I want to start by telling two stories.
I’ve been riding bikes most of my life. Occasionally, I’ve tried my hand at racing and have had some success, reaching the podium a few times. But I’ve only won a single race, and that is my first story.
In the fall of 2008, I participated in the FSC (Florida Series Cup) off-road races. Like most races in Florida, these are very competitive; year round good weather generates plenty of strong riders. My results were all over the board the first half of the season, a roller coaster of mechanical problems alternating with good finishes.
Halfway through the season we raced at San Felasco, near Gainesville. Like all the previous races, I started slow and was soon near the rear of the field. But the first couple miles consisted of long straight sections through open fields, and I worked my way toward the front. The majority of my experience was road riding, and I could put the hammer down better than most of these mountain bikers when I had straight trail.
Soon I was on the leader’s wheel and had to make a fast decision. I considered just sitting on his wheel and attacking near the finish line. Then I realized that was the loser’s choice. This was my chance, perhaps the only chance I would ever have. So I passed him just before we dived into the woods.
I was in front with two guys on my wheel. The rest of the field was far behind. The man in second place had won all the previous races, and I kept expecting him to blow by me in the technical sections. I rode like a madman, and those guys must have thought I was out of my mind. I almost went down about a dozen times but somehow held things together. Every time we hit a straight piece of trail I buried myself, knowing that was my one advantage.
I wondered why they didn’t they pass. They had much better technical skills. In retrospect, long after the race was over, I could only assume they were too tired from the straight sections; at my level of racing, the mountain bikers usually lacked the endurance of roadies.
I stayed on the front. Eventually, we had one last climb with thick roots all the way to the top. About two-thirds of the way up, I heard a clatter and a burst of obscenities. When I reached the summit, I looked back and saw no one behind me. About a mile to go, and the race was mine to win. The feeling was strange and exhilarating, almost better than winning itself. Just one more rocky section, a few turns, and then a quarter-mile straightaway to the finish line. There was no way these guys could catch me in a quarter mile sprint.
I did not raise my arms above my head as I passed the finish line. I was afraid something stupid would happen and I’d crash at the end. Instead, I put my head down and turned the crankarms as fast as I could. The second place guy was about ten seconds behind. That was my first and only win in a bike race. Every time I’m struggling in a tough group ride, that singular incident gives me hope that I might succeed again.
The second story is much shorter and begins in the mid 1990′s. The Internet was new, and my gaming group was playing an RPG called EarthDawn. For some reason this particular game energized us and we were obsessed. We created new spells, new Disciplines, new creatures, and more. Then we decided to create a web site to showcase our stuff. We called it Strands, and it became the most popular EarthDawn fan site. The site grew fast after we accepted outside submissions. Quite a few people had their work on Strands, and some are probably still involved with EarthDawn.
Eventually, the gaming group lost and gained people, the web site became more work than fun, and we grew fatigued. In the early 2000′s we shut Strands down.
What’s the point of these stores? With Strands, success just happened, and for a long time we occupied an important position in the online EarthDawn community. We could easily have assumed that we were so good that success was an inevitable result.
On the other hand, I’ve been plugging away with cycling for decades. The rewards are not adulation or acclaim. I know how hard a man can work with only the satisfaction of his efforts as the reward. That is not a trivial thing, and I have grown to appreciate how the journey must have an inherent compensation, for one can never count on achieving any other reward.
I often think about these things as I write adventures for White Haired Man. What do we expect to achieve? When I see our adventures for sale on RPGNow, or run one of our adventures, I’m filled with a deep sense of pride and fulfillment at the tangible results of our labors. I’m energized, and I want to do more.
I can’t wrap this post up in a neat bow. I have no firm conclusions. I’m struggling to write anything but trite phrases. But at least I’ve got it out of my system and can get back to work on the next White Haired Man adventure.