only went east, Chicago – London – Singapore – Hongkong – Chicago. The flights ate up two days leaving me only 3 days in Singapore/Malaysia during which I and managed to see a good portion of the Malaysian coast, eat and drink at the rooftop restaurants of quite a few tall buildings in Singapore, catch up with a great old friend, as well as ride through parks, visit the botanical gardens, see little India, Chinatown, and give a couple speeches as well.

My written plan was to land in Singapore at 7:20am, be thru customs and into my rental car by 8am, drive across Singapore to the Malaysian border by 9am, and make Melaka, a 15th century settlement 300 kilometers north on the west coast of Malaysia by noon. My plans called for a good lunch of Peranakian food and a walking/shopping tour of the old town and then to be on the coastal road back south by 2pm aiming to arrive Benut by 4:30pm for a 50 mile roundtrip ride to the stilt village of Kukuk, returning by 7:30pm, 30 mins after sunset  arriving to my car in the twilight.

Despite not having a map and not being able to obtain one enroute, things went according to plan – I was in the “steering-wheel-on-the-right” rental car by 8am, across the border to Malaysia at 9am, and despite not being able to obtain a map I navigated by signs and general direction to Melaka by noon. I had a fantastic lunch on Jonker street and strolled around the old town before heading south along the coast. Along the way I stumbled upon a monkey preserve and lost some time navigating by feel enroute to Benut, arriving about 5pm. To avoid riding in the dark I drove a little farther south to shorten the ride to about 40 miles roundtrip. I then parked in an empty lot of a seaside restaurant and hit the pedals on the folding bike and rode hard through Pontian toward Kukup.

Kukup sits at the farthest south of the west Malaysian peninsula and consists of a village built almost entirely on stilts – sitting 10 feet above the silt and water of the muddy tidal flats that comprise the land. The roads and paths varied from concrete on metal pillars to wooden stilts supporting uneven narrow wooden planks, but they all shared the lack of an American safety requirement: guardrails. I had a bit of vertigo as I road around the town and the light was fading fast as 7pm and sunset had descended upon my ride.

I headed back out of town as the light faded and was surprised to find that by 7:15, with more than an hour to go back to my car, it was pitch black:  no street lights and few other visual indicators to show the way. Fortunately traffic was light, and I had a blinking rear light, but when I could hear traffic coming from the rear (remember I’m riding on the wrong side of the road) I would leave the pavement and make my way on the sandy dropped shoulder of the highway.

For an hour and a half I progressed relatively slowly in this fashion towards my car, knowing my return speed was much slower than the approach to Kukup. I began trying to identify the generic lot where I parked my generic car in a stretch of highway with a host of generic eateries. As it turned out, these limited visual characteristics were completely masked by the humid gloom of the evening. Two hours of riding later, and I was back in the outskirts of Benut. Damn. I knew I was several miles past my car so I turned around. I rode for another 40 minutes seeing nothing that suggested my parking area and so turned around again. 25 minutes later I could see the lights of  Benut again and so turned around again beginning an endless zizag in the dark trying to triangulate on my rental car.

By now it was after 10:00pm local time, 11am Chicago time and I had been flying / driving / riding for over 40 hours across 13 time zones and I was exhausted, hungry and irritable. More than one pedestrian must have been surprised by the rider in the dark bearing down on them while cursing the random object he had just run over on the shoulder.  A three hour fun ride had turned into a tense, 6 hour death march in the dark dodging onto and off the shoulder of the road hundreds of times to avoid traffic. With the accumulated jet lag I just wanted to lie down and sleep but I was in the wrong country with no cell service and no way of returning to Singapore. So I kept riding…

I had my key fob out  and was clicking endlessly. I knew I was within a couple mile range of the car and turned back again. On one dodge off the shoulder of the highway I hit a large stick and upon steering back up with one hand (keys in the other), my rear tire skidded along the 4 inch tall lip of the asphalt and I ended up crashing onto the highway in the pitch dark. If a car had been coming I’d have been dead, but of course there were none was because I wouldn’t have headed back up if there were lights. Still it was scary rolling out on to the highway on my back in the dark and then recollecting my bike, road rash burning. Now I was really mad.

30 more minutes and 6 hours total of riding in the dark later I saw a sudden flash – my headlights. I can’t explain the sudden exhilaration and life that coursed back through my veins – I was so very happy. Now a mere 2 hour drive back through Johor Bahru and to the Malaysian border and through downtown Singapore without a map to my hotel somewhere downtown and I could finally eat and sleep.

I made it without too much trouble based on my memory of the Google maps I had studied and when I pulled into the St. Regis, still in full cycling regalia I was too tired to be embarrassed and checked to this incredibly fancy hotel (complete with my own personal butler) without apology wearing muddy and bloody spandex.