Some people thrive on goals. They are always working towards something, and always working towards something that can specifically be measured. Sometimes it’s something along the lines of a specific marathon time. Other times it is a major life event, such as earning a promotion, or being able to afford a house. Sometimes it’s even something a bit more unusual, like trying every ice cream flavor at a local ice cream shop. But, in all cases, there is a goal, and a clear measurement. At any given time, they know whether or not they have achieved their goal, and, in most cases, how close they are to reaching it.
Sometimes I envy these people. Being driven by reaching specific, tangible benchmarks like this fits quite nicely into our present day results-driven society. Tons of people writing about what makes people effective, or successful, stress the importance of making and achieving goals on a regular basis, both from the standpoint of improving your confidence and demonstrating your ability to achieve to others.
Unfortunately, I tend to be driven by ideas and concepts that are more big-picture and abstract. I am more interested in knowing that I am generally in good health and feeling energetic than reaching a specific weight target. As a person who believes in flexibility and individuality, and shuns rigidity, I will often look at something like wanting to buy a house, and say, wait a second, is there some kind of way I could be just as happy in a condo, given certain circumstances? Do I need to make a specific commitment to some sort of a budget, when circumstances in life often vary, and adhering strictly to a certain number might even cost me opportunities that could go a long way towards some of the most important goals of all, which I see as happiness, purpose, satisfaction and the like?
I do, however, have to acknowledge some of the reasons we operate in this fashion. After all, we do live in a complicated world where we all have thousands of things competing for our attention at any given time. The easiest way to grab someone’s attention is to say something specific. Vail Ski Resort will tell you it has a 3450 foot vertical drop, or that it gets 348 inches of snow per year. They do not try to get your attention by saying that skiing will provide an exhilarating experience that will often improve one’s happiness as well as physical fitness.
In 2015, in addition to my big picture goal to “feel more energized and be in better shape”, I attached a specific goal. I was going to bicycle at least 1500 miles this year. Now, I do understand that this is not that high of a number. The most hard-core cyclists will often ride 10,000 miles in one calendar year. One bike ride across the country is more than 3000 miles. But, 1500 miles would make this my biggest bicycling year yet (2014 was previously my highest at 1385 miles), and it would be an easy number for me to point to as a way to indicate to others how much bicycling I do.
There were a couple of obstacles that got in the way of me reaching this goal. The first was a wet early season. In May, Denver recorded measureable precipitation 19 out of 31 days. This was followed by 13 rainy days in June. Ironically, one of those rainy days included a hailstorm, on bike to work day!
Later on, job/career related issues took some of my attention away from cycling. And, finally, although this one is definitely not a bad thing, during the second half of summer and the first half of fall, a lot of my plans took me places where cycling was simply not possible, including travel, visitors, and social events.
However, despite all of this, on Sunday, November 1st, 2015, I reached my goal, and pedaled my 1500th mile of the year. And, I decided to do it in style. I didn’t want to get to this milestone just anywhere, biking on some random road in some neighborhood that doesn’t mean anything to me. I wanted to go somewhere iconic! I wanted to go somewhere appropriate, for both the day’s conditions, as well as a place where I had significant experiences during the first 1478 miles I rode this year. Really, there was only one true choice; Red Rocks amphitheater. At exactly 22 miles from my home, I would hit that 1500 mile mark somewhere along my final ascent to the top of the road. Red Rocks is an iconic place, both beautiful and full of memories for mankind. And, it is a place I have ridden my bike to over half a dozen times on previous rides. One of my favorite half day rides is to go to Red Rocks, and then into Golden for lunch, followed by a nice quick ride on the Clear Creek Trail back to Denver.
Yet, the story of me and my bike in 2015 cannot simply be summarized with a number; 1500, or 1600, or whatever I get to in two months when the year is complete. It is so much more than that. It is the exhausting three day, 230 mile ride through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. But, it is also the countless treks over the same roads in town, to and from work, and to all of the other places I went to on a regular basis. It’s the improvements I made in climbing, something I am weak at due to living in Chicago for several years, but also all the flat tires I got and had to change.
Outcomes are best communicated to others when they are demonstrated both qualitatively and quantitatively. Behind every story, there is a number, probably multiple numbers. I can say I biked 1500 miles. I can also figure out how many vertical feet I climbed, how many times I biked certain roads and trails, and even how many tires I changed. But to just say the number, without answering that all important question, why I am doing what I am doing, would also not be effective. I bike to improve my health, spend some time outside, visit interesting places, and to save some money on fuel.
More importantly, bicycling contributes to my larger scale goals of being happy, healthy, unique, and true to myself. How much different would it be to have biked 1475 miles vs. 1525 miles? Not too much. The same way a .301 batting average is not too different than a .299 average. So, I guess while I am happy I reached the mark I set out for at the beginning of the year, I still need to recognize that it is not the end all, be all. While it is good to have a goal, or a target, to stay on track, and provide a construct for how far one wants to take a certain activity, we all must keep mindful of the big picture. And, if reaching a certain number would cost us more than it is worth, we should be willing to adjust.