Sunday, April 17, 2011

Building character on a bike

For as long as I can remember, my favorite comic strip has been Calvin & Hobbes.

There are a multitude of reasons for this (like the fact that it's awesome), but as I've grown older, I've come to appreciate it for the adult themes spliced into Calvin's childhood adventures. One of those themes is the concept of "building character."

Every time Calvin despised performing a task assigned to him by his parents, his dad would simply say "It builds character" and leave Calvin to ponder the meaning of the phrase.

This one actually hits close to home for me. Growing up, my family was big on camping, backpacking, hiking and other outdoor-oriented activities. I however was not enthusiastic to the concept. I liked watching TV, playing video games and watching more TV.

As you can probably imagine, anything that drifted beyond those activities was not met with enthusiasm on my part.

I complained a lot when we went on family camping trips, whether it was about mosquito bites, rainy weather or having to sleep on rocky ground. My brothers usually responded to complaints with the classic "Stop being a wuss!" line. For my dad, it was the "It builds character" line.

Like Calvin, I wondered what the saying meant. I always figured it was a clever way to either ignore my problems or get me to do something.

But looking back on it, my interpretation of the phrase has evolved into something a little less selfish. I think it's meant to teach a person how to better deal with adversity. Or in "manly" talk, it teaches a person to be more "tough."

Adversity can play a big role in teaching a person to appreciate the things they have in life. I mean, how can you take pride in your accomplishments if you never struggled to achieve anything.

However you want to interpret the phrase, I can definitely say that biking in extreme windy/rainy conditions is a form of building character.

Like most people, I normally would've resorted to my car during the unfavorable weather we had last week (seriously, is spring ever going to be here to stay?). However, since I'm trying to outpace my car for the month via biking/running, I still resorted to my pedaled companion for commuting around town.

It wasn't anything I'd call pleasant. I had a 20 mph head wind blowing into my face for my entire ride out to Good Thunder the other day, plus I had to deal with my fair share of horizontal rain while biking up the River Hills Mall area later in the week. I won't lie: I probably directed an obscenity or two toward Mother Nature when the biking got tough.

But I made it to where I needed to go. And because I had to endure the elements to get there, I had a much deeper appreciation for the destination than I would have had I simply driven there in a car.

I guess that's what this month has taught me more than anything thus far: Appreciating the destination. I've done more than my fair share of recreational riding in the past, but when you're biking as a form of commuting, it takes on a greater significance. It becomes an integral part of your daily routine, not an optional part.

And when you have to bike up that giant hill or pedal through that wind or rain, you can bet the destination will look a lot friendlier, even if you're biking to work or something else you'd normally dread going to.

I suppose that counts as "building character."

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